Ottawa launches review of ports

A federal review of Canada’s marine ports is now underway.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau in early March announced Ottawa’s intention to conduct a review of Canada’s port authorities.

The aim of the review, according to Transport Canada, is to “optimize the role of port authorities … as strategic assets that support inclusive and sustainable growth and trade.”

In a March 12 news release, Transport Canada said the review will consist of a series of roundtables and meetings … with indigenous groups, Canadian port authorities, provincial governments, municipalities, broader domestic and international marine sector stakeholders, and Canadians.”

Transport Canada is asking Canadians and marine port stakeholders to offer their views on how Canada’s ports can respond to “current and future challenges and opportunities.”

Public comments are being accepted online at until early September.

Transport Canada has also stated that the review will identify potential “policy, legislative and regulatory changes” that will help Canada’s port authorities “consolidate their position as key players in the Canadian economy.”

The review is due to be completed by early 2019.

“Ports are a critical part of Canada’s transportation network and trade corridors, and need to remain innovative and competitive in today’s dynamic environment,” Garneau said in Tsawwassen, B.C.

“I invite marine stakeholders and Canadians to provide input that will help shape the future of Canada’s port system, so that it continues to support sustainable and inclusive growth.”

On its port modernization website, Transport Canada said it is “initiating a national conversation to seek … views and ideas on how best to position Canada’s port authorities for the future.”

When asked to provide more details about the types of research to be conducted, Transport Canada officials declined to be interviewed.

But in an April 19 email, Pierre Manoni from Transport Canada’s media relations unit said the review has several goals:

  • To support Canada’s economy and facilitate innovation, commerce and passenger movements.
  • To enhance port safety and security.
  • To promote environmentally sustainable infrastructure and operations.
  • To optimize governance and accountability processes, and strengthen relationships with indigenous and local communities.
  • To exercise sound fiscal management.

Canada’s 18 port authorities were established in 1998 and were authorized to operate on a commercial basis at arm’s-length from the federal government.

The port authorities were intended to be financially self-sufficient, and were also tasked with maintaining port assets, including land, under public ownership.

In recent years, capital costs required for port renewal projects and infrastructure investments have emerged as a challenge for port authorities.

In 2016, a report conducted by former federal cabinet minister David Emerson suggested Canada’s ports, while financially stable, will require capital, innovation and more flexible governance.

“Without this degree of adaptability and appetite for innovation, the Canadian industry runs the risk of losing customers and market share to U.S. and Mexican ports,” the Emerson report stated.

The Liberal government had earlier commissioned a report by investment bank Morgan Stanley Canada to examine the possibility of privatizing Canada’s port facilities.

However, sources familiar with the port modernization review say Ottawa is not currently considering marine port privatization.

Officials at the Port of Vancouver say they welcome the federal review.

“From our perspective, the current structure of port authorities works very well … (but) we look forward to working with and supporting the efforts of government, including any changes it may consider making to the authority’s mandate or scope to ensure the Port of Vancouver remains economically and environmentally sustainable for the benefit of local communities and all Canadians,” port officials said.

“Trade in Canada is growing and part of our mandate is to ensure the port is ready to meet Canada’s trade objectives. Enhancements to the gateway are needed to facilitate this growth ….”

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