By Alex Binkley

Montreal, Nanaimo, Prince Rupert, Toronto and Vancouver (the latter based on estimated volumes) posted record cargo tonnage during 2017 while most other Port Authorities recorded respectable traffic gains over 2016. Only three Port Authorities recorded lower volumes.

The largest percentage increase was recorded in Prince Rupert, which handled 24.3 million tonnes last year, a 28 per cent increase from 2016. The increase was led by 26 per cent growth in its intermodal container business and strong dry bulk cargo volumes. The Port’s previous record had been 23 million tonnes in 2013. The increase in Prince Rupert came from a mixture of terminal expansion and the introduction of new logistics services, said Bud Smith, Chairman of the Port Authority. The port “remains well-positioned to accommodate growth of Canadian trade in the Asia-Pacific region, and we continue to advance expansion that will see us become Canada’s second largest port by volume in the next decade.” Among the 2017 milestones for the port were DP World completing expansion of the Fairview Terminal, increasing annual throughput capacity by 60 per cent and enabling the terminal to move 926,540 TEUs. Ridley Terminal shipped 7.6 million tonnes of steel-making coal, a 90 per cent increase over 2016. Westview Wood pellet Terminal exported 1.1 million tonnes of wood pellets for biofuel production, a 22 per cent increase over 2016. While exports from the grain terminal were down 6 per cent because of lower wheat shipments, it still handled more than 5 million tonnes of grain and special crops for the fifth straight year. During the period 2010 to 2017, Prince Rupert exhibited the second highest compounded annual growth rate (6.8 per cent), after Nanaimo at 19.4 per cent.

Montreal, the second busiest port, has released preliminary figures that show it handled just over 38 million tonnes of freight in 2017, which amounts to a 7.6 per cent increase over 2016. Sylvie Vachon, President and CEO of Montreal Port Authority said container traffic at 14 million tonnes was up 6 per cent over last year, liquid bulk was up 7 per cent to 14.5 million tonnes and dry bulk at 9.5 million tonnes was up 11 per cent. The 2017 results marked a 6.8 per cent average annual growth in business during the last five years. She credited the diversification of the port’s traffic growth to its “projects to modernize our facilities and improve the fluidity of port operations.” The Viau container terminal marked its first full year in operation giving the port 600,000 TEUs of additional handling capacity. When the Contrecoeur terminal is built, it will bolster the port’s role in container movements. During the period 2010 to 2017, Montreal exhibited the fourth highest compounded annual growth rate (6.7 per cent), after Nanaimo (19.4 per cent),Oshawa (7.6 per cent) and Prince Rupert (6.8 per cent).

Vancouver is estimated to have handled about 140.6 million tonnes, an increase over 2016 of 3.7 per cent. It will release official figures and details in March, a spokeswoman said. Its container traffic played a leading role with a 7.4 per cent increase in loaded containers passing through the terminals.

Among the other ports, Saint John handled 30.5 million tonnes of cargo last year, a 15 per cent increase over 2016. Jim Quinn, President and CEO of Port Saint John, credited increased shipments of dry and liquid bulk and breakbulk for the 2017 traffic increase. The addition of CMA CGM container service during the year softened the drop in container movements after Tropical Shipping moved its business to another port. CMA CGM joined the weekly service provided by MSC since 2012. Quinn expects the DP World multi-purpose cargo terminals to draw more business to Saint John and compliment the port’s terminal modernization project.

Quebec recorded 27.5 million tonnes of freight, up nearly 11 per cent from 24 million tonnes in 2016 because of strong iron ore shipments. It was the second consecutive year of growth following three years of falling traffic. Mario Girard, President and CEO of the Port of Quebec, said that having achieved record iron ore shipments in 2017, the port plans to pursue cargo diversification by securing the environmental permits needed to build a deep-water container terminal.

Sept-Iles said its increased iron ore shipments mainly came from IOC Rio Tinto and Tata Steel Minerals Canada using the port’s new multiuser wharf. The Port recorded a 6 per cent increase in volumes to 24.2 million tonnes, compared to 22.9 million tonnes in 2016.

The port of Hamilton increased its traffic volume by 6 per cent in 2017 to 9.9 million tonnes. Commodities associated with steelmaking rebounded in 2017, spurred by a revival of activity at Stelco’s Hamilton works. Import shipments of finished steel were also their highest ever, at more than 620,000 tonnes, 20 per cent higher than in 2016, reflecting strong demand from Ontario’s manufacturing sector. President & CEO Ian Hamilton said the port is growing its role “as a leading transportation hub for Ontario’s agrifood sector.” In 2017, the port handled its highest-ever total of agricultural products. Close to 2.3 million tonnes of commodities such as Ontario-grown corn, wheat and soybeans, as well as canola, sugar, potash and other fertilizers were handled through the port. Agricultural cargoes now make up 23 per cent of the port’s total, up from 12.5 per cent in 2010. “The port of Hamilton has attracted more than $200 million in private sector agrifood investment in recent years, which means our terminal operators have the ability to move more product more efficiently,” he said.

Halifax climbed 7.6 per cent to 8.9 million tonnes, which was its best result since 2012, and its containerized cargo volume was up 16 per cent over 2016 and broke the record set in 2005. Total containerized tonnage was close to 4.6 million tonnes while non-containerized cargoes such as gypsum, bulk oil and fuel, totalled close to 4.4 million tonnes. Karen Oldfield, President and CEO, said, “This past year also saw the arrival of Ultra Large Container Vessels over 10,000 TEUs in our port. All of this combined to provide a very strong foundation on which to build, and we are looking forward to our continued work together in the year ahead.”

Windsor increased its volumes by 6.6 per cent to 5.1 million tonnes. The Port Authority’s President and CEO, David Cree, said he expects traffic through the port continue to grow in the coming years because of the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge as well as a booming local economy.

Toronto’s 2017 volume jumped 18.6 per cent from 2016 levels, propelled by strong shipments of cement, stone, aggregates and sand.

Belledune held its own at 2.04 million tonnes and Oshawa edged up to 408,567 tonnes from 372,301 tonnes. Sagenay, Canada’s smallest Port Authority, managed to grow its volumes by just over 10 per cent to 326,000 tonnes. Port of Nanaimo grew its volumes by 3.3 per cent to 5.6 million tonnes in 2017. Nanaimo has exhibited by far the best long term growth by any Canadian Port Authority, having grown from from 1.5 million tonnes in 2009 to 5.6 million tonnes in 2017, an annual growth rate of some 19.4 per cent.

Meanwhile, Thunder Bay slipped by just over 10,000 tonnes to 8.82 million tonnes, Trois-Rivieres edged lower by 180,000 tonnes to 2.6 million tonnes, St. John’s dipped by 20,000 tonnes to 1.70 million tonnes, and Port Alberni slid to 1.34 million tonnes from 1.65 million tonnes in 2016.

Overall, port volumes witnessed growth of 7.3 per cent in 2017, which is a remarkable achievement, given that Canada’s GDP grew by about 3 per cent. Given current trade uncertainties, improvements in America’s competitiveness, and looming increases in interest rates, it will be interesting to see how these factors may influence 2018 results.