Canadian transportation review: painting a target on Canadian seafarers

Hon David Emerson
Hon David Emerson, from Interwebs

In December 2015, the Hon. David Emerson submitted his report to the Minister of Transportation on the state of transportation affairs in Canada – well, mostly rail and air, and some other stuff, like shipping. Some may recall Mr. Emerson, Vancouver based, Economist by trade, elected as a Liberal MP, only to cross the floor shortly after the election, to the Conservative Party, under Harper, back in 2006.

The report is a sizable document reviewing the transportation system in Canada and getting a sense of the big picture, and suggesting where the government should go from here. It was initiated by the Harper government, in June 2014, and the previous review was completed in 2001. It has allot of business buzzwords, “ renewed infrastructure, improved operational efficiency, greater profitability, more choice, and generally lower prices for users, international competitiveness.” to me, this means: corporate profits, public investments – a sweet deal if you can get it!

I have the honour to submit Pathways: Connecting Canada’s Transportation System to the World. The Report is the product of a review of the Canadian transportation system and the legal and regulatory frameworks which govern it, including the Canada Transportation Act. Consultations were held and advice received from a broad range of transportation inter­ests, other governments, experts and members of the public.

What stands out for me the most, is that the majority of the (marine) themes addressed are exactly what’s been called for by “industry”, for as long as I can remember over my 20 year career, as an active part of the marine transportation infrastructure in Canada. It begs the question to be asked then; why don’t any of these suggestions ever come to fruition – is there any real expectations of implementation now.


Industry demands! huh, I mean Government Strategies

Some of the more interesting recommendations are the calling for a Second Registry, more money for coast guard, the unification of all the Pilotage Authorities, and of course a furthering of relaxation of Cabotage regulations (Canada Coasting Trade Act), and demands of lower fees for Canadian ship-owners and larger pubic investment in ports and such. And let’s not forget the removal of all duties on foreign built vessels – in order to finish off Canadian ship yards, once and for all (strangely, these people don’t seem to make up part of the transportation infrastructure). Another word, all very good recommendations for a small group of people, depending of course, on certain circumstances.

Come to think of it, the marine section of the report is basically just straight regurgitation off the wish list from Canada’s marine industry, who’s sole focus is their bottom line.

0016-ccgs-bartlet-bernard-harProperly fund Coast Guard new builds, nothing new here, it’s been a major problem for many decades yet nothing happens. More observations that will surprise no one: major shortage of crew predicted for Canadian ships, nothing new here. TC Marine Safety just keeps increasing the thresholds, and limits access. So the report goes on to offer an interesting comment…


“Alternative Crewing” …wink, wink, nudge, nudge

The Review heard repeatedly in consultations and from stakeholder submissions that seafarers are aging and the pool is diminishing, not just in Canada, but throughout the Western world. Recruitment is difficult—young people are not attracted to the maritime lifestyle and the prospect of long periods away from home. Alternative recruitment methods should be explored to ensure that Canada has the skilled and experienced workforce it requires for the immediate and longer term.

Although “not part of its mandate”, the report place significant emphasis on “alternative recruitment” to make Canada competitive – read, Temporary Foreign Workers – cheap third world labour. Anybody dealing with certification and Transport Canada will attest to the long drawn out antiquated process that it is, especially since STCW95’s introduction, back in the late 1990’s. So yes, an alternative is desperately needed, but I suspect, the report’s vision is probably far from mine.

This particular “alternative recruitment” statement seems over the top, and I looked up and down the report, and I can’t find a single piece of evidence, that anyone, other than industry “stakeholders” and it obsession with the bottom line, was consulted in drawing up such recommendation. In the appendix, there is a long list of operators, ship owners and their lobby groups, yet not a single mention of labour groups, or training institutions having had their say, much less, from a simple seafarer like me.

I find it grossly irresponsible that the report right away presents the only solution to the problem is to relax crewing / immigration standards to allow third word crews onboard Canadian ships – and really, that’s what “alternative crewing” means, so that crew cost can come down further.

matthewthomassmIn the report, there is no inkling to even investigate other options, or even the source of the issue of crew shortage in Canada, like the convoluted and antiquated certification system, that in my view, is the cause of most of the problems. The report also makes no mention that wages haven’t budge, except to go down, in nearly a decade, yet demands of the job, regulatory, economically and socially have only increased.

