By Alex Binkley

After a decade of guiding the Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA) to the front lines of national industry organizations in Ottawa, Gary LeRoux has sailed off to head the Canadian Paint and Coatings Association.

With his departure, ACPA has launched a review of its governance model, as well as a search by an executive search firm for a full-time Executive Director.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the issues in the port sector and feel blessed to have so many friends and colleagues in the maritime community generally,” Mr. LeRoux says. “I have nothing but fond memories of my time working for the ACPA.”

Ray Johnston, President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, called Mr. LeRoux “a great advocate for the marine industry. At a time when the sector was trying to get government to better appreciate its importance to the national economy, he took the lead by organizing the highly successful Government-Port Interface conferences.” The marine industry has come a long way in that time.

Mr. LeRoux says the governance review and a full-time ACPA office with its own staff “is something I support and encourage. I continue to assist in any way I can to ensure a smooth transition which is expected to be completed in a couple of months.”

A decade ago, ACPA was little known in Ottawa. The first Canadian Port Authorities (CPAs) were formed in 1999 and they had no representative in Ottawa. “By 2001, the CPAs had come to fully understand the commercial straitjacket the Chrétien government had left them in with severe borrowing restrictions and no federal financial help”, he recalls. “They knew they had to get changes. It was at this time when the demand for new port facilities and services began to grow.” The ports needed more attention from government, and ACPA decided to engage Mr. LeRoux, a government relations consultant, to represent the interests of its members on a part-time basis.

Initially Mr. LeRoux handled government relations for ACPA, but took on the Executive Director’s job after a year. He was successful in building the Interface conferences to the level that they attracted cabinet ministers and top civil servants to deal with economic and policy issues. ACPA was called on by Parliamentary committees to discuss legislation and issues that senators and MPs were studying. Ports were made eligible for $115 million in security funding after the 2001 terrorist attacks, as well as infrastructure development funds. “Early on, I turned to the task of revitalizing the Association, to put it on the map with a renewed business approach that included incorporation, development of a strategic direction and sound business planning, updating bylaws and policies, and revising governance policies. Furthermore, the introduction of four annual events helped increase membership and non-dues revenue substantially, and enhanced education and networking opportunities. Last, but not least, ten years of budget surpluses were produced for the organization, quadrupling the Association’s reserve,” he recalls.

Perhaps the best barometer of ACPA’s growing influence was that within hours of being appointed transport minister in 2006, Lawrence Cannon travelled to the Association’s Annual Meeting in Gatineau to meet port CEOs. Despite successive minority Parlia­ments, ACPA got badly needed amendments to the Canada Marine Act passed by Parliament in 2008. “It was the combined efforts of Association members that got the job done,” Mr. LeRoux explains. “One of the most critical parts of the amendments was access to federal funding, and the massive funding flowing to ports since 2008 would not have resulted had the Association not been successful in that endeavour.”

“It was vital to make ACPA feel and look like a national association. Advocacy has to be done top-down and bottom-up with one day sitting in front of key ministers and the next working the bureaucracy to advance important files for the sector”, Mr. LeRoux said. In his new job, Mr. LeRoux will be operating on the same philosophies and principles which he applied during his tenure at ACPA, and which produced such positive results for its members.

ACPA was asked for comment on possible changes to the organization but hasn’t responded.