Moving to a new city for work can be daunting, especially when family is involved. But for Chris Hall, appointed President and CEO of the Shipping Federation of Canada on February 14, replacing Michael Broad who retired after 18 years at the helm, it was an easy transition for his wife and two university- aged sons. “We were super excited to come to Montreal with new surroundings and new culture. My eldest son is even training here with the National Sprint Kayak Team.”

Prior to joining the Federation, Mr. Hall was Vice- President of Operations and Harbour Master at Saint John Port Authority where he oversaw all aspects of port activity, led on marine policy and advocacy issues and was responsible for overall service delivery. He also spent 10 years at Atlantic Towing, holding management roles in operations and commercial activities. Mr. Hall is a Master Mariner and a graduate of the Canadian Coast Guard College and holds management certificates from Western and Queens Universities.

The new Shipping Federation head was already familiar with the organization through his two previous positions. “I’ve had a fairly good understanding of the Federation’s work as an affiliate member and from pretty regular contact over the last 18 years or so.”

Barely six months into his new job, Mr. Hall made some observations of the work the Federation is involved with. “As a national organization, we are engaged in many issues from coast to coast. A big revelation is how much members look to us to take the lead in various areas. I also learned that Concordia University offers a Certificate of Marine Transportation, which is something I would like to grow.” Asked about some of the major issues that keep the Federation busy, it was no surprise that pilotage headed the list. “It remains front and center and the number one issue for our members from coast to coast and is the highest profile file we’re working  on “The model is outdated and doesn’t recognize advancements in technology in both Canada and the U.S. We have to break the mold and start from scratch. It’s a regulated monopoly, especially the U.S., and is not sustainable. With costs in the range of $200,000 to get a ship in and out of the Seaway Great Lakes area, it is a massive expense. One of many issues is the requirement to have a pilot on a ship for 12 hours in open water. This doesn’t make sense, given the numerous safety systems and technologies that are in place. The region is becoming less and less competitive as a result.”

The new Pilotage Act is now in force and new regulations will be the next step. The Federation will continue to push for improved efficiency and cost effectiveness in those regulations. This includes how innovative technology can reduce risk and how it can make pilotage safer and more efficient.

Digitization is also important for the Federation which wants to see a national strategy and supporting funding programs. One component of a national digitization strategy would be the creation of a “single window” reporting regime whereby vessels entering Canadian waters would have one single digital platform in which to enter all pertinent information that would be disseminated throughout multiple parties, such as Port Authorities, Canada Border Services Agency, Transport Canada, service providers, among others. The concept of this system is embedded in an IMO convention that Canada is signatory to, but has yet to fully embrace.

Environmental issues continue to keep the Federation busy, especially the protection of whales in shipping lanes, in addition to open loop scrubbers with their discharges in marine protected areas and which are banned in some ports, including Vancouver.

“Of course, we follow the decarbonization issue almost daily to make sure we’re involved and active on that front. It was a major topic at the Green Marine conference in Montreal and the ACPA conference (Association of Canadian Port Authorities) in Toronto.”

New themes being looked at include Transport Canada’s National Supply Chain Task Force that will consult with industry experts and make independent recommendations regarding short and long-term actions to alleviate supply chain congestion. There is also a need for a national transportation strategy for ports, rail and roads and the need to conduct environment assessments for various projects such as CN’s Milton logistics hub project.

“There should be some softening in some markets as super high consumer demand begins to taper off. The congestion seems to be more on the land side with rail and truck fluidity issues as there is an adequate number of ships available. “

Chris Hall

President and CEO of the Shipping Federation of Canada

The ports of Montreal, Trois- Rivières and Quebec City are proposing some type of strategic alliance to make the St. Lawrence more competitive, an idea that Mr. Hall applauds. “It is a completely realistic approach as each port has its own niche and it makes sense to combine resources based on commodity type each port is specialized to handle. It’s a better use of the infrastructure and would strengthen the supply chain and possibly spend less on traffic management.”

A proposal in 2019 by St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation to grow traffic by transshipping crude Prairie oil to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick for overseas customers is still kicking around, but “not much is happening on that front.”

Asked about global supply chain issues, Mr. Hall said the most visible impact is on the container side in terms of congestion. “There should be some softening in some markets as super high consumer demand begins to taper off. The congestion seems to be more on the land side with rail and truck fluidity issues as there is an adequate number of ships available. But container availability is still a major concern. High levels of imports result in a container imbalance and there are only a few container manufacturers and most are in China.” New container capacity should increase between 6-8 per cent this year, but that will not solve all of the imbalance problems because many containers have to be retired.

The Federation is anxiously waiting to hear the results of the Ports Modernization Review launched in 2018 by Transport Canada that received over 130 comments and over 120 formal submissions, and which covers a lot of areas and could result in significant regulatory changes, said Mr. Hall. Stakeholders want to make sure that Canada’s ports stay competitive and supply chains are fluid. In addition to Canada Port Authorities, interested parties include marine carriers, rail, trucking, transload facilities, shippers, Indigenous partners, port communities, environmental groups and governments. They want to promote and invest in new infrastructure and technologies that help supply chain actors work together to operate more effectively.

One of Mr. Hall’s biggest concerns is the effect inflation might have on labour issues and how inflationary pressure might create more disruptions in the supply chain and increase costs. “The way inflation is going and its effect on labour is one of our biggest issues that doesn’t get talked about much. We also need to create more resiliency in our supply chain. The unfortunate situation with floods and fires out west last summer showed how vulnerable Canada’s supply chain is.”