By Mark Cardwell

The years pass but the notion and benefits of Marine Day never grow old, participants at the 13th edition of the annual event say. “Marine Day continues to help the standing and influence of our industry,” said Pierre Préfontaine, Senior Vice-President of Canada Steamship Lines and Chairman of the Société de développement économique du Saint-Laurent – or SODES – which organizes the event. “It has an enormous value as a privileged forum in which we can exchange with, and inform Quebec politicians about the needs and concerns of the marine industry.”

Held under the theme, ‘Merci, mon fleuve!’, a nod to the $2.3 billion in salaries and revenues and the 27,000 jobs that the marine industry generates annually from its activities along the St. Lawrence River, the day featured eight meetings between 32 industry representatives and various high-ranking politicians and the caucuses of Quebec’s three main political parties. Notably, there was a closed-door meeting with Sylvain Gaudreault, Quebec’s Minister of Transport and Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy.

Participants also sat in on question period at Quebec’s National Assembly, and went to the port of Quebec to visit a new ferry owned by Société des traversiers du Québec, the Peter Fraser, which will shuttle cars and passengers between Isle Verte and Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs, a 90-minute drive east of Quebec City.

In addition to CSL’s Préfontaine, who co-chairs with Gaudreault the “Forum de concertation sur le transport maritime”, a bi-annual meeting that is held the day before Marine Day, marine industry representatives at the meetings included Suzanne Paquin from Logistec and former SODES President Marc Gagnon, now with Fednav. Other participants came from a wide variety of marine-related companies and organizations including ports, shippers, shipowners, logistics and training. More than 120 politicians and marine industry representatives attended the day-closing cocktail in the National Assembly’s restaurant, Le Parlementaire.

In a prepared speech, Gaudreault said his minority Parti Québécois government’s was committed to the marine industry. He noted, for example, that the government had recently allocated $250,000 over five years for marine training employment programs. “It is another powerful message that our government believes in the marine industry,” said the Minister. He also noted that it was a PQ government that initiated the first Marine Day event in 2001, and introduced the previous day’s Forum to discuss specific industry needs behind closed doors.

Gaudreault mentioned that when he learned of new American regulations concerning ballast water – and the negative effects they could have on Quebec shipping companies – he “immediately contacted federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt” to share his concerns. Gaudreault said he also plans to soon meet with the U.S. consul general in Quebec City to discuss what he calls the “unrealistic” new regulations. In addition, the Minister said he would soon unveil “green plans” aimed at making Quebec “a leader in green jobs in the marine industry.”

That was music to ears of Larbi Yahia, a marine industry manpower expert and Manager of international and special projects for the Institut maritime du Québec. IMQ will receive new government funding of $250,000 to help raise the competency levels of deck officers. “It’s fantastic that the government gives such importance to helping attract workers to our industry (and) provides us with the means to improve their skills,” said Yahia, who was participating in his 13th Marine Day. He called Marine Day “an exceptional industry event. Everyone loves this day.”

McKeil Marine’s Business Development Director Peter Grayson agrees. “It really is unique,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to meet and exchange views with key people in our industry and with politicians – it’s all good.” Said Nicole Trépanier, who has spearheaded the organization of all 13 Marine Days, “The many hours of emails and phone calls are worth every minute. This is a fabulous event for the quality of marine industry people that attend and for the face time they get with the politicians in power,” said Trépanier, President of SODES and the former General Manager of St. Lawrence Shipoperators.

As in previous years, she presented the winner of the St. Lawrence Award during the closing cocktail. This year the winner was David Bolduc, General Manager of Green Marine. Bolduc has led the organization since its founding in 2007 as a regional initiative that manages a voluntary environmental friendly program for ports and shippers. It has since grown into an international movement with some 74 certified members, including five U.S. ports, the latest being Seattle. “I am very proud to receive this recognition,” Bolduc told Canadian Sailings just moments after he received his award. “We’ve worked very hard and our efforts are bearing fruit.”