By Theo van de Kletersteeg
In the period prior to the most recent provincial elections, the Liberal Party of Quebec developed “A Maritime Policy for Quebec”, which it intended to implement if elected. The subtitle of the document reads “To get Quebec going again”.
While most Quebecers would agree that something needs to be done “to get Quebec going again”, the surprise is that the “Maritime Policy for Quebec” has everything to do with logistics and transportation in general, but will only have a minor impact on Quebec’s marine industry. The language of the document is heavily dominated by references to marine transportation, but it is clear that the focus of this policy is directed to infrastructure development for the logistics and transportation industry in general, and development of the logistics hub in Vaudreuil-Soulanges in particular. Specifically, the policy identified $500 million as the funding to be set aside for development of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges logistics hub, and $1 billion to be set aside for other transportation infrastructure. In addition to those two allocations, the policy recommended a total amount of $112.5 million to be set aside for eleven marine-related activities. In terms of long-term expected job creation, almost half of the total anticipated gains in employment are expected to be derived from funds to be allocated for development of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges logistics hub. In fact, of the 30,000 new jobs that are expected to be created between 2013 and 2030, only 4,000 jobs are expected to be created in marine-specific industries, namely 2,500 in “port management”, 500 in “shipyards”, and 1,000 in “fishing industries (including processing)”.
Despite the apparent disconnect between the title of the Policy and the recommended allocation of government subsidies, there can be no doubt that more efficient and faster movement of goods and people will have a beneficial impact on Quebec’s economy. If we just consider the island of Montreal as an example, the lack of efficient and reliable public transportation constitutes a source of much personal frustration and waste of time. Employees and commercial vehicles stuck in traffic increases the cost of doing business considerably, not to mention the fuel burned needlessly and the pollution caused by idling or slow-moving vehicles. In fact, although governments will subsidize the cost of technical solutions to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, the benefits of such subsidies are largely negated by the higher number of vehicles on the road competing for less and less roadway artery space.
The Policy sees major opportunities arising from the recent Trade Agreement agreed to in principle with the European Union, and increasing importance of East Coast ports upon completion of the widening of the Panama Canal.
In addition to these trade-related opportunities, the Policy anticipates reactivation of Plan Nord, the multi-billion initiative to unlock Quebec’s northern regions for development of natural resource extraction and tourism. The cornerstone of this past policy was commercial exploitation of massive high-quality deposits of iron ore and other minerals. During the past two years, however, such developments have lost steam as a result of declines in the world price of iron ore which has made development of all but the richest and most easily accessible deposits questionable from an economic point of view. Moreover, Australian market leaders BHP and Rio Tinto have been pushing for gaining market share, which has had a further depressing effect on prices.
Among the marine-related activities advocated by the Policy are the following:
1. Reactivation of an aid programme to help reduce transportation-related greenhouse gases ($10 million),
2. Reactivation of an aid programme to promote and facilitate modal integration ($5 million),
3. Monitoring and documenting the condition of coastal zones and river banks ($10 million),
4. Promotion of short sea shipping activities and support for the development of a centralized ship cargo capacity database ($1.5 million),
5. Tax credits to shipowners for the repair and upgrading of their ships and modernization of their fleets ($50 million),
6. Assistance to ensure that Saint Lawrence ports possess adequate infrastructure to meets their operational demands ($ not specified),
7. Assistance to improve the frequency and coverage of ferry services, including establishment of a ferry service between Montreal and its South Shore ($25 million),
8. Assistance to improve cruise ship visitor infrastructure ($2 million).
At this time, the “Policy” is in the process of undergoing public consultations and is, by definition, subject to change before it is adopted. Conspicuously absent from the Policy at this time are details with respect to the proposed expenditures related to the Vaudreuil-Soulanges logistics hub and other transportation infrastructure, which represent 93 per cent of the funds to be earmarked for implementing the Policy.
In principle, the boost that Montreal and the province will receive from improvements in transportation infrastructure should help other sectors of the economy as well, if it means that the improvements will help businesses increase their productivity.
However, to maximize the benefits of greater public investment in infrastructure, Montreal and the province need to be represented in Europe, the U.S. and the rest of Canada by a unified organization promoting the shipping to, from and through Quebec. At this time, representatives of individual railways, ports and other organizations are “pounding the pavement” to promote their own activities. While they will clearly continue to do so, Quebec will only reap maximum benefits of its investments in infrastructure if it can encourage more (foreign and Canadian) shippers to divert traffic from existing channels to channels leading through Quebec. If you build it, “they” will come is an old adage which should more appropriately be replaced by “If you build it and market it properly, they will come”. After all, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?