An untendered 25-year renewal of the Maid of the Mist boat tour contract at Niagara Falls is the latest in a long list of bad NPC decisions, union says.
Toronto (18 March 2009) - The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) says the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) should be dissolved in the wake of an untendered 25-year lease renewal for Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co., which offers boat tours of Niagara Falls.
The union wants the Ontario government to take over direct management of all operations handled by the commission.
Reports say the renewed lease cuts rent payments by the company from a flat 15% of sales to a sliding scale that drops as low as 5.5% while failing to make any adjustment for inflation.
Although it starts at a slightly higher level than 15%, the rate is calculated on 2003, the year of the Ontario SARS epidemic when Niagara Falls tourism dropped by 28%. Once this low threshold is reached, the percentage paid to the commission declines steadily as volume rises.
"The more he (the owner) makes, the more the rent goes down," says the Niagara Falls Reporter.
"Comparing the old lease to the new, if (the) number of boat rides sold — about 1.8 million — remains constant, the NPC will lose between $17 million — presuming zero inflation — to more than $200 million, assuming inflation continues at what it averaged in Canada during the last 25 years — 3.7% a year," the Reporter calculates.
"It's hard to fathom why the NPC switched from a straight and sure percentage lease, or why they needed to reduce (the owner's) rent..."
OPSEU, which represents 600 full-time and seasonal staff employed by the commission, says a better way must be found to protect the public interest in the way Niagara parks are operated.
"The commissioners are appointed, not elected, and not for their knowledge of the parks," says Bill Rudd, president of OPSEU Local 217. "We need people who have expertise in running a park and care about Niagara Parks."
OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas says the lease is the latest in a string of questionable practices by the commission and steps must be taken to restore confidence and protect the public.
"It is time for the government to clean up the operations of this crown agency so that it's open, transparent and operating in the best interest of the people of Ontario," Thomas says.
Mismanagement and secrecy
OPSEU says the NPC has a long record of mismanagement and secrecy. In addition to the untendered marina contract, it cites the following examples:
- the renovation and development of a $40-million attraction, including a new ride, the Fury, that hasn't attracted as many visitors as projected and has created no new jobs;
- the elimination of 250 unionized jobs in the past eight years, causing the deterioration in quality of the parkland and buildings; and
- the installation of a $50,000 air conditioning system for its restaurant by the falls, Elements, while laying off chefs at the restaurant.
"Part of the government's review must look into the on-going privatization of Niagara Parks assets and layoffs that resulted from these and other questionable decisions," Thomas argued. "We also hope they solicit and take account of our front-line expertise."
Tourism Minister Monique Smith has ordered a review of all six tourism-related agencies under her department to "dispel any concerns" that exist.
Along with the NPC, the agencies include Ontario Place, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the Ottawa Convention Centre, the St. Lawrence Parks Commission and the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corp.
Meanwhile, Ontario's Office of the Integrity Commissioner released a report this week finding no formal wrongdoing by the commission. However, it said there are "other issues" requiring government attention to instill public confidence in the NPC and its board.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE