How long or many CTA waivers are enough?

Terrasses de la Chaudiere in Gatineau, Quebec, HQ of the CTA. Picture from Wikipedia

CTA, oh my CTA, you are never far from my mind – cuz you keep sawing my legs off.

The Canada Coasting Trade Act and the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) that administers it, are on the front line of our survival as professional seafarers in Canada. The quasi legal board of appointed “lawyers types” rules on whether or not, non Canadian (non tax paying) ships and their crews, to a large extent, can operate in Canada. If you are able to take advantage of the services and protection the Canadian tax payer provides, without contributing to that tax base, a ship operator stands to gain considerably.

The act is meant to protect shipbuilding, local companies, and local labour. Obviously, this is failing, big time, and has for many decades – by design, from consecutive governments. The constant pressure by the establishment to concentrate their capital means there is hardly any of those components left in Canada – which, less than 75 years ago, controlled the third largest fleet in the world and a powerhouse shipbuilder.

The east coast offshore market was the most recent front line in this war against Canadian shipping content – has been for some time. Its a bit of a snowball effect – the argument is that there is no shipping capacity or seafarers, so there is a need to let non Canadians into the coasting trade, to get Canada’s natural resources out. Once that happens, local operators can’t compete with tax free operations. Over time locals – shipowners, builders to labour – don’t invest in the assets the country relies on to develop the resources that support the people of Canada. Why should they, operators and seafarers invest their resources into a market that the government won’t adequately protect.

Frequent visitors of this space are no stranger to this topic; this latest post is born out of two recent application for waivers of the Coasting Trade Act, that made my eyebrows raise excessively high.

Altera Thule, launched in Korea, May 2022. Picture from Altera Partnerships

The Altera Thule is a Norwegian flag new build, a sister ship to three Shuttle tankers already servicing Canada’s offshore oil installations, shuttling crude oil back to east coast ports from oil installation on Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Altera, formally Teekay Tankers, built and operates all four of these shuttle tankers. Three existing ships, although built outside, Canada are registered as Canadian ships, fully crewed by Canadians, from what I understand.

Every year now, for the past three years, Bahamian flagged tanker, Admundsun Spirit, has also been working in the coastal trade, for about four months a year. My understanding is there is minimal Canadian crew onboard. Now, Altera (ALTERA (ATLANTIC) MANAGEMENT ULC) has made an application to operate the Altera Thule for a full year, in coastal trade, without any Canadians crew onboard.

MV IT Intrepid in Portland, June 2022. Photo by Martin Leduc

In another eyebrow raising application, “Canadian” company, IT International Telecom Canada Inc. (Intelecom) of Montreal, operating the Barbados flagged cable ship, IT Intrepid, has again applied for a coasting trade act waiver. Again, to operate off the BC coast. Of the potential 86 crew onboard, some are Canadian, none in the engine room team. This latest waiver is undoubtedly to service Google’s Topaz cable near Port Alberni. As you might know, Google is a cash strapped California based start up – ah huh.

In justifying the latest application, the law firm, making the application on behalf of Intelecom, states that no less than 13 previous Coasting Trade Act waivers were granted to this ship already, since 2013.

Altera and Intelecom are by no means isolated cases of this occurring, but merely the most recent. The questions that begs asking to our federal government, is how long or how many waivers can be granted, before someone says enough is enough? You want to take advantage of Canadian taxpayer and consumers and their largess, then you need to contribute your fair share. Clearly, there is a need for these two ships in our economy, then they should be Canadian ships, with all Canadian crew – and they should have been built in Canada, as the Coasting Trade Act intended.

There are many aspect to the coasting trade act – the obvious one is tax payers subsidizing services for non Canadian companies – or “Canadian” companies that for whatever reason are given an unfair advantage over actual Canadian companies that invest in Canada. They get this advantage by purporting to be Canadian but not paying their fair share of taxes or providing minimal, if any, social benefits to Canadians.

The labour aspect is the one that concerns me the most. Not only are non Canadian crew not contributing to the tax base of this nation and the services it supplies, Marine Engineers and other officers have made significant investments in their skills, only to be undercut by our country’s poor governance. There is a reason why the wages of non Canadian are so low, the primary one, is the lack of income taxes, the other, is the fact that they don’t live in Canada and build the collective society we enjoy so much of – which, I can tell you, is quite expensive.

In previous post(s) here, I have made the assertion that lack of appropriate wages and standards of employment, and the lack of protection of our labour market, are at the core of the shortage of seafarers in Canada. I suspect this is by design to speed up the destruction of Canada’s maritime labour pool – which serve a very small interest, and certainly puts us on par with “third world nations”. This is not acceptable to me.

It’s long time for Transport Canada and its Canadian Transportation Agency, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (administered by Employment and Social Development Canada) – and the Canada Custom and Border Service that enforce the Coasting Trade Act, start putting real Canadians first. Yeah, its expensive, but I want a level playing field, now!

To learn about the Coasting Trade Act and the CTA click here. Request for comments to Altera were not answered. Transport Canada declined to comment, deferring to the CTA.

This article has 7 Comments

  1. Suggest you send this post to the CMSG in the region and Ottawa. Considerable work was undertaken by Canadian unions, but for various reasons that work has had no meaningful positive impact.

    1. I understand the SIU is “on it”, and has been for other files, to which I am grateful for. The Guild, I haven’t heard anything from them, but I haven’t asked either. – which I should.

  2. I see the Ultima Thule application was sent back to the applicant without recommendation as it was too vague and general. The are entitled to re-apply. It’s about time this happened.

    1. Hi Mac, good to hear from you. Thank you for keeping an eye on it. That is indeed great news to read.

  3. This vessel Altera Thule is only temporary here in Canada because other 3 need to go to drydock . After year they are going back to other trade. If they will stay here pernamently there will be full Canadian crew. As I know they will have normal Canadian sallary and they will pay taxes as everybody else.

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