The following is a letter from the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council, the Shipping Federation of Canada, the St. Lawrence Shipoperators and the Association of Canadian Port Authorities:
January 30, 2014
The Honourable Gail Shea,
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
200 Kent Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E6
The associations representing the marine transportation industry in Canada are seeking your support in addressing the many challenges facing the Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreaking fleet, which is falling into a state of increasing obsolescence. We have made a number of representations in recent years to the Coast Guard questionning its ability to provide adequate icebreaking services during a winter season like this year or more severe.
Indeed, the current winter season arrived like a whirlwind at the beginning of December, and by Christmas, ice conditions had deteriorated to such a degree that many vessel transits were either delayed or postponed. Between January 3rd and 9th, some twenty ships were stranded in the St. Lawrence waterway, resulting in serious financial losses for Canadian industries and their trading partners overseas. The Société des traversiers du Québec, which falls under the jurisdiction of Transport Quebec, was also negatively impacted by the these conditions, as a number of its ferries were tied up for several days, making it impossible to provide much-need service to remote communities.
In addition to their negative economic impacts, these incidents also damaged the reputation of the St. Lawrence – Great Lakes corridor as a major commercial axis and reliable transportation route. This is a less than ideal outcome within the context of an increasingly global economy and a recently-negotiated free-trade agreement with the European Union, in which the availability of reliable and continuous service is a key component in the ability of Canadian industries to remain competitive.
It is against this backdrop that we reiterate our call for urgent action to renew the Coast Guard’s fleet – a fleet which faces significant challenges with respect to both the condition and age (33 years on average) of its vessels, and the difficulty of obtaining replacement parts. Towards that end, we strongly recommend that the Coast Guard’s investment priorities be reviewed and realigned in order to ensure its ability to provide reliable and effective icebreaking services. More specifically, we urge the government to adopt a concrete plan for renewing the CCG’s fleet of heavy and medium icebreakers as soon as possible, and to do so on a priority basis that takes precedence over the planned construction of a $1 billion polar icebreaker dedicated to the Arctic. The maintenance of winter operations in the St. Lawrence, Saguenay and Gulf cannot be sacrificed for the profit of another region, especially when one considers that trade along the St. Lawrence corridor generates economic benefits of more $2.3 billion annually for Quebec, and represents more than 40 percent of Canada’s international freight and 50 percent of its domestic freight. Moreover, of the fifteen Canadian ports with the highest volumes of tonnage in 2011, eight were located within the St. Lawrence – Great Lakes axis.
We also take this opportunity to highlight the quality of the work done by the Coast Guard’s employees on the ground, who have displayed an impressive level of ingenuity and resourcefulness in the face of a great many challenges. Their efforts helped ensure that safety to navigation was not compromised despite the difficult circumstances and elevated risks. However, regardless of how skilled these employees are, they do not possess a magical ability to turn old ships into new ones. As an example of the scope of problems they face, almost a third of the icebreaking fleet in service at the time this letter was written was operating at less than full capacity.
In order to ensure the development and implementation of concrete solutions to these challenges, we are seeking your support with respect to the following recommendations:
• The Coast Guard undertake immediate action to invest in the construction of medium and heavy icebreakers, rather than attempting to prolong the life of thecurrent icebreaking fleet;
• •The Coast Guard make additional units available in order to respect its recentlyrenewed agreement on icebreaking services;
• The Coast Guard acknowledge and fulfill its role in supporting Canada’s economic activity, as per its mission statement (“Canadian Coast Guard services support government priorities and economic prosperity and contribute to the safety, accessibility and security of Canadian waters.”).
In closing, we would direct your attention to the CCG’s 2012-1011 Annual Report, which reads in part: “Canada is a maritime nation whose economic prosperity depends heavily on marine transportation and resource-based industries.” If we are to remain on course in this respect, the Government of Canada must invest in the Coast Guard’s icebreaking fleet and ensure that this essential organization has the necessary tools to fulfill its mandate.
We trust that you will give this matter the urgent attention it deserves and work with us to ensure that the recommendations above are implemented on a priority basis.