Owen Sound Transportation board lacks any Manitoulin representation

File photo.

Grey County rep assures Island, ‘we’ve got your back’

OWEN SOUND—For the first time in recent memory, the board of directors of the Owen Sound Transportation Company, the company that oversees the operation of the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry that links Manitoulin to Tobermory and the top of the Bruce Peninsula, as well as the Pelee Island ferry, lacks any member from Manitoulin Island.

The recently released makeup of the board follows the retirement of long-time CEO Susan Schrempf from the operational helm of the OSTC. The news was met with dismay by former board members, but one of the newly appointed board members was making a “good will” tour of the Island to reassure residents that the company still has the best interests of Manitoulin in mind.

“I think it’s disappointing that there is no Island representative on the Chi-Cheemaun board,” said former board member and Billings Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack. “Any situations that our communities may have would be understood best by someone from here but, the former executive of Owen Sound Transportation (referring to former CEO Susan Schrempf) were excellent. She did an excellent job.”

Veteran Assiginack municipal councillor (and former reeve) and former Owen Sound Transportation board member Hugh Moggy also expressed disappointment with the lack of an Island representative on the board, especially when it comes to diversification.

“I thought they wanted a First Nations person on the board,” he said. “The board was always valuable to the Chi-Cheemaun ferry.”

Mr. Moggy said that during his seven years on the board “there were always three Manitoulin members and two from Tobermory. The ferry means an awful lot to our economy here on Manitoulin and it is important to have people on the board who know what is going on.”

The newly announced board consists of chair Marta Leardi-Anderson of Amherstburg, vice-chair (former Conservative MP) Larry Miller of Georgian Bluffs, Bradley Fletcher of Annan, Dr. Benson Lau of Toronto, James Hepple of Meaford, Brook Dyson of Collingwood and Richard Stivrins of North Bay. All members of the OSTC board are appointed for a three-year term (eligible for reappointment) and serve in a part-time capacity, meeting as required for business. Appointees are eligible for reimbursement of expenses.

The Expositor has learned that the OSTC has recently reached out to at least one potential Indigenous candidate as a director from Manitoulin Island. That candidate has been instructed to reach out to the Ontario Appointments Secretariate.

Despite the concerns being expressed by Island residents, OSTC board member James Hepple said Manitoulin should rest easy when it comes to board representation.

“I’m on kind of a good will tour, showing the flag and support for the people on the Island,” he said during a recent visit to The Expositor. “Even though the Island doesn’t have a representative on the board, people should understand that the board is sympathetic to Manitoulin. I want them to understand, we have your back.”

Mr. Hepple noted that he is no stranger to Manitoulin Island, having first visited the area with his family in 1956. He was staying with long-time Island friends Jib and Debby Turner of Little Current. “It helps keep expenses down,” he laughs, noting that staying with friends allows him to catch up with what is happening on the ground in an informal way.

Mr. Hepple was scheduled to address the Manitoulin Municipal Association’s Wednesday meeting, but the meeting was cancelled at the 11th hour.

The board director said he was very pleased with the changes that have taken place at the OSTC and said that employees of the company have told him they are very excited about the direction the company is taking.

“Morale is really high,” he said, adding that he believes the future of the ferry is sound. “The Chi-Cheemaun is very well built,” he said. “The folks in Collingwood (where the ship was originally built) really did a good job and it has not been in salt water.” (Ocean sojourns tend to be rough on ship hulls and systems.)

The board director knows a bit about boats, having been on the water for most of his life, even up to the present day, as he currently still moves vessels from port to port for customers across the eastern seaboard.

Mr. Hepple noted that, despite recent renovations to the vessel, there is considerable work that needs to be done to bring the MS Chi-Cheemaun up to modern standards. “There is work that needs to be done on the plumbing and electrical systems,” he said. “But hopefully the ferry will be going strong for a long time.”

He said that he believes the target market for the ferry remains southwestern Ontario. “I like to point out that it is the part of Highway 6 you don’t have to drive,” he laughed. More importantly, however, “you don’t need to drive through Toronto and around. The Chi-Cheemaun is the way to go.”

Mr. Hepple reiterated several times in the conversation with The Expositor that he believes the OSTC board is dedicated to maintaining and expanding the use of the vessel by tourists and that as far as he is concerned, the Island will remain a key part of ongoing strategy for the company.