By Wendy Zatylny

What makes a good neighbour? We all have neighbours, and we all know what we consider a “good neighbour” to be. A good neighbour is someone you can borrow a cup of sugar from, count on to help clear your driveway after a winter storm, keep their yard clean and say good morning at the beginning of the day. And being a good neighbour yourself, you reciprocate by bringing them cookies made from the sugar you borrowed, you may help cut their grass in the summer and you always ask how their day went in the evening. Good neighbours make good communities, and good communities make great cities.

Canada Port Authorities (CPAs) do a very good job at being good neighbours. They understand how important it is and they work hard at it. This isn’t always easy because the relationship between CPAs and their host cities is unique in its dynamic. Under the Canada Marine Act, Canada Port Authorities are given numerous tasks: operate in a manner that maintains global competitiveness and financial self-sufficiency; support the achievement of national, regional and local social and economic objectives; protect the environment; and be responsive to local needs and priorities. That’s a lot to balance, no matter how good a neighbour you are.

Port of Belledune 50 Years

So, how do we do it? It’s simple – ports and their host cities have learned to work together, and they understand how important the health of each is to the other. This is a delicate balance achieved between ports and community leaders built on years of working together and figuring out what is the best way to coexist given these complex situations. And not only have they figured out how to coexist, they have figured out how to thrive. Upon looking more closely, one begins to understand how that delicate balance of a largely collaborative dynamic is maintained.

The truth about port relationships with their surrounding communities is analogous to family members having grown up together. Siblings can have moments of disagreement, but at the end of the day they depend on one another, work together and understand their long-standing ties. Canada is home to some of the most historic, and yet modern ports, in all of North America. Our ports have evolved from their beginnings as cargo handlers, to the modern-day maturity of logistics experts and technology innovators who are critical links in the global supply chain. This maturity has been achieved side by side with their host cities over more than a hundred years in some cases. Our ports are deeply rooted in the fabric of our country and of their communities.

Finding the optimal balance between port operations and community well-being is one of the main challenges of port managers today. Our ports work hard at this, including going to great lengths to consult with – and work with – their community representatives and neighbours to ensure that all voices are heard when it comes to managing change brought about by port expansion projects.  These have led to notable joint successes, including (to name only a few) a road expansion on the North Shore in Vancouver and the $100 million dollar Port of Montreal “Logistics financing partnership fund” available to companies that have development projects in Greater Montreal connected with the Port’s logistics chain.

But we also have to recognize that, just because a community doesn’t get exactly what it wants, doesn’t mean the process was flawed or non-existent.  Ports, like government and individuals, have to balance many different perspectives and requests, while trying to achieve a mix of objectives.

As the major economic engines of growth for their regions, our ports’ actions have enormous financial impacts on our communities, and community leaders understand this. In 2017 for example, CPAs were responsible for over 213,000 direct and indirect jobs and contributed over $25 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product while handling over 330 million tons of cargo to and from over 170 countries world wide. This enormous economic activity generated over $14 billion in wages and contributed over $2 billion in national, provincial and municipal taxes.

Our CPAs understand, however, that positive economic impact is not enough when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships with their communities. In a world where the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, environmental stewardship is an additional key factor. CPAs have been working diligently with the federal government on the Ocean’s Protection Plan (among many other environmental initiatives) and all eighteen Canada Port Authorities demonstrate a firm commitment to this philosophy by being voluntary, and active members of Green Marine, a program dedicated to environmentally-responsible growth in the marine sector.

Our ports also actively participate in community engagement programs, paying forward the economic prosperity generated by their activities. For example, throughout the year, Port Saint John supports dozens of charities and non-profits through donations and volunteer hours from its employees. In particular, focus is given to charities providing basic needs to children and families in neighbourhoods surrounding the harbour.

The Port of Prince Rupert has implemented a Community Investment Fund which donates a share of the port’s annual income to local projects that contribute to the region’s quality of life and create long lasting benefits.

The Hamilton Port Authority has made a 3-year, $60,000.00 investment in City Kidz’ Youth Leadership Development program and new Youth Studio. The port also provides City Kidz with a rent subsidized location on port property for its offices for children’s programming space and Christmas toy warehouse. As a result of the port’s continued support of City Kidz, 80 to 100 youth participate in their City Youth and Roadmap to Dreams program weekly.

These are just a few examples of community relations programs from these ports…and all CPAs have many similar examples. And the results add up: from 2011 to 2016, Canada Port Authorities contributed an estimated $23 million back into their communities….and the numbers keep rising.

The average Canadian citizen seems to get it. Ports are important in helping Canada prosper in the global trade arena. They also get that ports give back and are important contributors to the quality of our every day lives. In a poll conducted by Ensight Canada in 2015, over three quarters of Canadians believed that ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of ports should be a government priority, and over 70% of Canadians agreed that an appropriate and proportionate amount of infrastructure spending should be directed towards Canada’s major ports.

Canadians are correct to agree. The global supply chain is evolving at a breakneck pace and any country standing still will be left behind. Over the past 6 months, infrastructure funding has started to flow to some CPAs from the National Trade Corridor Fund, and that has been great news. However, that fund was oversubscribed by $2.3 billion dollars and only a small percentage of all port projects applied for received funding. Much more needs to be done…and quickly.

Last March, the Federal Government announced a national Ports Modernization Review. Canada’s 18 CPAs are already highly-competitive and efficient players in a very dynamic global transportation system.   Nonetheless, this system is changing rapidly, and this review is an opportunity to further evolve our port system into one that integrates trade, supply chain partners, new technology, and communities in a predictable, innovative and safe manner.  The Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA) has been working hard with its 18 CPA members and the Federal Government for years to help find the optimal balance point to meet these goals. The Ports Modernization Review is a great opportunity to make further strides in that direction.

What makes a good neighbour? A good neighbour has a sense of ownership about – and fosters partnerships within – our communities. Canada Port Authorities make good neighbours by being good partners: partners with the federal government providing much needed feedback on how to make the supply chain better, partners in the global arena facilitating trade with countries all around the world by being world class innovative logistics facilities, and partners with their communities understanding that healthy ports need healthy communities to operate in.