By: Wendy Zatylny

As a trading nation, Canada has much to offer the world, and our seventeen Canada Port Authorities (CPAs) are a key part of this.  We are already highly-competitive and efficient players in a very dynamic global trading system. But this system is changing rapidly, and Canada Port Authorities are at the centre of a world that holds tremendous potential for economic growth, environmental sustainability and community investment for Canadians.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, international seaborne trade is continuing to gather momentum, with global economic expansion driving world shipping demand. In fact, volumes across all segments are predicted to grow, with containerized (+6.4 per cent in 2017) and dry bulk (+5.1 per cent in 2017) cargoes projected to grow the fastest. Overall, global seaborne trade is expected to expand by 3.8 per cent into 2023.

Things are no different at home, where the volume of cargo handled at Canada’s ports continues to show record or near-record growth. What are CPAs doing to meet this demand? They are responding with major expansions and far-reaching transformation of their facilities.

Look no further than the recent projects funded by the National Trade Corridors Fund to get a sense of how CPAs are evolving to meet global economic expansion. Projects include the Nanaimo Port Authority’s new vehicle processing centre and the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority’s new warehouse for bulk storage, while the Prince Rupert Port Authority is expanding and developing new rail lines to connect terminals with a logistics park and the Quebec Port Authority is upgrading infrastructure to meet the needs of exporters.

This forward-looking, game-changing work means CPAs are providing key infrastructure for Canada’s national and international supply chain systems. The importance of positioning our export-dependent economy for the future cannot be overestimated. Canada’s 17 Port Authorities handled over 340 million tonnes of cargo in 2019, directly and indirectly employing more than 213,000 people, all while supporting local and regional economic development in communities from across this country.

The new frontier in port efficiency

As ships get bigger, trains get longer and terminal managers call for more expansive and automated facilities, Port Authorities are adopting new technologies and more efficient operations as the keys to success.

The data revolution has transformed the way ports function, adding digital infrastructure to physical in the search for efficiency and fluidity. Ports now play a key role in the logistics of trade, maximizing coordination across marine, road and rail suppliers, carriers, and operators.

Consider that each piece of cargo has a package of data attached to it — details about its contents, owner, customer, destination, and how it will get there. It is crucial for this data to flow easily through the system in tandem with the cargo itself – optimum fluidity comes when the data is accessible in a way that allows for real-time decision-making to optimize its transit. The result: faster delivery, lower costs and – importantly – reduced environmental impact from emissions.

The Port of Vancouver, for example, is using GPS-tracked trucks and data from rail track readers to predict bottlenecks and upgrade operations – which also reduces truck idling time. The Port of Montreal uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to automate the processing and validation of truck and container data, also reducing idling time and increasing the throughput of truck passages per hour. Other ports are part of a digital global platform developed by Maersk and IBM intended to enhance productivity, reduce paperwork, cut expenses, and accelerate shipping. Analytics are also being used to make the journey to and from port facilities more efficient, predicting truck turn and dwell times and enhancing rail connections.

As this exciting evolution continues, CPAs are eager to work with government, business and other stakeholders to develop a consistent national approach to data sharing. The effort is well worth it.  As the World Bank notes, “logistics performance is key to economic growth and competitiveness.”

Multimodal industrial hubs

But data is not the only frontier of change. In this era of disruption around the globe, modern Canadian ports have also reinvented themselves as multimodal industrial hubs acting as linchpins for the world economy.

By linking sea, lake, road, and rail transport facilities, ports are transforming into high-tech centres enabling frictionless trade, supporting customers and maximizing the efficient and effective movement of cargo. That includes not only managing logistics and data, but also engaging in other activities, such as converting materials to higher-value import and export products.

We are just scratching the surface of what is possible when it comes to new technologies. From Artificial Intelligence and equipment automation, to autonomous ships and vehicles, to alternative energy applications, port operations are set to become even more sophisticated and efficient in the years to come.

Doing our part to fight climate change

As the Canadian government seeks to expand and diversify trade, so too will the volumes of cargo moving through the heart of our communities. Port Authorities are already hard at work making their lands more accessible and mitigating the impacts of their activities on the environment, engaging extensively with local residents in the process.

Many ports are slashing their carbon and other emissions by using electric vehicles and installing energy-efficient LED lighting. For instance, in Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Halifax, and Quebec City, vessels are now permitted to plug into shore-based power so they can turn their engines off, reducing the amount of idling on the coastline. Shipping lines are also doing their part, converting to alternative fuels and using passive solar energy.

Canada Port Authorities are already among the world’s cleanest and efficient in the world, and we are ready to do more. The key to the future is to strike the right balance between enabling the incredible growth of the industry, job creation and innovation, and protecting our precious marine communities for generations to come. We are eager to play our part in making this happen.

(Wendy Zatylny is President of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities)