Where do the rest of us fit?

Tri-County Vanguard - - OPINION -

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.

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