By K. Joseph Spears and Lee Carson

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, has been a port for over 400 years and has been the gateway to the Canadian Arctic for centuries. Melting sea ice will usher in a seismic shift in ocean routes as the Northwest Passage opens up along with a Route across the top of the Arctic Ocean over the North Pole, and the Northern Sea Route. While a lot of attention is focused on Iceland as the terminus for a trans-Polar route, St. John’s has an equal potential as a major Arctic shipping centre within the Canadian Arctic and the entire Arctic Ocean Basin. The Arctic has great economic and commercial potential for Canada’s future.

On October 13-15, the Association of Aerospace and Defence Industries of Newfoundland (ADIANL) hosted its third annual Maritime and Arctic Security and Safety (MASS) conference. It is held each year in St. John’s. This conference continues to grow in both quality and attendance, and has truly become a “must attend” event on the calendar for stakeholders and practitioners in this important field for learning about innovation and governance in a dynamic manner.

This year’s conference was organized around the important theme of “collaboration for effect” and divided its three days of talks into three of the more pressing issues including Maritime Situational Awareness, Search and Rescue, and Oil and Gas security matters. There was a solid slate of speakers this year from government, from industry and from academia, and from Canada, the U.S. and from Europe. Progress was made on understanding the issues and the audience was briefed on recent events in these important maritime fields.

Some of the highlights of this year’s conference include the following:

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Minister Darin King opened the conference with a keynote address in which he reported great progress on the province’s Arctic Opportunities Initiative, including the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Territory of Nunavut to facilitate and strengthen collaboration between both jurisdictions and to promote responsible economic development and enable stakeholders to mutually benefit from opportunities emerging in the Arctic. This is in the context of the province’s broader strategy which is to leverage innovation in its strong Ocean Technology sector to position the province as a pathway to the Arctic. This will strengthen Canada’s intergovernmental relationships in the region.

John Schmidt of Chantier Davie told the amazing story of Project Resolve, under which vessels for maintaining Canada’s maritime security can be provided quickly and affordably under an innovative partnership model between industry and the government of Canada. Clearly, this is a cost-effective way for development of Arctic infrastructure. Dr. Claude Daley later followed up by providing some visibility into Memorial University’s Marine Institute’s very impressive capability in designing and testing cost-effective hulls for operation in ice. Memorial is a world leader in marine engineering and vessel research.

A thought-provoking analysis was provided by Hugo Rojas-Romagosa of the Netherlands Bureau of Policy Analysis on the economic benefits to Canada and the U.S. derived from the development of commercial shipping through the Northwest Passage, coupled with exciting updates from MDA, Raytheon, LookNorth, Omnispace and others about innovative solutions to the infrastructure challenges of developing those Northern Marine Transportation Corridors. There’s both a business case, and there’s a way to provide cost effective infrastructure.

We heard excellent presentations from the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Coast Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Danish Coast Guard about their current operations and recent successes. We also heard from Captain Gordon Houston, Chair of the Tanker Safety Expert Panel on his assessment and recommendations for what we must do to improve our oil spill preparedness and response. This is critically important for Canada as international shipping increases in the region, and we heard a passionate talk from Professor Whitney Lackenbauer, a noted Arctic Historian and Honoury Canadian Ranger, on what more we can do and achieve, by empowering our Canadian Rangers to take a bigger role in Arctic Ground-based search and rescue.

For those looking for strategic context, we were given an Arctic geo-political analysis by Professor Rob Huebert. Attendees were well briefed on the Arctic Council’s way ahead strategy under U.S. Leadership by Dr. Miguel Rodrigues of the U.S. State Department. Likewise, Paul Barnes of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers provided the big picture for the migration of oil and gas interest North into the Arctic.

Finally we were given a glimpse of the impressive strength of the Newfoundland and Labrador Ocean Technology sector through tradeshow booths manned by many of the local industries and by presentations by the Marine Institute, Memorial University, and the Centre for Arctic Research Development.

Perhaps Maria Halfyard of Memorial’s University Marine Institute summed it up best in her description of a simulation collaboration project between industry, government and the University. Bringing the parties together and focusing them on a common goal is easier said than done, but can be achieved with some perseverance, and is well worth it in results. We are confident Canada is on the right path in addressing its maritime Arctic safety and security challenges, and MASS seems to be playing a valuable progress review role on this complex journey. Canada’s Arctic future depends on ensuring that conferences like MASS 2015 continue on into the future, and that its deliberations are considered in formulating Canada’s Arctic policies.

K. Joseph Spears, principal of Horseshoe Bay Marine Group, has had a long-standing interest in Canada’s Arctic and marine capabilities. He helped start Cougar Helicopter in Halifax, and has lectured the Marine Law course at Memorial’s University Marine Institute’s Masters of Maritime Affairs. He has participated in many policy dialogues in the development of marine practices for the government of Canada. He assisted in the strategic environmental assessment of Canada’s polar icebreaker under contract to the Canadian Coast Guard via Norstrat Consulting. Joe can be reached at

Lee Carson is the President of Norstrat Consulting Inc. and a Senior Associate on Arctic matters with Hill+Knowlton Canada. He was a member of the organizing team of the inaugural MAS Conference in 2013 and attended MASS15 as a delegate.