By Alex Binkley

After strong performance in 2017, with aggregate volumes up 7.7 per cent over 2016, Canada’s 18 Port Authorities generally reported volumes matching those of 2017, or modest increases. 2018 volumes were up over 2017 by 2.4 per cent, which represented only a slight increase over estimated population growth during the period of 1.2 per cent, or 12-month GDP growth of 1.7 per cent. Some ports, notably Hamilton, Trois-Rivières and Belledune, recorded strong increases in tonnage handled during 2018. Will the entry into force in late last year of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership open markets to Canadian products across Asia? And will year two of the European free trade deal boost exports across the Atlantic?

Port of Vancouver hasn’t released its official 2018 results but growth projections based on available year-to-date numbers suggests it handled about 146.9 million tonnes compared to 142.1 million. At mid-year the Port was running about 4.4 per cent ahead of 2017 based on “steady growth across most business sectors, demonstrating the increasing strength of the Canadian economy and the Port of Vancouver’s ability to handle Canada’s growing trade with Asia, despite general trade uncertainty,” said President and CEO Robin Silvester. Inbound container traffic was strong as were exports of Canadian agrifood and forestry products.

Port of Montreal saw its tonnage increase for the fifth consecutive year to 39 million tonnes, up 2.3 per cent from 2017, MPA President and CEO Sylvie Vachon said. She said the tonnage growth would probably have been higher if the Viterra grain terminal hadn’t been shut down by a lock out of grain handlers for the first nine months of 2018. Container shipments reached 1.62 million TEUs, matching the previous year’s performance. As container traffic growth is expected to continue, the Port has decided to work with Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership and Termont to accelerate the container terminal project at Contrecoeur.

Six of the largest shipping lines in the world have served the container market at the port of Montreal since containerization began 50 years ago, and that number will soon rise to seven.

Port of Quebec posted a nominal gain over the 27.5 million tonnes of 2017 and is planning major investments to expand its capacity, says Port President and CEO Mario Girard. Investment in infrastructure at the port will reach a record high in 2019, with projects valued at about $70 million. Combined with planned investments by port users in their own facilities, total expenditure at the Port will exceed $169 million. The port is in the first phase of an infrastructure expansion supported by a $15.5 million contribution from the federal government. Among the private initiatives, La Coop Fédérée is to start work on a $90 million grain terminal to handle export of Quebec-grown grains. “These investments will propel Port of Quebec into the future and strengthen its position as a driver of economic growth and a strategic Canadian port,” Girard said.

Traffic at Port of Prince Rupert grew by 10 per cent to 26.7 million tonnes. A highlight was reaching the historic milestone of Fairview Container Terminal handling its millionth container for the first time in a calendar year. During its first full year in operation in 2008, Fairview Terminal moved a modest 182,523 TEUs. Shaun Stevenson, Port President and CEO, said “Reaching one million TEUs in a calendar year is a significant milestone, which demonstrates the success we and our partners have had in building a strategic gateway for trans-Pacific trade, making Prince Rupert one of the fastest growing gateways in North America.”

The original design capacity for Fairview Terminal was 500,000 TEUs, and with the completion of the Phase II North expansion completed exactly ten years after the day it opened, its current capacity is 1.35 million TEUs.

Port of Sept-Îles reported a 4.7 per cent gain in traffic to 25.4 million tonnes over 2017. The start-up of operations at a multi-user dock accounted for the entire increase, with over 5.5 million tonnes handled, and offset a drop in iron ore shipments early in the year due to a labour dispute at IOC Rio Tinto. The dock is designed to handle 50 million tonnes annually.

Saint John saw its total tonnage for the year drop to just over 25.1 million tonnes from 30.4 million tonnes in 2017. Spokeswoman Paula Copeland said decreases in 2018 were experienced in liquid and dry bulk sectors, the same sectors experiencing increases in 2017.

Port of Hamilton reported handling 11.6 million tonnes, up 18 per cent from last year and the highest volume in more than a decade. Exports increased by 63.6 per cent. Behind this trend were increased exports of Ontario-grown grain, helped along by new terminal capacity at the port, a solid crop year, and expanded European market access as a result of the free trade agreement, said HPA President & CEO Ian Hamilton.

Port of Halifax handled 9 million tonnes, a nominal increase over 2017. Its container traffic was close to the port’s all-time record. The Port says “2018 was a big year for a few reasons. It was in August that we announced the temporary extension plans for Halterm that will see the existing Pier C extended by 135 metres to allow the port to berth and service two ultra-class container vessels simultaneously.” Work on that project is expected to be completed by early 2020.

Hobbled by a late start to the shipping season because of heavy ice on the Upper Great Lakes, traffic through the port of Thunder Bay fell short of its 2017 results but the 8.7 million tonnes was still one of its better results in the last decade. Prairie grain dominated shipments from the port with 7.4 million tonnes compared to 7.3 million in 2017. Annual shipments of coal and potash from Western Canada were strong as well, finishing 20 per cent above the five-year average. The potash tally was the second highest of the past decade; only last year was higher.

Port of Nanaimo handled 5.3 million tonnes, down 4.8 per cent from 2017. Declines in log and bulk exports more than offset increases in lumber and project cargo tonnage handled. The Port’s leadership has been resolved with Ian Marr being named CEO and Mike Davidson as COO. They had shared the CEO title during the final months of 2018. Marr said he wants to proceed with current business development initiatives including the Vehicle Processing Centre that is due to open in February.

Port of Trois-Rivières handled a record 3.8 million tonnes of cargo last year, up 47 per cent over 2017. While liquid bulk traffic remained stable at nearly 300,000 tonnes, solid bulk and general cargo traffic increased sharply from 2.2 million tonnes to 3.1 million tonnes and from 73,000 million tonnes to 346,000 million tonnes respectively. “The Port’s installations, modernized as part of On Course for 2020 development plan, delivered their full potential during 2018,” said Gaetan Boivin, Port President and CEO. “The general cargo terminal, inaugurated at the beginning of the year, was quickly put into operation and its use was significantly higher than we expected.” The port is collaborating with the Port of Montreal on information sharing and the exchange of strategies and best practices, he said. “The agreement will ultimately increase productivity, competitiveness, efficiency and safety of port services and procedures for both Port Authorities.”

Port of Belledune posted a record of 2.9 million tonnes, a hefty 900,000 tonne increase over the previous year. It reached a record monthly level of traffic during July with just over 402,000 tonnes. It handles Arctic resupply shipments as well as exports of wood pellets to Europe.

Port of Toronto said its 2018 results would be in line with the 2.2 million tonnes of traffic recorded during 2017.

Port of St. John’s reported a small drop in traffic to just under the 1.7 million tonne level of 2017. Most of the traffic is delivered by Oceanex ships.

Port Alberni saw its traffic rise to 1.5 million in 2018 from 1.3 million tonnes in 2018. Mike Carter, Director of Operations, said growth in log exports was the main driver in the increase.

Oshawa reported handling 508,157 tonnes, an increase of about 100,000 tonnes over 2017. Port President Donna Taylor said it was the highest amount in since l995. “Steel was obviously a factor, but the new cement distribution facility had its first full season of operations. Sadly, salt was down due to outside factors like strikes, etc. or we would have really hit it out of the park.”

Saguenay saw its traffic grow to 368,600 tonnes from 326,000 tonnes.