Port authority goes overboard

scotto

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Feb 15, 2004
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HPA has spent $100,000 on trips to China -- but what's the sense of it?
By Jim Howlett
The Hamilton Spectator(Dec 12, 2005)
In the past 18 months, Hamiltonians have seen a veritable deluge of media coverage concerning the Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) and its operations. What most people do not understand is that much of the coverage is the result of a well-choreographed plan by the HPA to issue a steady stream of press releases to tease media outlets into enhancing the port's image. The articles are not so much news as they are free advertising.

Senior staff and HPA board members have been told to submit articles to any organization that will print them and speak to any audience that will listen. These include the Bay Area Restoration Council, Bay Area Implementation Team, Hamilton City Council, Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, The Spectator, and others.

They have told us how good they are for the economy, how good they are for the city, how good they are for the environment. They have even told us, that they -- a federally appointed bureaucracy -- do not use taxpayers' money at all.

Perhaps they are hoping that no one realizes that the HPA owns -- in the form of Hamilton Harbour -- some of the most expensive land in Canada. Perhaps they are hoping Hamiltonians will not remember that the HPA did not pay anything at all to the City of Hamilton for it.

And they must surely hope that citizens do not become aware of the most condemning fact of all: The HPA has never turned a profit with it -- yet somehow they are not using taxpayers' money.

Seeing as they have been telling us what to think for some time, we should not then be surprised that they have spent $100,000 of "someone's" money on much-touted trips to China.

But it appears the tide is turning. Both the public and the media are now questioning the value of these expensive visits to the other side of the globe and, despite the protestation of the HPA, many questions have come to the surface.

One of these questions is: What is the likelihood of China sending fully loaded container ships halfway around the world, only to bypass the excellent container unloading facilities of the port of Halifax, in exchange for a two-week excursion up the St. Lawrence Seaway and then the length of Lake Ontario paying wages, fuel, insurance, lock, seaway, docking and tug fees all the way?

Perhaps racing to beat the freeze-up that doesn't happen to salt water ports -- only to arrive in a harbour that has never had container facilities.

It may be that the HPA could woo China into this expensive trip by offering them some sweetheart deal of reduced fees, but then what cargo will the ship load here for a return trip to China?

The principal exports of China are steel and manufactured goods. China clearly does not want Hamilton's steel, in the same way that Stelco and Dofasco do not want Chinese steel coming to Hamilton.

If China does decide to send container ships of manufactured goods to Hamilton, what will it do for our manufacturing sector? Hamilton's few remaining manufacturing jobs are high-quality, high-paying careers continually threatened by countries where pay scales are often lower than the poverty level. This is not normal commercial competition, but human rights abuse and profiteering perpetrated by governments and corporations which do it simply because they can. If Hamilton's manufacturers find that the rules of business have changed, they may relocate to areas that have no rules at all. The evidence for this is both historical and current.

We have already traded locally produced Susan Shoes for Chinese Nike imports, Burlington Street's Firestone tires for offshore Koho, J I Case Tractors for Kubota, Camco for LG, and Woolco for Walmart, with Rheem next on the list.

Perhaps the HPA will say that the jobs and economic benefits from China will come in the form of port service jobs like stevedoring and chandlery or lower-priced goods, but the truth is that an inland port like Hamilton should have its stevedores and chandlers working on ships from Thunder Bay, Detroit and Erie, Pennsylvania.

The math is simple: Great Lakes ships + Great Lakes Ports = Great Lakes Jobs. The fact is that we are a lake port not an ocean port. The very idea of using Hamilton for transglobal marine traffic that could be shipped by rail from the coast, is similar to using a Winnebago to commute to Toronto. It can be done, but it is not a wise practice.

When you consider that the HPA is determined to show increased tonnage every year as justification of its existence, things begin to make a parochial kind of sense. Its staff are very well paid and its board members receive $1,000 per monthly meeting. Compare that to that of the Hamilton Conservation Authority, which pays $25 plus mileage, per month.

The HPA is also in the habit of claiming Stelco and Dofasco's tonnage as its own, a habit that considerably inflates the HPA's statistics.

Privately owned, Stelco and Dofasco comprise 20 per cent of the pier space in our harbour and account for 80 per cent of the harbour tonnage -- and the vast majority of the economic spinoffs that the HPA claims to have generated by themselves.

So when you hear the port authority's claims in the future, I trust you will ask for a grain of salt. And when you hear HPA director Keith Robson say that "anyone who ignores China does so at their own peril ...", ask for a shaker full.

If that slow boat from China does come to Hamilton, it will probably leave with our jobs.

Jim Howlett of Hamilton is a former adviser to the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes.





Hamilton Spectator File Photo
The Hamilton Port Authority has been criticized for its trips to China. The port authority hopes to entice China to send container ships of manufactured goods to Hamilton.
 

beachboy

AKA Beerboy
Sep 6, 2004
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Excellent article Jim. Thanks for the info, it needs to be heard. Remember buy Canadian where possible. Thank you!!! :canada:
 

scotto

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Feb 15, 2004
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The Beach Strip
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beachboy said:
Excellent article Jim. Thanks for the info, it needs to be heard. Remember buy Canadian where possible. Thank you!!! :canada:
Yes, another very good article from Jim and kudos to the Spec for printing it. Nice to see you posting Beachboy :tbu:
 
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