Mr. Emerson goes on to buttress his argument by extolling the virtues of short sea shipping – “most socially and economically responsible way to ship goods” – is suffering, due to expensive crews, expensive Canadian shipyards, and that there is too much red tape in getting foreign crews to do the job more efficiently.


A strong voice for Industry… well at least it’s bottom line

Basically the vision of the future for the Marine sector has a big red target painted on the backs of Canadian seafarers. The marine portion of the report would appear to be a simple exercise in putting the interest of a few, ahead of all other concerns, for the government to pander to, and to get the tax paying public to pay for the expensive bits.

fat_catApart from the expected, “nothing is more important than big business” attitude of the Harper government, the broader message for me, in general, is the inability of government to produce a decent vision for the marine transportation portfolio. The greater good of the country seems to be a bridge too far. It is almost comical to read this report, as most of us in the industry are familiar with the governments “piecemeal fix it” approach to problems, usually brought up by special, well financed interest.

The report highlights the many agencies that are intertwined in regulating the Transport sector. To me, this signal exactly the problem; it’s a multi-agency problem. A fundamental, government wide, breakdown in its ability to do anything meaningful, other than to the benefit of a few connected groups – individuals really. The rest of the time the bureaucracy seems to only pushes paper, create skewed reports like this and talk in circles – overall, make the system worst.

This report continues with the same lack of vision we’ve had for decades, what a waste of money and energy.


Confirms the establishment’s status quo

I don’t know what the solution is, but it is clear to me that there needs to be some major radical thinking to come to bear – these schools where these MBA’s are coming from, is not teaching the stuff needed by responsible government or organizations.

I heard on the CBC last month, a discussion from the Treasury Board president – the man in charge of running the actual functions of government – on how government must attract a new generation of young people, to get them passionate about government work, and empower them. Well, this is not a new argument either, everyone agrees, it is a much needed ideal to strive for. As the rebuttal guest clearly mentioned, we’ve all heard this, starting even before the Chretien era, in the nineties.

I can’t identify anything in Harper’s Neanderthal era that I can be proud of as a Canadian, and this report certainly maintains that belief. The marine portion of this report just continues to highlight the same structural issues in the many departments of the government I’ve seen for decades.

Bloated, ineffective decision making, hiding from public view, limited, if any consultations, lack of action on consultation if not aligned with pre-set objectives, bullying, more and more hurdles, special interest agenda driven decisions. Nobody seems to be able to work towards the common good of Canada, especially not in the long term. Provides no vision, whatsoever !

MV Canadian Transport – Source


Is it Sabotage?

Jerk StoreA few months ago on Twitter there was discussion on a text from the US Central Intelligence Agency’s manual on how to destabilize a government – and they have a great deal of experience with this – in it, a list of thing that guarantees a governments ineffectiveness. The Simple Sabotage Field Manual struck a chord with me, half-jokingly referring to the state of Canadian government functions, especially in the transportation sector.

It seems, as with pretty much anything to do with the Canada Transportation Agency, there is nothing for the benefit of anyone in this report other than the few, usual, well connected players, especially in the marine sector. Even from this perspective, I feel the report is nothing we haven’t heard before, parroting special interest needs; benefiting the few at the expense of the common Canadians. Despite it’s plans of laying a blueprint for the next 20-30 years in the future, Mr Emerson’s report offers little hope that anything will change, because the underlying motive is a flawed concept, excluding the large majority of the real stakeholders.

The report acknowledges that transportation is crucial to Canada’s well-being, furthermore, that the Marine sector is responsible for 90% of trade, yet it provides no vision to counter it’s assertions that most metrics show us steadily falling down numerous scales. Canada’s fall in various comparative metrics, used extensively in the report, in itself, is quite telling, the establishment’s status quo is not good for the country.

Come to think of it, it’s a perfect report for the government, blueprint for a “stable” government transportation policy, kind of stuck in cement, continuing to protect the status quo for the benefit of the few.

You can read find it here; the minister is also soliciting comments, which you can send here.

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