By Michael H. Broad, President, Shipping Federation of Canada

The election of a new federal government this past October marked the beginning of a new era in Canada and a shift in the country’s priorities. Although the previous government’s agenda over the last eight years or so was significantly shaped by a focus on trade, the new administration appears to be taking a more nuanced approach. While trade and economic growth are certainly part of this government’s priorities, the economic agenda is now set in a context of climate change, clean energy, green investments, and ensuring that all Canadian businesses (including those that are small and medium size) derive benefits from the country’s free trade agreements.

Coupled with this change in orientation is a change in governing style, as exemplified by the government’s decision to publish the ministerial mandate letters that are issued to each federal ministry. Not only do these letters provide insight into the Prime Minister’s expectations for each minister, they also serve as tools for measuring their performance and holding the government at large accountable for delivering. The mandate letters also spell out directions for a new style of leadership overall, which includes ensuring transparency, working closely with deputy ministers, adopting a transparent and evidence-based approach to public policy making, and promoting constructive dialogue with a range of interests (including business) and the media.

What does all of this mean for the ocean shipping industry? First and foremost, it means that we will have to demonstrate how the industry can be a key partner in helping the government deliver its new trade strategy. In particular, we will be working closely with Transport Minister Marc Garneau who has identified a number of key priorities for his department. These include improving marine safety; better aligning the transportation logistics chain; working with the Minister of Infrastructure to deliver investments in ports, transportation corridors and border gateways; and deciding how to move forward on a proposed moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s North Coast.

With respect to the latter point, the Federation attended a ministerial roundtable in Vancouver earlier this month, at which stakeholders were invited to present their views on the proposed moratorium. As the national representative of Canada’s ocean shipping industry, the Federation drew particular attention to the system of international and national regulations that already governs tankers navigating in Canadian waters, as well as the tanker industry’s strong safety record on both the west and east coasts of Canada. This latter point is illustrated by the fact oil spills worldwide have decreased in both frequency and volume since the 1970s, despite the huge increase in the seaborne trade of crude oil that has occurred during the same period. Transport Canada is now developing an engagement strategy on this issue in order to ensure that indigenous peoples, communities and stakeholders all have an opportunity to express their views on this issue. The Federation will continue to be actively involved in this debate, with a view to ensuring that any measures undertaken by the government remain within the international framework, and are based on sound evidence and an objective assessment of the effectiveness of the safety systems that are currently in place.

The Federation was also part of a coalition of shipowners and operators that recently met with Hunter Tootoo, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. The key focus of discussion was the future of the Coast Guard’s icebreaking fleet, which is in a precarious state and not well positioned to meet the needs of increased marine traffic either north or south of 60. The industry strongly urged the Minister to develop a comprehensive and realistic plan for replacing the fleet, which includes securing the necessary funding and establishing realistic and verifiable timeline for the delivery of new icebreaking units. Towards that end, we urged the government to renew the current fleet of heavy and medium icebreakers on a priority basis, and to give this precedence over the previous government’s decision to spend over $1 billion to build a single polar icebreaker dedicated mostly to supporting Arctic sovereignty. In this respect, we noted that it is essential that the icebreaking fleet be capable of meeting the needs of the marine transportation industry in the long term, so that Canada does not run the risk of weakening (and potentially even having to close) some of its main trade routes whenever a harsher than expected winter occurs. We also noted that the current lack of icebreaking capability undermines Canada’s ability to build and maintain a robust supply chain, which is essential to the Canadian economy and to the social and economic well-being of our remote communities.

As we develop our agenda for the year ahead, we will be seeking to engage with the government on a number of other priority issues as well, including those related to marine safety, the marine sector’s environmental profile, and the industry’s overall competitiveness in terms of fees charged by ports, pilotage authorities and other service providers. We also plan to pursue a variety of issues related to trade flow efficiency, including the liberalization of empty container repositioning, the governance and financing of gateways and trade corridors, the modernization of the container examination framework, and the facilitation of trade at the marine border.

It’s an ambitious agenda, but we believe that the time is ripe to move forward and make progress on these key files.