By Alex Binkley

Transport Canada’s port modernization review has reached its second anniversary with no indication of when it might make recommendations to the government. Last October, the Department released a summary of the ideas collected from the ports, shipping lines, shippers and community groups since the review was launched in March 2018. It will continue to study them. Any changes in port governance would likely require legislation and the drafting of regulations, a process that will further delay any changes.

Transport said among the ideas it received were developing more accountability between Port Authorities and the federal government to ensure the ports “consistently and responsibly manage strategic public assets.”

Keeping the ports competitive “should be a key goal of the government’s economic and transportation policy.” That should include an updated federal gateway and corridors transportation strategy. The Port Authorities should have the financial flexibility to deal with volatile trade markets and respond to time-sensitive business proposals. There was broad consensus that expanding port infrastructure is vital to meeting future demand and that more diverse funding sources are essential to ports meeting future needs, the review said.

Since Port Authorities vary considerably in size, operations, resource capacity and local context, there were calls for that situation to be reflected in their legislated mandate. “A regionally-integrated approach to capacity planning and strategic development, including inter-port cooperation and amalgamations,” could encourage ports to work together to fill gaps and benefit from each other’s strengths.

The Association of Canadian Port Authorities said the review made clear that Canada’s ports play a key role in supporting the economy and global trade. ACPA President Wendy Zatylny said her members have “have been quick to introduce and adopt new digital technologies to optimize operations and quickly identify critical supplies during Covid-19. We are eager to work with government and stakeholders to continue this forward-looking approach. As Canada moves towards a post-pandemic recovery, we look forward to continuing to help power Canada’s economic recovery in a safe, sustainable and inclusive manner.”

Mike Broad, President of the Shipping Federation of Canada, said his members want the government to consider ports from a trade corridor perspective to guide investment and infrastructure decisions, provide for greater accountability in CPA fees (there is no appeal process/forum to object to question or oppose fee increases), create incentives for Green Shipping and digitizing trade data and the complete supply chain. Broad said it was encouraging to see the review’s comments on infrastructure investment, technology, Canada’s trade policy, big data and climate change.

John Corey, President of Freight Management Association of Canada, said the review is a good start for the future of all Canadian ports, which are essential to the growth of Canada as a trading nation. It is looking “at a wide range of factors, innovation, communities, the environment, safety and others because any development of ports going forward must be done in a manner which reflects Canadian values related to economic growth; working smarter not harder, sharing the wealth generation, protecting the environment and ensuring safety is paramount.” At the same time, ports have issues that need solutions today and Transport is proceeding with a study into the transportation needs of the New Westminster Rail Bridge (NWRB) in Vancouver. “The NWRB is a choke point for traffic going to and coming from the north shore.” While the issue should have been tackled sooner, “I look forward to the NWRB study and the options it will bring forward, because frankly the current situation looks unsolvable.”

Emile De Sanza, Chair of the Canadian Institute of Logistics and Transportation in North America, said that the review “has been a comprehensive undertaking, supported by studies and considerable input by stakeholders. As with other interested parties, we await further developments arising from the review process.”

Canada has 17 Port Authorities, which handle about 60 per cent of Canada’s marine commercial cargo tonnage. Since the current port system was launched 20 years ago, “the operating landscape has changed a great deal … and it will continue to evolve quickly. “There is a greater need for ports to be competitive, efficient and sustainable, while maintaining a high degree of safety and security. As hubs connecting ocean going vessels with landside operations and transportation (rail, trucking, inland transloading facilities, etc.) in an increasingly integrated global economy, ports are more important than ever. “These operations need to be coordinated across the supply chain to optimize port, rail and road activities and speed trade to its ultimate destination – whether in Canada or around the world.”

The review said industry and the Port Authorities “raised the issue of competition among ports for funding. They asked for a more coordinated approach such as a national strategic plan to guide investments in ports and intermodal infrastructure to make sure we are making good investments now, and in the future. “They said that having supply chain actors work together would help them use the available industrial land in the best way possible, balance the needs of their communities, and make the movement of goods through the port and local jurisdictions more seamless.”

Collaboration would encourage investment in projects that could improve capacity beyond the port, increasing supply chain fluidity while focusing on common user projects, it said. “Using inland ports was also seen as a way to address port land constraints and capacity issues.”

Other steps include using technology “to improve the efficiency, capacity, reliability, resiliency and competitiveness of Canada’s supply chains. They would include data gathering, blockchain and distributed ledger systems, artificial intelligence, autonomous vessels and vehicle automation in terminal facilities, and radio frequency identification. This could enable enhanced inter-port cooperation. Ports need to adopt more environmentally sustainable practices and work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change and promote resilient port infrastructure.”

Safety and security are also crucial as “the marine sector is not immune to organized criminal activities,” the review said. “Action is needed to address vulnerabilities that might arise within Port Authorities. Participants underlined that sharing information, responding to crises and ensuring port safety and security were vital to maintain effective operations at Port Authorities. “Many believed the Port Authorities need to adapt to growing commercial demands and that there is value in better coordination at a system level to make operations more efficient.”