By Wendy Zatylny, President, Association of Canadian Port Authoritiesimage

Last year brought many challenges to marine transportation. The drop in commodity prices and the Canadian dollar made for a tumultuous 2015 but, at the same time, many of Canada’s Port Authorities saw revenues grow in other sectors such as containers and the cruise industry.

In addition to these cyclical challenges, systemic developments have reshaped how Canada’s ports compete among the 160 nations connected by marine transportation. Ships get bigger, technology evolves, and the opening of a second lane in the Suez Canal gives Asian cargo alternative routes to reach market. Canada’s ports must be nimble and responsive to attract traffic.

In Canada, new trade agreements and a new government with new priorities highlight the need to move quickly to tap into new opportunities.

The scope of future growth is enormous. Recently the U.S. Maritime Administration calculated that, by 2030, an additional 14 billion tonnes of freight per year above current volumes will go through American ports. Apply a similar model to Canada and you get 700 million tonnes per year.

What would it take to handle that kind of volume? In the next 15 years, we would need five new ports the size of Canada’s largest – Port Metro Vancouver.

No one is suggesting we construct new super-ports, but with important investments, we can build 21st century infrastructure to handle 21st century trade volumes.

Some of these projects are already underway. Others are shovel-ready and waiting for final approvals and funding. Still others will take strategic planning to maximize the long-term benefits to the Canadian economy. With global supply chains depending on safe, secure, efficient, and cost-effective logistics, the stakes have never been higher.

Coastal ports on the Atlantic and the Pacific have been very effective in drawing more freight to Canadian gateways – providing corridors that give the fastest, most efficient route not only to the Canadian interior but to the American heartland. Canada’s marine advantage also includes a St. Lawrence/Great Lakes system that has enormous potential to provide transportation to the middle of the continent.

By 2017, for example, the Port of Hamilton will see more than $200 million invested in agriculture and food-related facilities in Hamilton to make it a grain trade hub for Canada and overseas. The Port of Oshawa, meanwhile, saw growth in the shipments of steel required for condo construction in the Golden Horseshoe region.

The Port Authorities continue to build green transportation infrastructure. Port Metro Vancouver was the first port in Canada – and the third in the world – to use the electrical power grid to supply power to cruise ships while in port, enabling the ships to turn off their diesel engines. Montreal and Halifax were equally innovative in bringing shore power to their cruise ship berths, and Prince Rupert has installed shore power at its container terminal.

Similarly, it is estimated that Montreal Port Authority reduced potential greenhouse gas emissions by more than 170 tonnes by developing a new way to encapsulate the soil removed from infrastructure projects, and reuse it for construction purposes. The innovation earned the port the Award of Merit from the American Concrete Institute.

The Port Authorities also look to improve the environmental performance of marine transportation by reducing dwell times. Ships use diesel fuel and emit greenhouse gases waiting in harbour for their turn to be unloaded. Saint John Port Authority has deployed a smartATLANTIC Inshore Weather Buoy to give pilots and ship masters real-time information on weather, wave directions and information to help schedule port arrivals so as to minimize time spent in port.

Coordinating the arrivals of ships heading into Saint John is one example of how it is possible to manage a logistics system to make it more efficient and cost-effective. But across the vast transportation network, decisions are made daily that have an impact on the ability of the system to deliver goods and passengers smoothly. There are many stakeholders that have a role to play – from the ships, trucks and trains that deliver, to the shippers and receivers counting on delivery at certain times; from the businesses and employees that make the deliveries possible, to the communities that are affected by the increase in freight and passenger volumes.

It’s not always easy to bring so many perspectives to bear on the challenge of making the system work better, but the Canadian Port Authorities have emerged as the “honest broker” bringing different views to the table to hammer out agreements that benefit everyone.

Of course, the key partners include governments at the federal, provincial and municipal levels who influence everything from the regulations that apply to transportation to the rules in acquiring land for port expansion. Governments make major contributions, as well, to the funding of the infrastructure that makes possible greater efficiency and competitiveness.

Americans understand this. In the 2017 budget tabled last December, the 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan received nearly $2 billion in dedicated freight funding, and the funding under the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program grew from US $500 million to US $1.25 billion.

In Canada, there are many great ideas on the table of ways to build 21st century infrastructure for the growth of global trade. In the coming months, the Association of Canadian Port Authorities looks forward to continuing to work with its partners and stakeholders on moving projects forward.