By Mark Cardwell

Standing in the elaborately adorned restaurant of Quebec’s National Assembly after a long day of meetings with provincial politicians and bureaucrats under the auspices of Quebec Marine Day on Oct. 23, Marc Gagnon recounted a profundity he heard at the first of these popular annual events 12 years ago.

“The Parti Québécois was in power (and) we met with several senior ministers that day, including (then Municipal Affairs Minister) Louise Harel,” recalled Gagnon, who was then President of the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council – or SODES.

SODES and the St. Lawrence Shipoperators organize Marine Day on the fourth Tuesday of October.

“Someone asked Madame Harel about the value of an annual meeting like this to discuss marine issues,” recalled Gagnon, who left SODES in 2008 to join Fednav as Director of Government Affairs.  “She said, ‘We politicians are deaf, but we are not blind.  You need to come here so that we can see you.’  I think she hit the nail on the head as to why this event is so essential.”

Held under the theme “Visibility, Development, Prosperity – Maritime Activity and the Regions, Going Hand in Hand”, this year’s Quebec Marine Day once again put the marine industry in the spotlight at the province’s legislature.

In all, some 50 industry stakeholders – roughly the same number as last year – took part in a total of nine meetings with elected officials from all four provincial parties in and around the National Assembly.

“These meetings permit the marine industry to make its concerns known,” said Nicole Trépanier, Gagnon’s successor at SODES.  “The meetings were fruitful and the MNAs we met, many of whom were recently elected and were unfamiliar with either Marine Day or our industry, seemed very interested.”

According to Trépanier, the two main issues put forward by the marine industry at this year’s meetings were the need to maintain current provincial funding programs and to find new monies for infrastructure investment, as well as the need for support of short-sea shipping services and initiatives.

Trépanier, who referred to Quebec as “a maritime nation” in her speech at the closing reception in the legislature’s ornate Le Parlementaire restaurant, sidestepped a suggestion that this year’s event attracted fewer industry luminaries than previous years because of the recent election of the sovereignty-minded Parti Québécois government.

“We’re quite proud of the results this year,” she said.  “We were able to meet with several MNAs despite the fact that the National Assembly is not sitting.”

She added that the day-end reception, too, was attended by about 120 people, roughly the same as last year when the Liberals were in power.

Trépanier also pointed to the presence of Quebec’s new Minister of Transport and Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy, Sylvain Gaudreault, who pledged support for the industry in a prepared address at the closing reception, as proof that Marine Day is a red-letter event on the calendars of many politicians in Quebec, regardless of political stripes.

Port of Montreal boss Sylvie Vachon also spoke at the closing reception.  She notably called on listeners to promote the many well-paying jobs that are available in the industry, and lauded the “well organized port system” along the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes “that open us to the world.”

For his part, Louis-Marie Beaulieu, president of the Désgagnés Group, said Quebecers “owe a large part of their prosperity” to the St. Lawrence River and the ports and maritime traffic that use it.

In order to protect those benefits, he added, the province “needs to work with Ontario” to ensure continued access and entry into the continent’s industrial heartland.

The reception ended with the presentation of the annual St. Lawrence Award, which is given to the company that contributes or achieves a sustainable development project that helps to promote the famous waterway and enhance its economic future.

This year’s winner is CSL, which won the award for its 2011 order of six new Chinese-built, Trillium-class lakers.  Compared to the engines of older ships of equivalent size, the Trillium class engines, according to a SODES press release, “reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 15 to 20 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions by 31 per cent.”

CSL’s new President, Louis Martel, a Quebec City native who was attending his first Marine Day, accepted the award.  “This caps a great day,” Martel told Canadian Sailings just minutes after he won the award.  “I was very happy and impressed by the reception and the collaboration I saw here.  I think this event is important to helping marine stakeholders reach their objectives.”