By Brian Dunn

Québec’s Maritime Strategy which aims to create more than 30,000 new jobs and encourage public and private investments of roughly $9 billion by 2030, has already been set in motion, according to Jean D’Amour, Minister for Maritime Affairs.

Close to $1 billion worth of investments, including $300 million to develop logistics hubs, have been committed since the program was announced last June 29, he said at a St. Lawrence Economic Development Council (SODES) Rendez-vous on April 14, entitled Maritime Strategy, Preparing for the Future. Quebec has been divided into 16 port industrial zones, including Montreal, Quebec City and Trois-Rivières, for investments, and the government will respond within two months to each proposal received, “a very efficient response time,” noted Mr. D’Amour.

With $11.2 billion of assets under management, the Fonds de solardarité FTQ is already actively involved in Quebec’s transportation sector with investments of over $280 million in several companies, including Bombardier, Air Transat, Groupe Robert, TransForce and most recently, Montreal Gateway Terminals. It also expects to be a major player in Quebec’s Maritime Strategy, according to Jean Wilhelmy, the Fonds’ Senior Vice-President, Aerospace Sector, Construction and Services. “Our role in the Maritime Strategy will be to help companies benefit from the economic activity on the St. Lawrence. We’ll invest in infrastructure, logistic hubs, develop industrial port zones, support Quebec shipyards, develop shortsea shipping and develop and modernize maritime tourism.”

SODES will continue to represent the maritime industry and sensitize the government to its needs, said Nicole Trépanier, President of SODES. It also expects to be an active participant in the implementation of the Maritime Strategy. In addition, the organization anticipates the strategy will enhance the growth of the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor, replace older infrastructure, upgrade and expand bulk shipment installations on the St. Lawrence and Saguenay Rivers and reduce congestion between ports and highways. “We need to talk about the industry outside our own industry in order to be heard and our needs understood and harmonize regulations between the St. Lawrence, Great Lakes and the U.S.” said Ms. Trépanier.

Is the St. Lawrence being used to its maximum capacity? That was the rhetorical question asked by Mario Girard, Chair, Association of Canadian Port Authorities and President and CEO, Quebec Port Authority. Between 1990 and 2014, about 110 million tonnes of cargo moved on the St. Lawrence, which is a small percentage of the 10 billion tonnes transported globally, so there is still a lot of work to do, he added. Major growth opportunities include the EU trade agreement and the rebound of the forest industry. And there is still no dedicated automobile terminal in Quebec.

“We have to sell the St. Lawrence. It’s not often all governments are on the same page, with Quebec’s Maritime Strategy and Ottawa’s willingness to open the purse strings.”

The industry still faces enormous challenges, Mr. Girard said, noting that U.S. ports are spending $150 billion on upgrades over the next four years, while Savannah’s container traffic has grown at an average annual rate of 9.4 per cent since 2000. “In the last 20 years, our tonnage has stayed the same on the St. Lawrence. Where will we be in the next 20 years? The U.S. is spending billions, while we’re spending too little. We have to apply for infrastructure money (from Ottawa). Dredging between Quebec City and Montreal also has to happen.” Canada does not have the same port culture that exists in Europe, and Mr. Girard is not sure our politicians can grasp the problems and challenges our ports face without it.

Implementing a Shortsea Shipping Network was the topic of Martin Fournier, Executive Director, St. Lawrence Shipoperators (SLS) who questioned why shippers would switch from trucks or rail to ships if they don’t know anything about the shortsea industry in terms of costs and logistics. The Quebec Short Sea Shipping Council (QSSC) was created in 2004 and is coordinated by the St. Lawrence Shipoperators. In late September, Quebec Minister of International Relations and La Francophonie Christine St-Pierre and Indiana Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann agreed to work together to promote the economic development of the St. Lawrence – Great Lakes region and recognized the importance of shortsea shipping for reaching their goal. SLS also took part in Quebec’s trade mission to Chicago. The mission enabled SLS to develop ties with Ports of Indiana and lay the groundwork for collaboration that could result in new projects for the QSSC, according to Mr. Fournier. A similar conference is being planned for Quebec City in 2017.

QSSC also took part in a conference organized by the 22-member European Shortsea Network to see if their model could be applied to the St. Lawrence, Great Lakes, East Coast and the Arctic.

The best way to build awareness of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway is by illustrating its importance through statistics, according to David Naftzger, Executive Director, Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers. The organization was created last June in Quebec City during the region’s governors and premiers annual Leadership Summit.

During the Summit, the eight governors and two premiers that make up the Conference pledged to develop a strategy to double maritime trade, shrink the environmental impact of the region’s transportation network and support the region’s industrial core. “While our transportation networks operate on a regional basis, it’s important to have input of states and provinces” said Mr. Naftzger. Some of the projects his group is working on include increasing efficiency and reducing costs by reducing bottlenecks and making the waterway more attractive for shippers, build new markets, grow economic activity around the system and put in place forward thinking policies. The organization plans to build new markets through seasonal optimization, promoting shortsea shipping and develop cruises, a “high value activity,” said Mr. Naftzger. “Investment is sorely needed. There is very little public-private investment. Caisse de dépôt is a good example of a good investment tool.”