Canada’s transportation ministry could consider selling assets and privatizing airports to narrow its role, the department said in a briefing note to Transport Minister Denis Lebel. The memo also contained biographies of top officials with self-descriptions such as “beach babe.”
The government is carrying out a review that “considers a wide set of options for the future of the selected assets,” including divestment, the briefing documents say, without specifying which assets may be considered for divestment.
The documents are part of a briefing book prepared for new ministers by departmental officials. Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is responsible for the government’s financial management, has asked all Canadian ministers and their departments to find at least C$4 billion ($4 billion) in annual spending cuts to help return the country’s budget to balance.
“Increasing financial constraints on governments at all levels combined with new and emerging demands on Canada’s transportation system mean the era of TC being ‘all things to all people’ has passed,” the briefing note says, referring to the department. Policies and programs need to be “reviewed and refreshed,” which will require “tough choices and trade- offs,” said the documents, which were stamped “secret” and released to Bloomberg under Canada’s freedom-of-information law.
Transport Canada regulates safety of the country’s air, rail, marine and road industries, with companies such as Air Canada and Canadian National Railway Co. under its purview. Lebel’s Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities portfolio is responsible for 16 government-owned businesses including VIA Rail Canada Inc., Canada Post and the Royal Canadian Mint.
The department plays a “conflicting range of roles” in the transportation industry, said the documents prepared for Lebel, who became minister May 18. The government continues to subsidize “financially unsustainable” facilities and services, such as small airports, and owns assets that are “not critical,” such as land that includes a golf course, the documents say.
Non-profit authorities manage the country’s biggest airports under a policy introduced in 1994. Turning those authorities into for-profit companies “is seen by some as a means to generate additional revenue for the federal government,” which would be a “logical next step” toward privatization, the documents say.
Transport Canada should avoid a “fire sale” of its assets, said Olivia Chow, a lawmaker with the New Democratic Party, the biggest federal opposition party.
Privatizing airports may force smaller ones to shut down, depriving towns of vital services, said Chow, the party’s spokeswoman on transport issues, who also said selling Canada Post could threaten mail delivery in smaller centers.
Passengers would likely see higher fees if big airports such as Toronto’s Pearson International are privatized, she said. “They could hold millions of passengers complete hostage by putting up fees in whatever amount they please,” she said in a telephone interview today.
A spokeswoman for Lebel, Vanessa Schneider, said she was unable to comment on potential asset sales, adding she would ask the department for more information.
The documents also include biographies with descriptions of the personal interests of senior departmental officials, written by the staff themselves, according to department spokesman Dan Dugas. The biography of Deputy Minister Yaprak Baltacioglu, the most senior bureaucrat in the department, describes her as “an avid cook and working with her will result in weight gain.”
The biography of Doreen Gagnon, Baltacioglu’s acting executive director, notes one of her “favorite sports is beach volleyball. In her younger days, she was quite the beach babe.”
It’s “outrageous” and “unprofessional” for personal information on senior officials to be included in briefing material for an incoming minister, said C. Scott Clark, who worked for 23 years in the country’s Department of Finance and served as deputy minister between 1997 and 2000.
“That’s really awful stuff,” Clark said in a telephone interview. “I would never allow anything like that, as a deputy. In this day and age? This is the 21st Century, for crying out loud.”
Chow said she had no problem with officials making light of themselves in the documents. “I don’t care how they introduce themselves, as long as they do their jobs as public servants,” she said.
‘12 Feet of Documents’
The biographical notes were meant to show a more detailed picture of the senior staff in the ministry, Dugas said.
“Have you ever seen what a minister gets?” Dugas said by telephone, referring to the briefing book. “It’s like 12 feet of documents, right? We’d thought we’d lighten his day by telling him who it is he’s working with.”
Bryce Conrad, assistant deputy minister of program operations at Infrastructure Canada, “enjoys the sound of his own voice and is an above-average dancer,” his biography said, while Natalie Bosse, a director general in the deputy minister’s office, was said to enjoy working at the department because of “its proximity to Holt Renfrew,” an upscale department store.
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