Square peg in a round hole

Transport Canada headquarters in Ottawa

Transport Canada Marine Safety (TCMS), is the ubiquitous part of my, and many other’s marine career in Canada. A common aspect of the interactions I get, relating to TCMS, is the bewildered head shaking that goes with them. Admittedly, I am critical of the department’s apparent lack of technical leadership, skill or action on files.

On this platform I have often highlighted these shortfalls in hopes things will change, but after 20 years or so, I am losing hope that experience and logic will prevail – it seems that only “squeekie wheel” or a small sector of politically connected friends get any movement from TCMS, aside from the “fires” that need putting out – some literal, like the Zim Kingston (this link leads to a Provincial Incident response – not TCMS) – they are late to the scene, if there at all.

While I am most familiar how the lack of governance impacts me, in so far as Transport Canada does, I am alarmed at the apparent lack of governance by many other departments and agencies of the federal government. In the November 6, 2022 article in the Globe and Mail, Shannon Proudfoot highlights some of these failings that made me go, “yeah, okay, its not just me seeing this”. It seems our style of governance in Canada is ruled by crisis management and “messaging massaging”, not really proactive, reasonable governance – at least that’s been the observations.

New leadership at TCMS

Recently, Transport Canada issued a statement, introducing the new Director General (DG) of Transport Canada’s Marine Safety – the department that handles shipping and seafarer matters – a federal responsibility in Canada. As an active mariner with 27 years at sea, TCMS is central to my working life. We have previously discussed on this web space, consecutive government’s systemic lack of funding and staffing at TCMS which has created considerable challenges – ie, Marine Personnel Regulations that are in line with the Manila Amendments of 2010, have yet to be produced (!), amongst other files, causing absolute confusion and gridlock in the production of Canadian seafarers.  

M. Joanna Manger. Source – TC website

The new Director General for TCMS is M. Joanna Manger. According to her LinkedIn profile, she has strong (seemingly, only) roots in Quebec, having obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill in 1998, and a Master Degree in Public Administration from Concordia University in 2000. In 2007, she joins the only listed employer in the profile, Transport Canada, as Regional Director, based in Montreal. M. Manger become the nation’s Director General of Marine Safety in September 2022.

That’s it.

Let’s say about 6-7 years in post secondary academic endeavors, then onto public service for a singular organization, to become its head in 15 years. Clearly, she is good at doing what she is told – which let’s face it, with this federal government, is probably the exact person they want. The obvious career trajectory goes well past the hobbled Marine Safety department I would assume, so stability, vision, follow through and continuity is going to be more of the same – lacking and challenging.


I may be an outlier here, but I would expect such a massively important role in Canada to be occupied by someone who has some depth of experience in the matters it exert so much influence over – what I call good governance. Searches and perusing of documents makes no mention about the DG’s experience on ships, or boats for that matter. While Montreal is the center of the Canadian maritime ‘establishment’, and is the center of the important St Lawrence River sector of the industry, Canada does have three really long coastlines that one should get to know.

20 years ago, a previous DG and I were having beers, and he was encouraging me to pursue a university degree, so that my ideas could actually reach policy level. He went on to enlighten me that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat is the government department that actually sets the rules of governance in Canada. One of their rules, is that no one in government gets to make policy – direction, regulations and such – the real action of government – without holding a university degree.

You might be asking yourself, like I did at that time, how the hell am I supposed to do that in Canada’s world of marine certification – it already takes at least 15 years of dedication to reach First Class Marine Engineer or Master Mariner level. After that, you want me to go back to square one, at university for four more years, just to get a Bachelors Degree, so that I may finally bring some experience to policy decisions. I saw a big problem with this policy right away, and over the years, it seems to have developed like I imagined it.

Around the world

I supposed it is the same in the other colonies, so I shouldn’t complain – or should I?

In India for instance, this past July, the Government of India’s Directorate General of Shipping, TCMS equivalent in that country, issued a bulletin (File No: 25-13012/1/2022-NT-DGS) titled “Recognition of 2nd Mate (FG) Certificate of Competency by Association of Indian Universities as equivalence to B. Sc. Nautical Science degree.” All Marine Engineering Certificates in India are already issued under a university designation, and higher deck certifications have been, for at least seven years.

Basically India is making sure that all the Certificate of Competency it issues, is also recognized as a University Degree, and afforded the respect the achievement deserves. By doing this, the Government of India has a broader pool of experience and skills in which to choose from, for governance and policy roles.

