Big changes proposed for Pacific ports, railways, airports
Published: January 22nd 2008
Everything from West Coast ports
to railways and the airline sector must change if Canada is to become a major
trade conduit to Asia, a report by a trio of private-sector advisers says.
The report to International Trade Minister David Emerson on the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative warns incremental tinkering with Canada's transportation system and ports won't be enough to fully exploit the country's potential advantages as a western trade portal to Asia.
"Canada is not a driver of the growth in global trade, nor is it a particularly critical participant," reads the report, made public Tuesday.
"However, Canada is positioned to benefit by virtue of its geography and its economic and political relationships."
A spokesman for Emerson said Tuesday the report was being circulated among stakeholders for discussion. The minister would not comment on it but did say the government was not bound by any of its recommendations.
The 27-page report was prepared by Jeff Burghardt of Prince Rupert Grain Co., furniture manufacturer Arthur Defehr of Winnipeg and T. Richard Turner, chairman of the Insurance Corp. of B.C.
Emerson appointed them to find ways to exploit Ottawa's $600-million taxpayer investment in the gateway initiative.
The report includes more than 30 recommendations covering marine ports, railways, airports and airline operations.
Ports should operate 24/7: report
Among other things, it recommends further consolidation of West Coast port
administration, putting terminal operations in the hands of private operators
but with competition among them, and speedier handling of containers, including
inland terminals to help clear bottlenecks.
A potentially controversial set of recommendations call for drastic reform to work rules in the ports to make them true round-the-clock operations.
"The ability to change the labour environment on the Canadian docks is perhaps one of the best opportunities to differentiate ourselves from competing U.S. ports," reads the report. "Failure to do so would be an impediment to a significantly enhanced Pacific Gateway."
Despite a crippling strike by container-truck drivers in 2005, the three advisers stopped short of recommending all labour associated with the Pacific Gateway be designated essential.
"But policymakers may have to consider such a step in the future as the shippers and sending ports in Asia consider the entire labour situation in Canada related to the ports as unreliable," the report said.
2 railways lack incentive to invest: report
The report also tackles the dominance of Canada's two major railways, which
it said have no incentive to invest in expanding capacity to ease congestion.
"The railroads have demonstrated that they each act primarily in their own financial interest," the report said, noting both CP Rail and CN Rail have heavy commitments to the U.S. market.
"So while we do not necessarily recommend regulation, we suggest that an expansion of opportunities for the railroads must come with the acceptance of responsibilities or policies that will assure that service to Canada is, at a minimum, maintained or, even better, enhanced."
The advisers noted that other countries, including Britain, Australia and the Netherlands, separate ownership of the track and operation of the trains.
However, the report ruled out such an approach — for now.
"If the railways fail to demonstrate that improvement, we would strongly suggest allowing open access on the national carriers' railway network," it said.
Give foreign airlines access to Canada: report
Open skies top the report's recommendations for the air sector, urging Canada
to give foreign carriers access to any city in Canada with reciprocal rights for
It also recommends lifting of foreign ownership restrictions on Canadian carriers and the adoption of universal transit without visa, which would waive visa requirements for travellers going through Canada to a third country such as the United States.
The report also suggested Ottawa and the provinces make airport authorities more open and accountable, and to give them the right to raise money through tax-exempt bonds.
© The Canadian Press, 2008