By Wendy Zatylny
What a year it has been. Epic. One for the books. And one that tested all of us, individuals and institutions alike. The good news: collectively, we rose to the occasion, in ways that we probably couldn’t have conceived of before all of this started. Almost a year to the date of writing this piece, the ACPA team went home on a Friday, saying we would see each other on Monday and would figure out next steps. On Sunday afternoon, I emailed them to say that we would be working from home for the foreseeable future. We haven’t really seen each other in person since then. Every one of you reading this article has had virtually the same experience. The effects have been far-reaching, as almost every piece of our daily lives has been re-engineered. What was true for people and households also holds true for institutions, as government, commerce, trade, and supply chains had to pivot quickly to adapt to this new reality.
Throughout the pandemic, Canadian Port Authorities (CPAs) did just that to continue operations, move cargo, employ people, and support communities in a sustainable, safe and innovative manner, all with remarkably little disruption.
From the onset, CPAs adapted quickly by building on their commitment to innovation. The port of Halifax, for instance, launched its “Fastlane” initiative to help identify and fast track the delivery of critical COVID-19-related cargo such as PPEs. With similar technologies in place at other ports, CPAs successfully continued to do their part to keep food, pharmaceuticals and other everyday necessities flowing to Canadian homes
This positive response was thanks, in part, to good planning. CPAs have spent years investing in new technologies and improving operations to develop a national ports network that is fully integrated into an inter-modal supply chain that spans every continent and reaches into every Canadian home.
But there is more to port activities than just moving goods. CPAs also responded to the human side of the pandemic, acting quickly to help those most affected in their communities. For example, with the cruise industry on hiatus, Port of Quebec realigned tasks for some of its employees towards other areas of operation, as well as community involvement during COVID-19. When it offered assistance to local organizations in Québec City, many responded to the call, which led to Port employees providing support to a community centre by delivering meals to families living in low-income housing.
In Windsor, the Port Authority purchased locally-produced face masks for all of its port workers. In Saint John, physical space was donated to an emergency food program to carry out its work. Similar activities took place at every Port Authority in Canada, as they looked for ways to help their communities weather the storm. This commitment to communities began long before the pandemic, and will continue long after it has ended.
As we begin to emerge from that scary, epic year and start to look to the future, the COVID-19 recovery represents a unique opportunity to catapult Canada into the position of a global leader in green, inclusive, digital, and resilient supply chains. CPAs are well-positioned to facilitate this and help drive Canada’s economic recovery. First, the recovery will require economic development heft. Ports are powerful generators of wealth for Canada — directly and indirectly —through the tonnage they move, the people they employ and their role connecting Canada to global supply chains. An OECD study has shown that for every additional million tonnes of cargo moved at a port, 300 jobs are created in the port’s hinterland. With a direct economic impact of $36 billion, CPAs maintain more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs and handle more than $200 billion in goods annually.
The recovery will require innovation and CPAs are innovators. As managers of data as much as they are movers of cargo, Canada’s ports are part of a global logistics movement to apply new technologies such as artificial intelligence and internet of things to move cargo and people in a greener, safer and more efficient manner. Lastly, the recovery will require a commitment to safety, environmental protection and sustainability, which CPAs prioritize. CPAs seek sustainability and take many steps to reduce emissions and support safe and green infrastructure and operations, all of which are a source of competitive advantage for ports and the country.
Having withstood the pressures of COVID-19, ports have emerged resilient and ready to move forward as true partners and key players in Canada’s economic evolution: innovative, responsive and sustainable. With the support of government and by working together, we can achieve unprecedented heights and improve the lives of all Canadians.
Wendy Zatylny is President of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities