Hector Jacques O.C. is a Director of the Halifax Port Authority and founding partner of Jacques Whitford & Assoc. Ltd. The following opinion piece prepared by Mr. Jacques appeared in the Chronicle Herald on July 2, 2014.
July 2, 2014, Halifax, NS – My name is Hector Jacques and I write today as a member of the Nova Scotia business community. I have been a member of more than 23 Boards of Directors and chaired a few in my lifetime. In addition, I was the principal founder of Jacques Whitford, a Nova Scotia company that has become global leader in environmental engineering.
I am writing in response to a recent media report published in the Chronicle Herald concerning the Halifax Port Authority.
The Port of Halifax is a major economic driver for Atlantic Canada, generating more than 11-thousand jobs and $1.5 billion in economic impact annually. The Halifax Port Authority is the agent which administers Halifax Harbour and the associated 260 acres of federal land with a mandate to “develop, market and manage its assets in order to foster and promote trade and transportation.”
As the co-founder and first CEO of a large multi-national engineering firm operating in global markets, I have an appreciation for how international business needs to work. After my retirement from corporate life, I was appointed to the Board of Directors on behalf of Halifax Regional Municipality, a position I proudly hold today as it allows me to work for the interests of Halifax and our province.
In order to maintain and grow business through the Port of Halifax, it is imperative that the Port Authority is present in those national and international markets where growth is occurring. This includes Europe, Southeast Asia, South America as well as the American Midwest and central Canada. The purpose of these trips is to meet with customers and potential customers, Canadian embassies, consulates and government officials. Together with port stakeholders and three levels of government, travel is undertaken according to a specific business plan which reflects key targets and growth prospects. The business plan is updated each year and approved by the Board of Directors. For the last five years, the total HPA travel and hospitality budget has been less than 2% of revenue.
International shipping is an incredibly competitive industry. In many cases customers and stakeholders of the Port of Halifax require considerable discretion in terms of business dealings and potential growth opportunities. The Halifax Port Authority maintains that travel and hospitality is commercially sensitive information. If that type of information is made public it would clearly signal to those businesses and companies competing against the Port of Halifax the areas in which growth opportunities are being pursued. This would diminish any competitive advantages, could very well lead to the loss of new or existing lines of business and could therefore contribute to the erosion of economic development and jobs for our port and our region. It could also result in potential or existing customers refusing to meet with HPA representatives out of concern such meetings may become a matter of public record.
There seems to be significant misunderstanding about the primary composition of the membership fee and expense component relating to Halifax Port Authority business activities. Memberships for the Port Authority are with strategic industry associations in which all major port authorities participate. These memberships and associated fees are essential to allow the Halifax Port Authority to effectively operate in key industry markets, and to develop relationships and support business development. The HPA takes an active role in these groups with management and staff serving on industry boards and committees – working to grow the Port of Halifax. The amount spent on membership fees is less than 2% of revenue.
The Halifax Port Authority has strong financial credentials which have enabled the organization to reinvest in strategic infrastructure important to the region and to Canada. Since 2011, over $100-million has been invested into port-related infrastructure that will be used to grow international trade and exports for Nova Scotia and Canada. The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is a community jewel in which the Port is proud to invest and partner with vendors. The HPA has maintained an investment grade credit rating of ‘A’ from Standard & Poor’s for the past seven years inclusive and the recent rating has been upgraded to ‘Positive’. Independent auditors Grant Thornton recently concluded the third Special Examination of the financial practices and management of the Halifax Port Authority since the coming into force of the Canada Marine Act. In early 2014, HPA received a clear audit report. Executive and board remuneration has been reviewed and validated by an independent third party; the details are disclosed annually in the audited financial statements.
The Halifax Port Authority endorses and supports accountability and transparency in business dealings. Information relating to HPA financial statements can be found at http://portofhalifax.ca/english/about-us/financial-informaton/annual-reports.html. However, in the interest of maintaining and growing business through the Port of Halifax it is not always possible to disclose the level of financial detail requested by some. That is why financial statements are audited by an independent third party, the results of which are advertised and presented publically during the annual general meeting with ample opportunity for questions.
The Halifax Port Authority regularly holds port tours and information sessions for customers, stakeholders and elected officials of all levels of government. This remains an open invitation.
Finally, everyone knows that a simple recitation of costs is not the whole picture. Results are what really determine the success of any organization. Lack of results in Nova Scotia are one of the main concerns identified in the “Now or Never” report commissioned by Ray Ivany; in the spirit of that report, the “One Nova Scotia Coalition” is now working to set aside partisan, sectoral and competitive interests in a new spirit of cooperation in order to grow the economy for the betterment of all Nova Scotians. At Jacques Whitford, we outspent most firms on business development by quantum leaps, but the explosive growth we had as an organization, (better than 15% year over year) is vindication that we were doing the right thing. I have and will always be driven by results. In that vein, I invite everyone to look at HPA results to date. You will be most astonished how well the Port of Halifax has done in relation to other comparable ports. I know our CEO would welcome that opportunity.
Hector Jacques O.C., M.Eng. D. Comm. (Hon.), P. Eng. FEIC, D. Law (Hon.)