Over 200 delegates recently attended the 54th ACPA AGM & Conference, hosted by Port of Hamilton.

The “Game Changers” theme was reflected in many of the speeches and business sessions, not least of which was the presentation by Jeff Rubin, author of the book entitled “The End of Growth” and former Chief Economist with CIBC. Rubin’s theory is that oil is the major economic driver in the world, and that the world is running out of “cheap” oil. As such, it no longer makes as much sense as it once did to transport goods around the world. Triple-digit oil prices could have the effect of moving steel manufacturing back to North America, for example. On the other hand, high oil prices make it economically feasible to develop the Alberta oil sands. What does all of this mean for Canada? The key fault line will be those who have oil and those who have not. Canada is now among the top global oil producers and is in fact an energy superpower with the third largest known reserves in the world. Rubin stated that the Canadian dollar is now morphing into a full fledged “petro currency” and, in his opinion, divisions within Canada are becoming more pronounced due to fiscal and monetary policies that were developed in different times. Rubin floated the idea that Canada should refine its own oil rather than send it to refineries in the U.S. and that it is imperative for the Keystone pipeline to receive approval so Canadian producers can get higher prices for their oil. According to Rubin, the world will become smaller and trade more locally, and we will all need to live with less.

Minister of State for Finance Ted Menzies stressed the need for more free trade agreements between Canada and other nations as the “new stimulus” for Canada’s economy. He stated that ports are pivotal to the health of the Canadian economy and, in reference to the recent Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) study, he pointed out that Canadian ports are winning business because they are competitive and efficient, and not because of any infractions of U.S. law, treaty agreements or FMC regulations. According to Mr. Menzies, Canada must continue to improve the efficiency of its ports and expand trade opportunities by eliminating import tariffs and striving to remove all barriers to trade.

Canadian Chamber of Commerce President, Perrin Beatty, echoed the need for increased free trade and cited the success of NAFTA as a reason why Canada needs to push to capture its share of trade from emerging markets. Protectionist measures such as “Buy American” will continue in the U.S. (the Keystone pipeline being held hostage by pressure groups) is all the more reason why Canada must diversify its trade beyond trade with the United States. Negotiating free-trade agreements with additional countries, particularly with the European Union, will substantially expand Canada’s trade opportunities. Canada’s biggest problem is its low productivity. He added that Canada must increase its productivity dramatically to be more competitive.

Canada’s Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt made it very clear in her speech to the delegates that the maritime  industry needs an innovative and strong relationship with labour to ensure prosperity for the entire country. Services in federally regulated areas such as rail, ports, roads and telecommunications must be reliable, as this is a critical part of rebuilding the economy. Strikes should be the exception, rather than the rule, and Raitt expressed her readiness to take action to stop any strikes in federally regulated industries if they threaten public safety or services. Raitt said labour disputes before 2008 were usually about issues of job security and outsourcing. However, underfunded pensions and health care costs have taken over as the principal issues in disputes. As Canada signs more free-trade agreements with side agreements – known as labour cooperation agreements – to ensure a level playing field between countries, she cautioned that we can expect increased labour strife.