TORONTO - The Niagara Parks Commission was ordered Wednesday to review its controversial decision to renew the contract for the Maid of the Mist tour boats without taking competitive bids.
The Ministry of Tourism directed the Parks Commission to revisit the 25-year renewal given to the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. to ferry tourists up close to Niagara Falls.
Ontario's integrity commissioner cleared commission chairman Jim Williams of any wrongdoing in renewing the contract after a complaint from another parks commissioner, Bob Gale.
Gale objected to the fact that the lease for the Maid of the Mist tours was renewed without putting the contract out to tender, and that commissioners were not informed there were other potential bidders who were interested.
An American businessman took the parks commission to court in an attempt to stop what he described as a secret lease renewal from proceeding.
Bill Windsor of Atlanta first approached the commission about submitting a bid for the Maid of the Mist contract in 2005, but was told it wasn't accepting bids.
Windsor's lawyer, Graydon Sheppard, has said no other company or person has had a chance to bid on the Maid of the Mist contract in more than a century.
The integrity commissioner also called for a government review of the parks commission's procurement policies and said she wanted to see "more open and accountable behaviour" with respect to business decisions at the commission.
A subsequent government-ordered audit recommended the commission develop a formal, written policy for revenue-generating opportunities like the Maid of the Mist lease.
The Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. leases land from the parks commission on the Canadian shore of the Niagara River as a base for its tour boats.
Billing itself as North America's oldest tourist attraction, the Maid of the Mist tours have been in operation since 1846.
The original Maid of the Mist boat became the first ship to navigate the Niagara whirlpool rapids in 1861.