By the spring of 1994, Canada’s dire financial situation had become apparent to the Government, and the policy decision was made to withdraw from government operation of transportation infrastructure while retaining ownership as a means of addressing Canada’s fiscal challenge. Furthermore, Transport Canada’s mission to make the transportation system affordable while ensuring it was safe, reliable and efficient was reaffirmed in section 5 of the Canada Transportation Act, 1995. The times were interesting as a wave of new public management was rippling across many developed economies, and the fruits of reform of many public sector–controlled business activities in both the U.K. and the U.S. were becoming evident; Canada’s own successes with the privatization of Air Canada and Canadian National Railway provided a new enthusiasm for devolution in its many forms.
The government paved the way for port reform through the release of the National Marine Policy document. This proposed a policy of ‘commercializing’ the ports most important to Canada’s trade. The government would withdraw from operating the transportation infrastructure but retain ownership of it and the commercialized entity would be managed and operated by a separate, non-share, non-recourse government agency, which would make lease payments to the government for the use of the infrastructure.
As the Canada Transportation Act 1995 did not apply to ports, although it did to the railways serving them, port-specific legislation was needed to charge ports with being financially self-sufficient and no longer able to access the capital capacity of the federal government. Therefore, to shift the burden of financing ports from the taxpayer to the user, the government introduced the Canada Marine Act 1998. Through this act the government retained ownership of existing port lands, deemed Canada Port Authority (CPA) ports as non-share federal agencies but specifically precluded them from being agents of the Crown in financial matters. LPC ports were required to become CPA ports, and some harbour commissions also chose to become CPAs. At this time, Transport Canada began the process of removing all but remote ports from Transport Canada’s non-CPA inventory. (The characterization of each of the three types of ports is explained in Brooks (2004) while the process of reform is presented in greater detail in Brooks (2007).)
Hence, the reform process led to deproclamation of harbours and public ports that were no longer deemed important enough to keep as Canadian assets. In many cases, Transport Canada retained ownership of the harbour bed, enabling it to continue to collect harbour dues from ships visiting the ports it no longer maintained.
It would appear that the allure of this revenue stream was too much to pass up but the irony of it did not really become obvious until the late 2000s when a number of municipalities raised concerns about not being able to collect harbour dues in support of maintenance of channels of navigation.
The latest port study by Mary Brooks examines the third wave of port reform in Canada. It analyses whether the third wave can be considered ‘successful’ by defining how success could be measured in the context of Canadian policy objectives. It provides context by exploring the current port situation and port policy. Using a content analysis methodology to examine port governance principles on web sites for the major ports, the study finds that not all ports live up to modern expectations of governance in a world where social media and web sites provide avenues to acquire social license.
The study reviews the port-related findings of the 2016 Canada Transportation Act Review Panel, and contemplates what might be proposed in the developing swell of future port reform. The final section examines whether a new direction is likely or whether the current course is likely to hold, and what conclusions and implications may be drawn for port reform more generally.
The study is included in a special volume of the scholarly journal Research in Transportation Business and Management (RTBM) on Port governance and reforms.
Those interested to access it, might just click the link until May 1, 2017, to reach the final version of the article on ScienceDirect for free.