By Alex Binkley

In the background of the launch of the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership in June were strong philosophical disagreements over the best method of encouraging maritime transportation on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. However, GLSP and the Chamber of Marine Commerce have patched over any hurt feelings and resolved their differences enough to begin discussions on a joint research project for 2016. It would follow industry-supported studies on the economic importance of maritime transportation to the Great Lakes region and the infrastructure spending by shipping lines, ports and the Seaway authorities.

“At the end of the day, what we all committed to do is keep acting on behalf of the maritime industry,” says Steve Fisher, Executive Director of the Washington-based Partnership. “We’ve reshuffled our organizations, but we’re still working co-operatively. Our web page is consistent with CMC’s Marine Delivers web page.”

The Partnership’s goal is “to enhance public understanding of the benefits of commercial shipping in the Great Lakes Seaway region.” It wants “to highlight the positive attributes of marine transportation. The program does not have an advocacy agenda, and as such, it does not develop or promote issue-based messaging, policy or legislative matters, or lobbying of any kind.”

Stephen Brooks, President of the Ottawa-based Chamber, said both organizations will follow their mandates. “Where it makes sense, we will work together. Hopefully that will continue in the future on any effort that promotes and advocates for maritime transportation.” The joint research project next year “is congruent with the way the Chamber and the Partnership parted,” he said. The two organizations communicate on a regular basis. “There so many jurisdictions involved in the Great Lakes and Seaway.

“CMC is continuing its Marine Delivers program in both the United States and Canada, educating and advocating to the public, government and media on the benefits of Great Lakes-Seaway shipping,” he added. “Effective representation of our members’ interest involves all forms of awareness and advocacy, much like the Partnership (GLSP) is doing with the Council of Great Lakes Governors, and many other government bodies. Ultimately whether you call it promotion, awareness, advocacy, lobbying or something else, we all recognize our industry’s challenge is to enhance public attitudes and positively affect policy and regulatory outcomes. Certainly the Chamber’s large bi-national membership is very supportive of this strategy which we’ve been employing for over 50 years.”

Greg Wight, former President and CEO of Algoma Central Corporation, a founding funder and Chair of Marine Delivers said that “The majority of funders objected to the idea of creating yet another separate organization to do the same work we were all doing under the Chamber and Marine Delivers.”

In addition to heading the Partnership, Fisher remains head of the American Great Lakes Ports Association. Laura Blades will be the full time Director of Public Affairs with GLSP. Julia Fields remains her opposite number with the Chamber.

Industry insiders said the differences between the two groups centred on the Chamber’s decision to step up lobbying of government on the needs of the maritime sector. That sidelined the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (which operates the part of the Seaway between Port of Montreal and Lake Erie that is located within the territorial limits of the United States) because as a U.S. government agency it cannot pay for lobbyists, said Fisher and Marc Gagnon, head of communications for Fednav. On the other hand, the Chamber says it has had a policy in place since September of 2013 to ensure that dues from members like Seaway Development are not used for political or lobbying purposes, which policy appeared to be satisfactory to its members until March 2014.

GLSP was joined by the Lake Carriers Association, the American Great Lakes Ports Association and Fednav in a year-long preparation of GLSP before it was unveiled. Other organizations and companies are welcome to join.

Gagnon said his company became a member “because we are more comfortable with it. We feel there is a need to stick to the education role with governments, the public and the media. At the same time, we need a way for everyone in the industry to talk to each other. There are so many issues that affect domestic Canadian and U.S. shipping and ports as well as transportation in the St. Lawrence River.” Having a good relationship with the LCA and the Ports Association is important to Fednav, he said. The company also supports SODES and the Maritime Information Bureau in Quebec City.

Michael Broad, President of the Shipping Federation of Canada, says the Partnership “will promote the importance of the maritime industry in everyday life on the Lakes. It’s needed because there is a lot of misconception about shipping on the U.S. side. GLSP would like to get Canadians more involved in its efforts.”

Robert Lewis-Manning, President of the Canadian Shipowners Association, said he heard reports of early disagreements between GLSP and CMC. In the end, they have become “co-ordinated on many topics. Keeping the lines of communication open with the U.S. is important for us because there is so much business there.”

Gagnon says the Partnership will be ramping up an effort this fall to focus more attention on the Great Lakes and Seaway. That will dovetail with a campaign by the Council of Great Lakes Governors and Premiers. At its annual 2015 meeting this summer, the Council unveiled its plans to develop a Regional Maritime Strategy to promote the importance of water-borne transportation to the states and provinces. The two components are an inventory of the transportation industry’s assets and the establishment of regional priorities for Great Lakes shipping.

The Council declared in a statement that the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River maritime transportation system “is the foundation of a $5 trillion regional economy. The region’s industrial core depends on high-volume, low-cost transportation options. The system is one of our region’s competitive advantages and a key to continued prosperity. Regional collaboration is required to protect it and coordinate needed investment. The Governors and Premiers recognize that there is a great need to reinvest in the maintenance and rehabilitation of this regional infrastructure network that connects the Great Lakes states, Ontario and Quebec with one another and with the world.”

The inventory of regional transportation assets “will help to inform a regional maritime strategy to be developed by the states and provinces. This strategy will in turn inform policy and funding decisions to improve the binational maritime system.” The goal is to maintain and improve ports and terminals and their links to other transportation modes, the Council said. “Rather than continue managing a system built to meet yesterday’s needs, the maritime strategy will anticipate tomorrow’s needs and create a vision for a 21st Century system.”

It noted there are more than 100 commercial ports in the region handling about 400 million tonnes of goods. They include 23 of the top 100 U.S. harbours by tonnage and 12 of Canada’s top 20 ports by tonnage. The ports offer connections to 30,000 miles of rail track, 70 intermodal terminals and more than 40 interstate and provincial highways. The system employs more than 220,000 jobs and pays US$14 billion in annual wages.

Meanwhile, the Quebec government has unveiled a Maritime Strategy as part of a larger plan to boost the province’s economy. With Quebec and its neighbour Ontario already agreeing to more economic cooperation, there are hopes in the shipping community that this initiative, still largely in the development stage, could also steer benefits to both the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. While Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says the aim of the strategy is to make the St. Lawrence River and Quebec ports the international point of entry into eastern North America, many can see increased shipping on the River also benefitting the Seaway-Great Lakes, especially with active involvement of Ontario and the Great Lakes states.

Fisher welcomed the Council’s initiative. “For too long the maritime industry tried to go under the radar. That’s no longer an effective way to deal with the media or the public.”

GLSP had worked closely with the Council on the development of its Strategy. “The purpose of the Partnership is to enhance public understanding of the benefits of commercial shipping in the Great Lakes Seaway region of North America through an education-focused communications program,” the organization says. “Additionally, it will sponsor research, and work closely with media, policy makers, community groups, allied industries, environmental stakeholders, and the general public to inform the public about the attributes of marine transportation.”

GLSP wants to deliver a big-picture perspective on the Great Lakes-Seaway and “serve as a platform to discuss the economic, environmental and safety benefits of this shared waterway for national, bi-national and international trade. It will engage stakeholders by providing them with industry news, results of reports and studies, and opportunities for them to understand – in a very real way – the impact Great Lakes Seaway shipping has on the economies of both the U.S. and Canada.”