Where do the rest of us fit?
The following is a guest commentary submitted by Greg Shay, Acting General Manager, Yarmouth Area Industrial Commission, Port of Yarmouth
I have been watching with great interest the discussion around both the in-progress federal review of Canada’s Port Authorities (CPAs) and the jockeying for container terminal supremacy here in Nova Scotia.
These industry segments and associated infrastructure are important components of our overall provincial and indeed national economic success. I know that at the end of the day, market forces and objective, critical analysis will yield the optimum network of deep-water port and rail infrastructure for our province.
But I wonder, what will become of the rest of us. By the “rest of us,” I am referring to the handful of independent ports scattered around Nova Scotia, and indeed the Atlantic region – the small divested, community owned ports that try to operate under very difficult economic conditions and are responsible for ensuring the sustainability, and availability, of the critical infrastructure that allows our lucrative ocean-based economy to bring its catch to shore.
I’m not talking about the small craft harbor ports still owned and under the mandate of the federal government and still operating under outdated business models, thereby imposing tremendous pressure on ports like ours when attempting to practice commercial business principles; with the consequence of impeding our ability to make forward progress as modern day market based enterprises. I’m talking about ports like the Port of Yarmouth, the one that I am responsible for.
This port is one of several that serves the fishing community of Southwest Nova. It is by no means the largest of the regional ports; but it is nevertheless a critical piece of the infrastructure for the lobster fishery, scallop fishery, herring fishery, coast guard operations and other lower profile marine based operations.
What will become of us? The federal strategy for ports is well known; divest, phase out, focus on CPA’s in a few strategic urban areas. Is there a provincial strategy focused on ensuring the continued existence and sustainability of ports like Yarmouth? If there is I’m not aware of it. We take for granted the fishing industry that accounts for over one billion dollars per year for the Nova Scotia economy (landed value, not including economic spin-off), we take for granted the port infrastructure that must necessarily be in place for that economy to function. The Port of Yarmouth alone facilitates the transshipment of product from vessel to shore with a landed value (not considering economic spin-off) averaging in the $50 million range annually.
Local political and business leaders understand the supremacy and importance of the fishing industry to our local and regional economy. Provincial political and business leaders continue to message that a strong rural Nova Scotia is an important part of our total social and economic fabric. Yet there seems to be an incredible void in the strategies at any order of government when it comes to providing the tools to foster re-investment in our rural port infrastructure. There are no programs that speak to or address the re-investment gap that exists, and is very severe, in regards to our rural port infrastructure – the interface between sea and land.
It’s hard to build a business case for a port, I understand that all too well. But it’s equally difficult to build a market business case for the highways and bridges we drive on everyday as well. These ports are part of our highway system, they are how ocean catches from our fishery get to shore, get to value added processing, get to distribution and reload facilities, get to market, get to the export channels. I’m constantly amazed at how little value is placed on the port infrastructure in our region while the rhetoric persists about the necessity for a strong, sustainable fishery.
We need an infrastructure re-investment program that recognizes the importance of these divested community owned ports, recognizes the very limited capacity they have for attracting investment dollars, recognizes that they support an economic segment of our provincial economy that is vastly different from that of the CPA’s, recognizes their fundamental importance and place in our transportation system and doesn’t force them to compete against massive infrastructure programs that may arise across the country that are better positioned to be seen under a federal strategic lens.
I do know this, in a few short years without an acknowledgement of their importance supported by reinvestment resources, ports like the one in Yarmouth, that I’m struggling with to keep structurally viable, will be no more. The fleets that use them now to take on labour and supplies and to off-load their catches – in vessels that are getting larger in footprint and growing in their demands for shore side support and services – well, they will be orphaned.
I do not want to see that happen. Where will they go? Other ports in our area are either overcrowded now or on the federal government’s phase out plan. Sure there are a few small craft harbour ports that are getting some federal dollar attention now, (the locals would say it’s still not nearly enough), but federal priorities and objectives change. We need the leaders at each government level to provide the opportunity and the forum for the stakeholders to begin a discussion on what a sustainable port re-investment model might look like. Then there needs to be resources committed at every level so that the model can be exercised. Maybe we need to go even further and agree once and for all on which non-CPA ports will form part of the provincial strategic transportation network, and which ones have no future. Either way, the clock is ticking on my port.
The thoughts and comments expressed herein are mine only and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Board of Directors of the organization charged with custodianship of the Port of Yarmouth.