New wharfinger and harbour master makes waves

by Jacqueline Massey

(The Bowen Island Undercurrent, February 12 1999, p1: with permission)

Maurice Gagné says he's "not here for a hard time. I'm here for a good time."

But the new wharfinger and harbour master of both Horseshoe Bay and Bowen Island has been causing quite a stir over the past few months. His federal appointments have been steeped in controversy and many have perceived his earlier dealings with the British Columbia Ferry Corporation as a potential conflict of interest.

Two weeks ago, when he shut down the government-owned north wharf on Bowen, people asked whether he had gone too far.

But Gagné says he is just trying to live up to the responsibilities of his new position.

"I'm here to do one job and one job only and that is to work as a harbour master which is making sure there is safety around the island, make sure the docks are kept up to snuff and accessible to all people," said Gagné in an interview last week

Transport Canada appointed Gagné as the new wharfinger and harbour master of Bowen Island in November. At the end of December, he was given the same two jobs at Horseshoe Bay, replacing two men, one of whom had held the position of harbour master for approximately 20 years. On Bowen, he appeared on the scene unannounced, filling a vacant position without anyone locally having been consulted or informed.

Throughout the fall and up until recently, Gagné and his shipbuilding company Astrolabe Marine Transportation Inc, were working closely with the British Columbia Ferry Corporation on an initiative to launch a 42-passenger catamaran ferry service between Snug Cove and Horseshoe Bay. BC Ferries was proposing a 12 to 18 month pilot project using Gagné's ship, bypassing the the public bid process.

Today, the implementation of a local passenger-only ferry is on hold, possibly indefinitely, as the newly formed ferry task force grapples with the challenge of devising a locally-designed option for a financially viable ferry service. But the questions about Gagné still persist.

At a heavily-attended public Ferry CURE meeting late last month, Bert Paul outlined a number of concerns he had about Gagné's appointment. He urged the community to try to find out why a Bowen resident was not chosen for the jobs of wharfinger and harbour master, he questioned Gagné's reasons for closing the north dock without prior notice, and he wondered about the relationship between Gagné and BC Ferries and how it might affect the community.

Gagné says he is aware that his sudden presence in the communities of Bowen and Horseshoe Bay has ruffled feathers. He says he told Transport Canada that his appointments were "administratively, badly handled."

"I make no bones about that."

According to the former harbour master at Horseshoe Bay, Bill Lord, he and ex-wharfinger Joe Chisom had no reason to expect that they would not continue in their respective positions. The first time Lord learned that his term would not be renewed was when Gagné walked into his office, "waving his letter of appointment." That was January 4.

In fact, it was just this week that Lord received a formal notice from Transport Canada confirming that he had been replaced. The letter, dated 15 January, a full month and a half after Gagné was appointed, was written "in a form of a apology" for not having advised him earlier, said Lord. No reasons were given as to why he had been passed over for the job he had held for over six successive three-year terms.

But Gagné says it's clear to him why he was chosen for the positions, which come with a $100 per month per facility stipend and potential income based on 20 percent of the annual fees collected up to a maximum of $31,000. He had had extensive dealings with Transport Canada in a number of capacities and through contacts which developed because of his shipbuilding business.

He says he had also set up courses for employees of the federal government department, drawing on his background in labour relations.

Transport Canada also knew that he was involved in work with BC Ferries and had a "background with a knowledge of ferry traffic" and in the enforcement and administration of traffic, said Gagné. They asked him last fall if he would help out in the short term, noting that Horseshoe Bay and Bowen Island were going through a dock divestiture process initiated by the federal government. He agreed with the understanding that the appointments would be for one-year.

Within a few months, the community of Bowen will have an opportunity to vote on whether it wants to assume control of the government docks. Should the people of Bowen decide in favour of local ownership, the harbour will be deproclaimed by the federal government. Authority over the docks, including who will be appointed to manage the facilities, would then be transferred to a local entity representing the community.

As long as Gagné remains on the job, he says his work is cut out for him.

"My big challenge right now on Bowen Island is to get everything up to standard.

"I want to make sure those docks are kept clear. I want to make sure they are clean. Specifically, I want to make sure they are safe, " said Gagné.

That is why he proceeded to block off the north dock, normally used by those dropping off and picking up ferry passengers, until he could arrange for necessary repairs. The cost of replacing planks that were broken, missing or rotting was estimated to be $6000.

As for the south dock, he sees it having the same role as a bus stop, a place to drop off and pick up passengers or supplies, says Gagné. "The public dock is meant as a public dock, not as an indefinite moorage site."

It is also the dock that Cormorant Marine, the company providing local water taxi and emergency marine ambulance services, has used for years. Gagné says he has made financial arrangements with Brian Biddlecombe, the owner of Cormorant Marine, so that the company can continue to use the dock.

At the same time he says he want to make sure it is accessible to the public at all times and will be towing vessels that don't pay moorage fees. "I've said to people when I first came in, I said look, we are going to collect here. You are going to pay."

Gagné has hired Francois Dumulong to assist in administrative duties and the collection of moorage fees, set by Transport Canada. "He's my delegate." Dumulong will visitng Bowen daily, including Saturdays and Sundays, says Gagné.

But turning over the duties of wharfinger to someone not officially appointed by Transport Canada might put Gagné back into hot water.

According to Mike Langan, Regional Director, programs for Transport Canada, while it's okay for Gagné to hire someone to help with various administrative tasks, it is not okay for that person to be dealing with the public. "In my opinion that is not appropriate," said Langan Tuesday.

Page last updated 99-03-03