It also makes the transition into further advance education simpler – such as continuing education into Masters degree around the world – or even moving into C-suite roles ashore in Canada. Not to mention, these degrees are beneficial to global career portability. I believe the United States also does this, as I am sure many other countries do as well, recognizing that the investment and commitment to a Certificate of Competency (CoC) is considerable and important.

In Canada

Diploma of Technical Studies issued by BCIT in BC, for the completion of a 4 year, full time, Marine Engineering Cadet program. Courtesy of PM.

As for Canada, Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, is the only institution to issue a degree – Bachelor of Technology (Nautical Science), but, only to graduates of the Canadian Coast Guard College’s Cadet program. All other professional seafarer (Engineering or Deck Cadet) program offered in Canada issue Diplomas – not an academic degree. As you can well imagine, this creates a big problem in Canada, one that at least India seems to recognize to be an issue.

Good luck

For anyone thinking that the status quo in Canada and its current governance model is broken and ill fitting, woefully antiquated, then suspect I am not bearing good news. I hope I am wrong.

I wish M. Manger all the best in her new role. Looks like she’s been groomed for years to be in government, and has a strong record of moving well within it; for the rest, there’s always Google.

At least she is in good company, have a read at the bios in the executive office. Meanwhile, I remain a plumber, or whatever convenient job title can be used to denigrate the experience, qualifications of professional mariners and treat accordingly.

Transport Canada and Australian Marine Safety certified Marine Engineer, over 25 years experience sailing professionally on commercial ships all over the world. Creator and editor of www.dieselduck.net. Father of three, based in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

5 Responses

  1. Very well stated Martin. I remember a meeting with Julie Gascon when I represented SMIT Marine Canada on the CMC when she let us know that she was constantly given discipline for getting things done. She said that she was to shuffle paper for eight hours a day, but she was not to accomplish anything. That led me to the conclusion on speeds: on a ship there is slow ahead, then dead slow ahead, then the speed that glaciers advance or retreat, then there’s continental drift, then a long way behind that there’s the speed at which a government employ is allowed to get something done.

    I have a lot of respect for Ms. Gascon who I’m guessing left the federal government and has moved on to the Coast Pilots organization. Let’s hope that your article gets a lot of attention among those who from a distance—not just a physical one either—make rules, but don’t have any idea about that which they make rules for.

    Keep up your good work

  2. I have years of offshore experience in the USA as a boat Captain with the U.S. Coast Guard. I get to Canada and I have to start at zero. Thanks Canada. I could really be helpful in the maritime industry here but you don’t recognize my experience. Thanks again.

  3. Thanks for that Martin and I couldn’t agree more! – I am still active in the industry as well with 57 years under my belt having been in most areas of operations and inspections including TC Ottawa and the TSB in the early ’90s. In those days one didn’t get a look at for a position in TC with out a Master Mariners of Class1 Engineering certificate or Electrical / Naval Arch disciplines. There was respect for the DGs as they had the qualifications and time spent through the system. When issues were presented, the task was delegated and completed. What we have now is divide and conquer and no resolution. A case of they don’t know what they don’t know and pass the buck! It is really pathetic!

  4. great article…as I have been going to sea only a mere 16 years with 8-9 of those in the coast guard the` yes sir no sir `approach is the way and what I have heard from others in govt related seafaring hires, no difference. On that last part about CBU, being a cook, we have to have very little training to go to sea, something many of us have tried to argue for as you and many will attest, the grub is very important and as we say, you are only as good as your last meal!

  5. Entropy in all things…the trust in professions has eroded as politicians, and the executives they seem to like, pretend that their connections make them qualified enough to ignore sound advice. Further, the inability of Treasury Board to prevent catastrophic failure in its pay system would continue to raise doubt about it being an ‘employer of choice’. Follow the money…or the chaff from the ‘shredders of common sense’ and the trail leads to ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware) for everyone.

    As for the future: no change necessary as Canada enjoys the comfort of the ‘family compact’ structure in most provinces! Although, it has limitations when it’s still pushing the ‘who (you know)’ rather than the merits of ‘what, how, where, when and why’ in its public service.

    Finally , as the universe expands faster in all directions resulting in total darkness, so too there is a need for executive knowledge of the abacus on which to calculate the pay of public servants: and the rate of turn of all government wheels is ‘entropic’!

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