Marine shipping executives urged the swift introduction of new legislation to modernize mandatory pilotage services when they met with Canadian federal government officials during Marine Day on the Hill on October 16, organized by the Chamber of Marine Commerce.

This year’s Marine Day on the Hill emphasized the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Waterway – Our national trade and transportation corridor. The day of meetings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa culminated with a reception for stakeholders, MPs and Senators, featuring Transport Minister Marc Garneau as a speaker as well as a multi-party panel discussion with Liberal MP Vance Badawey, NDP MP Brian Masse and Conservative MP Kelly Block.

Pilotage reform and infrastructure funding were key topics of discussion during the day. The government recently carried out a thorough Pilotage Act review and consultation process. “Canada’s pilotage system has not been overhauled in more than 40 years and is inefficient, inflexible, out-of-date and desperately needs to be modernized,” explains Bruce Burrows, President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. “We urge the Minister of Transport to now move forward to introduce legislation that promotes safety and provides greater transparency and oversight of pilotage services while making the best use of proven and modern technology. The Pilotage Review Chair has made a series of recommendations that would achieve these goals while still maintaining the highest levels of safety and reliability.” In Canada, once a vessel is in a compulsory pilotage area, under law, the vessel is obligated to have a Canadian pilot aboard to guide its transit through the waterway. 

Managed by federal Crown corporations, pilotage is a significant cost to users. Pilotage costs have a long history of increasing at rates that far exceed the rate of inflation. Just in the past five years, fees, salaries and benefits paid to licensed pilots have increased 3.4 times more than CPI. For example, on the St. Lawrence River, the hourly cost of pilotage exceeds the cost of the entire crew of a vessel, or more than double the cost of a vessel’s captain.

Burrows adds: “This is an extremely important issue for all of our members, which range from shipowners and ports to the customers we serve in the agricultural, manufacturing, mining and energy sectors. Out-of- control costs, of this kind, are a significant barrier to the growth of marine transportation on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Waterway – one of Canada’s key national trade corridors.”

The Chamber advocates pilotage reform, including the transferring the Pilotage Authorities’ current regulatory authority to Transport Canada, provisions for certification of vessel masters and navigation officers to pilot their own vessels, addressing the issue of pilotage cost, and transferring to Transport Canada the authority to regulate compulsory pilotage areas.

Allister Paterson, Chair of the Chamber of Marine Commerce and Chief Operating Officer of ship operator CSL Group, adds: “One of our key goals from yesterday’s meetings was to emphasize the importance of continued infrastructure investment in ports, locks, and intermodal connections to facilitate growth. With the entire Great Lakes-St. Lawrence waterway system at 50 per cent capacity, and with St. Lawrence Seaway cargo volumes up 9 per cent last year, and 4 per cent so far this year, we have a great opportunity to build on this new momentum and increase the amount of goods moving by marine to relieve congestion on highways and decrease carbon emissions.”