By Alex Binkley

Bruce Burrows has been working since his appointment in December as President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce to get to know all the players in the marine sector.

His long experience in transportation means he’s familiar with many of the issues it faces. His experience in government relations should also help him steer the Chamber, bolstered by the merger with the Canadian Shipowners Association last year, during a period of potentially major policy changes in both Canada and the United States.

In an interview, Burrows stressed CMC’s binational role and his wish to create closer ties with carriers, ports and shippers to promote the shipping sector. He listed the St. Lawrence Shipoperators, SODES and Green Marine among them. “It’s important we connect regularly.”

In light of the new Administration in the United States, Canadian and American marine groups “need to present a united front,” he added. The U.S. Lake Carriers Association and other Great Lakes-Seaway groups are on his list of organizations to reach out to.

Many old issues remain major vexations to the industry, including ship ballast rules, pilotage costs, the length of the Seaway season and icebreaking capacity, he notes.

In addition to employment with Canadian Pacific Railway and the Railway Association of Canada, Burrows was involved in multimodal transportation with the old Transportation Association of Canada.

He supports the push of the Emerson report on the Canada Transportation Act Review to break down the modal silos that dominate too much of current transport policy. “We need to impress on policy makers that, as an industry, we’re talking about our customers whose main interest is to get their products distributed at a good price and in good condition.”

There also needs to be a new strategic plan for the St. Lawrence Seaway that draws on the vision for short sea shipping in the Emerson report, he adds. Industry should take a lead role in developing and articulating the policy. “We need to make our sector more competitive.”

Great Lakes shipping could get a boost from the ambitious infrastructure development plans of the new administration in Washington, he points out.

In the keynote speech to the annual membership luncheon during the Marine Club meetings in Toronto in January, Burrows said transportation and government relations “are in my wheelhouse so I expect to have my sea legs quickly. Given the connectivity of today’s multi-modal transportation world, there’s a lot that ties the various transportation modes together, which has helped prepare me for the work we’re doing here.”

He stressed that he has no “preconceived notion of how the Chamber should evolve. I not only recognize the importance of reaching out to members to understand their needs and priorities.”

He wants to tap into the experience and expertise of industry leaders as the Chamber charts a future course. “I invite you to play an active role in shaping the Chamber’s promising future as we put marine back at the forefront of national transportation strategies.

“You will hear more about my vision in the coming months. I’ll be putting a sharper focus on branding, communications and government relations to ensure this great story gets out.”

He wants to make sure government decision makers are familiar with the marine sector. One priority, also identified in the Emerson report, is strengthening “our data collection and research and analysis capabilities to see if we can better stay on top of industry trends. This will help members seize new opportunities as they emerge while also supporting our advocacy goals.

“I think this sector has enormous untapped potential that can be unleashed to create more marine traffic at lower cost,” he said. “I’m convinced that inland and coastal shipping in Canada and the U.S. has tremendous capacity to grow. And current economic and political conditions are conducive to realizing this goal. We’re in the best place in years to foster a harmonized and efficient regulatory climate on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border that promotes greater competitiveness, new investment and continued growth.

“We hope the new American Administration and the government here in Canada can work together to streamline the hodgepodge of regulations that currently govern the bi-national waters within which we operate,” he continued. “With our united and stronger voice, we can better advocate for harmonized, practical, science-based environmental regulations.

“Equally important, we have a Canadian government committed to major infrastructure investments, which are desperately needed across all sectors,” he pointed out. “This could generate increased volumes of materials being shipped for those projects.

“South of the border, the new Administration is set to roll out a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending – if the President delivers on campaign promises. This means there could be a whole lot more cargo being shipped on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence and our coasts to deliver these projects.”

In addition to better icebreaking capability, Burrows mentioned upgrades to waterways, locks and portside infrastructure and more efficient delivery of marine navigational services.”

At the same time, governments need to recognize marine’s green advantage “that other modes of transportation can only envy. With our fuel-efficient ships, we have a lower carbon footprint than road or rail. And we enjoy low congestion relative to other major trade corridors. Marine shipping is an attractive alternative for governments committed to a sustainable transportation future, with the capacity to do even more to accelerate both economic and environmental progress,” he said. The industry needs to more aggressively communicate its environmental benefits as well as its great safety story.

“We have a fantastic track record in moving oil and gas products to market, problem-free,” he noted. The industry has embraced technological innovations to maximize efficiencies and minimize costs. “Things like hands-free mooring and remote operations at St. Lawrence Seaway locks and new 3D navigation. Both are having a positive impact on both productivity and profitability. Added to that, we have new ships continuing to come on-stream that are at the cutting edge of safety technology and eco-efficiency.”

The industry needs to work with the Seaway and the Canadian Coast Guard to “find ways to keep our waterways open to optimize the shipping season.”

It’s encouraging that the Canadian industry is “actively pursuing new markets,” he stated. “Many of our Great Lakes ports are chasing more project cargo – and even some container – business with their shipping partners. And passenger cruising is a burgeoning market that is bringing in more customers and revenues.”

The Chamber “is an incredible asset in and of itself,” he added. It’s unique in the transportation world because it “brings all the key players together, including our shipper customers. There’s value-added in listening to the views of end users and working with them to develop a system that helps everyone grow and prosper. Most significant, speaking with one voice on behalf of so many industries that intersect with the marine sector is a tremendous advantage.

“It’s remarkable from a government relations standpoint, believe me, having worked closely with rail and more recently air. My goal is to ensure that government, the media and our stakeholders see what I see – a very bright future for our sector.”