On May 21, 2009, Transport Minister John Baird announced his long-awaited decision about the future of the Oshawa Harbour: the Oshawa Harbour Commission is to become the Oshawa Port Authority.
It is a surprising decision. A year-old report by the well-respected David Crombie recommended turning the harbour operations over the City of Oshawa. The City had been negotiating with the federal government for restoration and mixed-use development of the harbour lands for years. Ministers Baird's decision came with little advance notice and caught many lake-watchers off guard.
The Harbour Commission was a holdover from the way the federal government ran ports in the 20th Century. Every other Harbour Commission in the country was either eliminated, downloaded, or, in a handful of cases, replaced by a Port Authority under the Canada Marine Act. (It was this Act, incidentally, that first sparked Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s interest in the management of our harbours and federal issues such as navigable waters.)
Something had to change in Oshawa, because the Harbour Commission was outmoded and tensions were so high. Few of us ever expected, though, that federal action would fail so completely to accommodate the municipality’s wishes.
For Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and other environmental and boating organizations, the decision is disappointing. The new governance structure will mean a small group of vested interests control one of Lake Ontario’s most prized urban harbours.