Shaking up shipping

As it celebrates its 60th anniversary, President Bruce Burrows talks about what’s next for the Chamber of Marine Commerce.

Q. First a little bit of history. The Chamber was originally formed in November 1959 to provide a voice for the customers and ship operators moving goods on the newly opened St. Lawrence Seaway; so what were the hot-button issues at that time?

A. For many years, the organization was really focused on one goal – eliminating and then later reducing or preventing increases to the tolls that the government was charging to pass through the Welland Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway. They were concerned that the tolls would make their business uncompetitive.

Q. How has the Chamber evolved over the years?

A. Its membership has grown from 5 to 130 members, but more significantly the Chamber now has a really diversified membership base that includes organizations from every part of the marine transportation supply chain and across 20 U.S. states and all 10 Canadian provinces. We also count stakeholders like the St. Lawrence Seaway, other industry associations and town/cities in our membership – it’s a collective approach. We’re all trying to row together in the same direction to grow the industry.

We are still advocating for government policy that improves competitiveness and lowers transportation costs – but these days that extends to a much wider range of issues. Everything from infrastructure investment, Coast Guard ice-breaking assets and pilotage reform to environmental regulation, trade agreements, workforce development and general industry promotion and awareness – it’s all in our wheelhouse.

Two years ago, the Chamber merged with the Canadian Shipowners Association (CSA) to fully incorporate ship owner interests into the family, and then developed a new strategic plan (“Vision 2022”) that expanded its mandate beyond the bi-national Great Lakes-Seaway to promote the advantages of inland and coastal shipping along the entire St. Lawrence River, east and Arctic coasts.

 

Bruce Burrows, President, CMC
 
 
Q. You were appointed President in December 2016, following the CSA merger. How have things changed post-merger?

A. The linkages between the different players in the bi-national marine logistics chain are stronger and the shippers, in particular, are being encouraged to take a more active role. But, perhaps above all, I think we’ve become a more strategic organization. We went out to our membership and asked them how can we best serve their interests and we created a very focused action plan, as referenced earlier, with clear objectives based on their priorities. We then leveraged the combined resources and strengths of our two founding memberships and created one cohesive team that has technical specialists in government relations, marine operations, environmental policy and communications.

We are also bringing in more top executives from our member companies to serve on the Board of Directors and, in particular, a number of expanded Chamber committees under a modern governance structure. This gives members greater input, oversight, and transparency on decision making; but it also allows us to drawn upon some incredible expertise in finance, shipping operations, human resources and communications which make our activities much more impactful.

And finally, my big mantra is collaboration and coalition building. I truly believe that “together we are stronger.” On every issue, we are looking to pull our different members together and partner with other industry associations and stakeholders to find common ground and deliver sustainable growth for the marine shipping industry.

Q. With two years under your belt now, what do you see as inland and coastal marine shipping’s greatest challenges?

A. Social licence is huge. It underpins all government policy and regulation. We have to show the public and government that we deserve to do business in the waters in which we operate. Marine has a great story to tell on this front because we are the safest and most environmentally-friendly mode of transport and we are really quite innovative in our efforts to improve our footprint. But we really need to get out there more and prevail upon people that marine is not a problem, but a solution to addressing public interest needs.

Costs are still a big challenge, particularly for inland shipping which directly competes with trucking, railroading and other waterway routing options. We need to take more costs out of the system – like reforming the pilotage system which adds quite a bit to the bottom line – and really push back on a litany of red tape and user fees.

And finally, we are already feeling the bite of a skills shortage. We are competing against other industries for the next generation of workers but marine shipping is not really on the radar for most people. This is a really important issue that you will see the Chamber more focused on going forward.

Q. Going into 2019, what will be the Chamber’s key political priorities in Canada?

A. Well, this is going to be a very interesting year. The federal government has said that they will introduce legislation to reform the Pilotage Act. We will be pushing hard for legislators to not just tinker but really transform a government-mandated service that for decades has been provided by monopolistic entities with little accountability or input from industry – despite the fact that it is paid for by industry fees and these costs are passed ultimately to consumers. The U.S., which shares many of the same challenges, will be watching this development closely.

Federal election opportunity

Canada is also having a federal election in October, which is a great opportunity for us to really build awareness with all political parties about how inland shipping can be part of the solution to so many societal problems, from climate change to highway congestion and reducing the risk of accidents. Post-election, the Chamber will again be holding its new, and very successful Marine Day on the Hill event to give our members a chance to meet Members of Parliament and get our issues on the winning party’s government agenda.

CMC has also recently been engaged to provide advocacy services to a newly-energized Ontario Marine Transportation Forum to help build recognition of the importance of the marine sector and advocate for the sector’s key issues at the provincial level in Ontario.

Q. What are the key priorities in the U.S.?

A. The Chamber has just retained a new government relations professional in Washington, D.C. , who is going to lead our U.S. policy and legislative efforts. New legislation recently passed in the United States (Vessel Incidental Discharge Act) will provide a platform for CMC and its industry partners to move closer to their goal to have a common ballast water management standard for the entire region. CMC will be working hard with policymakers to ensure that the new regime is harmonious with Canadian rules under development – and most importantly operationally and economically achievable.

We will also be helping our members access funding programs as U.S. (and Canadian) governments advance their infrastructure investment plans, and supporting solutions for additional icebreaking capacity, e-navigation and ports’ needs.

Q. What other plans does the Chamber have?

We have a ton of communications activities in the works to support our government relations and promote our industry. The Chamber has launched a new website that will be a valuable resource for marine shipping stakeholders and will have a new members-only portal to improve communication with our members. We recently launched a digital advertising campaign aimed at educating federal politicians and civil servants, and we have a number of speaking events lined up throughout the year.

We are also really keen to expand our annual data-collection efforts so we have a more up-to-date and richer set of ‘facts and figures’ and related research to support our advocacy and public awareness efforts. Marine has a great story to tell. And after 60 years, we remain immensely proud to be able to share the stories of our members — who are always looking for new ways to deliver for their customers, ensure the safety of their people and protect the environment in which they operate.

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