Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Members of Parliament, I would like to begin by thanking you for your invitation, which will allow the Old Port of Montréal Corporation to attest to the rigour and transparency of its management, to set the record straight and dispel any doubts sparked by the recent allegations of the Journal de Montreal and QMI Agency, and to attest to the fact that the corporation respects all the rules and regulations to which it is subject, as will be determined in a special examination by the Auditor General's office, an initiative we applaud.
But first, I would like to explain what the Old Port of Montréal Corporation is.
The Old Port of Montréal Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary created in 1981. It has the status of a parent Crown corporation, but only under certain specific provisions of the Financial Administration Act. As a result, it reports directly to the appropriate minister. It is an agent crown corporation. The Auditor General of Canada is its designated auditor. Its share capital is held by the Canada Lands Company. Its directors are appointed by the CLC. The board of directors appoints the chair of the board and the CEO.
The Old Port is not the Montreal Port Authority, as many people mistakenly assume. We occupy a territory covering 40 hectares, 60% of which is parkland, public space, and access and traffic routes along the Saint Lawrence River, in the southern part of Montreal's historic district.
The Corporation's mandate, since it was created 30 years ago, is to develop and manage assets that are today valued at $500 million, and administer an annual budget of $48 million, while respecting the objectives set for us by the government.
The government has the following objectives: to preserve and promote Canada's heritage; to improve urban living conditions and facilitate public access to the shores of the St. Lawrence; to contribute to regional economic development efforts; to maintain some port operations suitable to an urban and historic environment; and to assert the federal presence in a dynamic manner.
The corporation is the custodian of a heritage site of great urban, historical and commercial value. The development of the Old Port was guided by the community, following a major public consultation, which resulted in a report in 1986 that led to the development guidelines, the relevance of which was reiterated at an examination of the corporation's mandate in 2002.
So what are those principles? They are: to maintain free, unrestricted access at all times; to implement a product and service offering that complements the wider downtown area, supported by adjacent sectors and in response to collective needs; to maintain an overall vision for the development of the port, architectural and shoreline heritage by preserving the views; and to remain under the control of public powers by encouraging participation by all levels of government to do so.
In addition, when we invest in major projects we do it in a responsible manner. When choosing projects, we are guided by the following criteria: user safety, environmental protection, direct revenue opportunities for the corporation and economic benefits for the district and the city, and creating value for these assets.
To achieve these objectives, the corporation supports a team of 425 employees in peak season, divided into two business units: the Quays of the Old Port of Montréal and the Montreal Science Centre. Our teams are motivated and committed. We provide high-quality training to ensure optimal delivery of services. Our team is stable, with a turnover rate comparable to that in our industry.
By reorganizing our staff over the past dozen years, we have managed to adapt our teams to deal with various challenges, i.e. increasing our revenues, reducing our expenses, and taking charge of assets of more than $500 million, since 2009.
Our labour relations are constructive and harmonious. For example, when the collective agreement expired in 2010, a new contract was signed on the same day.
Our corporation manages its budget responsibly, in order to make wise investments in the public interest and also to generate the maximum possible revenues to ensure self-funding.
The corporation therefore operates the Science Centre and the IMAX theatre. We sign and manage annual commercial agreements with more than 45 concessionaires. More than 20 sponsors invest in promoting the destination and its programs. More than 200 companies rent our facilities for events such as product launches, and client and employee meetings. We sign contracts for the production of activities and events with more than 30 creative, innovative firms.
The annual economic impact of all these activities is nearly $60 million in added value for the region, as well as 900 jobs in all of its activities and those of its partners.
In 30 years, the federal government's investment, coupled with investments by municipal and provincial governments, has contributed to the development of the historic district and resulted in investments of more than $2.4 billion. An entire district of the city was thus revitalized.
All of our activities are managed scrupulously, in strict compliance with the rules in effect. Our books are open and our management is transparent. All of our management decisions are made on the basis of two main principles: making the best possible use of taxpayers' money, which we receive from the Government of Canada, and developing a product of the highest quality, in keeping with our mission. The corporation respects the management framework and the control required under Canada's Financial Administration Act. Its policies and procedures are based on the Treasury Board's directives and its practices are modelled on best practices in its area of expertise.
Our corporation is responsible and respects its commitments. Since 2007, we have respected the budget allotted to us by the government. The same applies to the increased revenues and lower costs that enabled us to absorb salary increases and new taxes and participate in reducing our country's deficit. Since 2007, we have increased our revenues by an average of 3% with price increases, new sponsorships, new world-class products, and an upward revision of our leases to bring in the highest revenues to which we are entitled for the attendance figures we provide. Since 2007, we have reduced our travel, meal and catering expenses, and maintained salaries at the most acceptable level for our industry.
Our corporation's collaboration with the office of the Auditor General of Canada is one of our obligations, and our relationship with this office is very important to us. The AG's office conducts an annual audit of the corporation's financial statements, after which it systematically issues an unqualified opinion. Our collaboration with the AG's office, which could be described as exemplary, as well as the implementation of its instructions and recommendations, coupled with the regular internal audits, have improved the corporation's business processes over the years.
The Old Port Corporation of 2012 is a far cry from what it was in 2004. We must therefore see our corporation's management as an example of ongoing improvement with a view to the accountable management of public funds.
Today, in addition to being the city's only vantage point on the river, the Old Port of Montréal is also the most popular recreational and popular tourist site in Quebec. With 6.6 million visitors in 2011, the Old Port is indeed a major tourist attraction. In 2010, the Old Port of Montréal joined the list of the world's 15 most beautiful waterfronts. If the Old Port is today as popular with the public, it is because, over the years, it has been able to develop its individuality, its uniqueness and its brand. It is unquestionably the Government of Canada's pride and joy in Montreal and Quebec.
Unfortunately, the reputation of this major institution has now been unfairly tarnished by misleading allegations made out of context, put together in an attempt to malign the corporation and spark outrage.
Following these allegations, the corporation's books were opened to the AG's office for the purposes of a special audit requested by our minister. We welcome this initiative, which will confirm the scrupulous management of the Old Port of Montréal, just as we welcome any recommendations from the Office of the Auditor General that could improve our management and our practices so they reflect the best standards of the federal government.
I thank you for your attention and am ready to answer your questions.