By R. Bruce Striegler

As we reported in a June 2015 issue of Canadian Sailings, the mission of the federal government’s Ports Asset Transfer Program (PATP) was to expedite the transfer of Transport Canada-administrated port facilities across the country to other federal departments, provincial governments, First Nations and local communities as well as individuals or private corporations. This national collection of marine facilities has been accumulated by Transport Canada over the decades, and includes ports, docks, breakwaters as well as upland and submerged real property. Federal ownership of some of these properties goes back to the time of Confederation.

The program built on the success of Transport Canada’s earlier Port Divestiture Program (1996-2014), and is a proactive and structured program for the sale or divestiture of Transport Canada – owned port facilities to local interests. Divestiture provides grant or contribution incentives to interested parties to acquire the ports, although grant funding at transfer is available only to provinces or municipalities. The program has been structured to include engagement, sale and divestiture phases. During the engagement phase, Transport Canada has communicated with other federal departments, provincial and territorial governments, municipalities, aboriginal groups and other interested parties to provide information about the Program. This phase is followed by the sales period, where Transport Canada-owned port facilities are first offered to other federal departments, the provinces and territories and municipalities. If there are no expressions of interest from these organizations, Transport Canada will then seek expressions of interest from other interested parties including aboriginal communities, non-government organizations, the private sector, Canada Port Authorities, and individuals.

Local communities find value in Transport Canada transfers; updating the list in 2019

With the original Port Divestiture Program, the plan was to transfer 549 regional/local ports from government ownership. The program offered the new owner financial contributions based on a ‘Crown-no-worse-off’ model that considered the value of the property and an estimate of continuing expenses that Transport Canada would likely incur to operate the facility for the next 25 years. The government claims since the program inception, 499 ports have been “divested”, resulting in savings to the taxpayer of over $470 million. At the launch of the Port Asset Transfer Program in 2015, Transport Canada had a total of fifty facilities available to new owners to expand or improve for continued marine operations, or develop for alternate uses that meet local needs.

Transport Canada reports that since the 2015 program launch, the port facility at Cornwall, ON has been transferred to the Cornwall Akwesasne Port Commission and in Nova Scotia, facilities at Liverpool have been transferred to the Provincial Government and the facility at Lunnenburg has been transferred to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In Quebec City, the port facility at Carleton has also been transferred to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In addition, an agreement has been reached with the Province of Quebec to transfer the ports of Gaspé, Gros-Cacouna, Matane and Rimouski to the Province on March 30, 2020. The Government of Canada will provide $163 million for the four ports. This includes a $148.8 million grant to the Province to support the future costs of operating and maintaining the ports, the balance representing investments in specific projects and other costs to be incurred by Transport Canada prior to their transfer. In published reports, then-Premier Philippe Couillard was quoted saying, “The St. Lawrence River has always been at the heart of Quebec’s economic, social and cultural development. In 2014, we made the commitment to develop its enormous potential in a sustainable way by providing Quebec with its first maritime strategy. In recent years, more than 10,000 jobs have been created throughout Quebec and port cities have developed in our regions. Today, by taking possession of our commercial ports, strategic assets, we are giving Quebec new leverage.”

The Maritime Strategy, the first such strategy in Quebec’s history, presents a perspective up to 2030 and sets out an action plan for the 2015–2020 period. So far, more than 327 projects have been launched in Quebec, with a total investment of more than $2.26 billion. In addition to the commercial docks, the transfer, as of March 30, 2020, includes buildings and storage areas, breakwaters at the Matane and Gros-Cacouna ports and a spur pier at the Port of Rimouski.

Transport Canada has also entered into negotiations for the transfer of the ports at Les Méchins, QC, Kingcome Inlet, BC, and Quatsino, B.C. Port facilities at Terrenceville, NL and Berens River, MB have been demolished, and the demolition of the port facility at Sandspit, B.C. is underway.

Assets available for transfer still remaining under Transport Canada control as of February 15, 2019 include two in Newfoundland, seven in Ontario, one in Alberta, nine in British Columbia and twenty-three in Quebec. From this list, three port facilities are to be closed, three have divestiture negotiations underway, two facilities are to be turned into breakwaters and four more are to be transferred to the Province of Quebec. The Ports Asset Transfer Program is scheduled to end on March 31, 2020. A re-evaluation of the program is expected to be undertaken in 2020.