Murray Hupman, who was appointed president and CEO of Marine Atlantic on April 17, has strong ties to Port aux Basques.
He lived here from 1999 until 2011, when he moved to relocated to work at Nova Scotia’s Marine Atlantic base of operations, but he still visits the Southwest Coast as often as he can.
“My daughter grew up there basically. She went to school and high school and on to university, and my wife went to school at CNA (College of the North Atlantic) in Port aux Basques,” said Hupman in a phone interview.
Hupman, who visits often for business and vacations, says his connection to the region will help give him an advantage as he navigates his new role at the helm of the crown corporation for a five-year term.
“I understand the issues and more than that, I know the people.”
During his time in Port aux Basques he served on the Port aux Basques and Area Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation. He’s also been involved with local sporting groups.
He said that gives him a solid understanding of the crucial role the ferry service plays in the local economy.
“I realize how extremely important Marine Atlantic is to Port aux Basques, without exception.”
An engineer by trade, during his career with Marine Atlantic, Hupman has served as chief information officer, project manager for vessel integration and vice-president of operations, on the climb up the management ladder.
“Probably the latter part of my career there was always the thought that it might be something I was interested in doing, being very familiar with the service, being familiar with the industry and also familiar with the community,” he says.
Already he has focused on a few key priorities for Marine Atlantic, beginning with the new vessel that was announced during the 2019 federal budget.
“So that procurement process has started. That’s a priority for myself and the board for certain,” says Hupman, who notes it’s far too early in the process to say much more. “From the beginning to the end it’s about a three and a half to four-year process.”
The hope is to have a new ferry in the water within four years, but other than that, Hupman is unable to speculate further.
Hupman says Marine Atlantic officials were delighted with the news they will be getting a new vessel, but not entirely surprised or unprepared; in fact a lot of preliminary legwork has been done.
“You never know where the priorities of government may be from one year to the next but you know at some point you will become a priority and you know the government will support you,” says Hupman.
Another focus, which Hupman says is always of key concern for Marine Atlantic, is keeping costs and rates under control.
“Rates are always going to be a priority for us because obviously it is … pretty much all the passenger traffic, it is the lifeline to the island, so we always have to be sensitive to what’s the impact that it’s having onto the traveller and the service.”
When it comes to cost recovery, Hupman notes all Marine Atlantic can do is continue to meet its mandated target.
“Cost recovery is a federal policy issue. As a performance measure for government it’s important that we show them that we’re able to live within those parameters, but it truly is a policy issue from our perspective.”
There are also changes on the horizon regarding environmental issues, not only for regulatory factors surrounding such things as sulphur emissions and carbon footprint, but also dealing with climate change.
“It seems to be impacting us more these days, where we have extended windstorms, extreme wind weather conditions, you know the ice seems to be playing more problematic in our operations on a day-to-day basis.”
Hupman says he’s still new to his role, and is not directly involved with reports that Marine Atlantic might consider relocating its corporate headquarters to Port aux Basques.
“I know that the board was looking at the operations as whole, which is something that most boards when they’re new or appointed should do, so I think it’s important that the board is comfortable with the way we operate the business.”
Marine Atlantic announced last year it will finally consolidate its Port aux Basques administrative offices under one roof, but Hupman cannot say exactly when construction will actually begin on the new Hardy’s Arterial facility.
“We’re working through the process with Transport Canada,” he said. “When you’re into any kind of new build or new infrastructure there is a lot of things that need to happen. It takes two or three years behind the scenes to get to a point where you get approval.”