By Brian Dunn

If there was ever a good example of baptism by fire, look no further than the Port of Montreal where Martin Imbleau became CEO in January, replacing Sylvie Vachon who retired after 30 years of service at the Port.

The former head of business development at Énergir (formerly Gaz Métropolitain) accepted the position after the Port was impacted by a rail blockage, a 10-day strike by longshoremen last summer and of course the fallout from Covid-19.

How did he handle all the turmoil?

“Some situations you have control over, others you don’t. Luckily, there was a good team in place when I arrived, so there was no panic on my part. The work stoppage was a bit frustrating, because the port is an important business which needs to stay open, since we are responsible for delivering commodities to a market of 110 million people in Quebec, Ontario and as far as the American Midwest.”

Mr. Imbleau was surprised when he was approached for the job, but happily accepted the offer. “It was one of my dream jobs. After 23 years at Énergir. I made a list of three places where I wanted to work and the Port was at the top of the list. It’s an important public service that promotes the Quebec economy, has a good reputation and the international trade aspect also appealed to me.”

While the rail blockade, strike and Covid-19 contributed to a 13 per cent drop in business at the Port last year compared to a record 2019, Mr. Imbleau says things are bouncing back nicely.

“We expect to surpass the 35 million tonnes of cargo handled last year, but it will probably take a year of two before we get back to our previous volumes. In fact, our container traffic (TEUs) is up 11 per cent from a year ago and dry bulk is up 2 per cent. So we’re well on our way back.”

Mr. Imbleau is not too concerned about customers who may have diverted business away from the Port during the lockout not returning or worried the Port’s reputation was tarnished. The increase in container import volumes is creating heavy vessel congestion at North American ports, where several ships are currently at anchor, he noted. But Montreal is not affected by this congestion, with no ships at anchor, thanks to its five container terminals with 12 container docks. In addition, the port has no truck congestion issues.

While construction of the new terminal in Contrecoeur is the Port’s most important project on the books, it is by no means the only one. Work is underway to add six more kilometres of tracks to the existing 100 kms of tracks that serve the port’s 21 terminals, including five for containers, while improving road access in and around the port continues. But there is a real push for the Port to become more environmentally responsible

On June 10, Montreal Port Authority (MPA) signed a cooperation and development agreement with Greenfield Global, which specializes in the production of biofuels. In the wake of dockside shore power implemented in 2017, the development of green hydrogen will make indirect shore supply of electrical power possible for the marine industry.

The agreement aims to identify, conceive and implement innovative green energy solutions, among which green

hydrogen, ethanol and methanol are at the forefront. A working committee has been set up to oversee the development and implementation of these new energy solutions for current and future MPA activities as well as those of MPA partners and the marine industry.

“Developing low-carbon fuels is the way of the future for the transportation industry. Port of Montreal wants to position itself among the forerunners and strengthen its position as a leader on the St. Lawrence in terms of sustainable development. Our trade objectives are integral to our sustainable development objectives, and we firmly believe that this alignment will help boost the competitiveness of the St. Lawrence,” said Mr. Imbleau.

To raise awareness of the important role the port plays in supplying local consumers and the positive impact for importers and exporters in Quebec and the rest of Canada, MPA has launched a new communications campaign, “Anchored in the City,” online and in the streets of Montreal.

The campaign features key import and export figures, profiles of companies whose goods pass through port terminals, videos and a contest to win a cruise for four. The campaign notes that 80 per cent of all goods consumed are transported by ship, including over 550,000 tonnes of sugar handled by the port each year and over 43,000 tonnes of medical supplies shipped through the port annually.

“The port of Montreal plays an important role in supplying all the goods we use daily and it helps businesses in Quebec and Ontario grow. It is with these elements in mind that we launched our new communication campaign, with the main objective of raising awareness of this public service that is the port of Montreal,“ said Mr. Imbleau.

That message was hammered home on September 8 when Mr. Imbleau made his first public appearance in front of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal where he also discussed his vision for the port’s future. It’s a vision based on dialogue and processes involving citizens, port partners and businesspeople to facilitate the attainment of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

“To improve, to do more, we have to understand one another. To be the best port we can be in the best city possible, we must work together, maintain an ongoing dialogue and share our various perspectives. This is how we will become an even more influential player on the world stage.”