Canada is unknowingly making the products and commodities that Canadian businesses produce and export globally less competitive through an overly complex and fragmented approach to evaluating and managing commercial marine shipping. Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan and its unprecedented $1.5 billion investment includes 50 plus programs, many of which should involve complex technical evaluation of impacts from commercial shipping and the consideration of alternative management measures to reduce such impacts.
The majority of these initiatives lack coordination across Federal Departments and place an excessive burden on a small number of technical experts to ensure that safety, competitiveness, and sustainability are factored into decision making. Indeed, this was recognized in the Chamber of Shipping’s recent Report Card of the Oceans Protection Plan. If not addressed in the short-term, this clumsy approach could lead to decisions that fail to consider international and national standards, regulations, and best practises. Ultimately, the status quo will make marine transportation in Canada less competitive over time and potentially result in a lack of focus on priority areas of risk, environmental protection, and efficiency.
With the Oceans Protection Plan, Federal Departments have made an effort to align their objectives and communications, but substantive improvements to governance have not been forthcoming. If concerns regarding commercial marine shipping are to be addressed appropriately in a “systems approach,” there will need to be drastic improvements to regional oversight and management, and improved coordination between regions and national headquarters.
There are 16 existing federal program initiatives in British Columbia that influence commercial marine shipping and this number is likely to increase. These initiatives include but are not limited to the development of protected areas, the management of emissions, marine shipping contingency planning, protecting endangered marine species, and addressing concerns of Indigenous and coastal communities. In almost all cases, there is little integration or coordination between initiatives as it relates to shipping, and a complete lack of harmonization of these programs with Canadian supply chain and trade objectives.
Despite numerous Federal Government forums with industry and stakeholders, none of them coherently and systematically provide the opportunity to synchronize initiatives across a region. There is an obvious and urgent need to establish a Regional Marine Shipping Advisory Panel in Western Canada that has a mandate of providing the Federal Government advice on the synchronization of effort relating to shipping. The Canadian Coast Guard’s Regional Marine Advisory Board is the most appropriate model upon which to develop a whole-of-government approach. This Advisory Panel needs to be focussed and its members experienced professionals that represent the users of the waterways of British Columbia.
At a time when trade is increasingly vulnerable to external factors, every effort should be made to maximize the efficiency of Canada’s marine transportation corridors, while meeting expectations for increased coastal protection and addressing climate change. Federal Departments and regulators should meet higher expectations for transparency and evidence-based decision making, even if it demands an additional investment in resources. Establishing the necessary governance to ensure this is achieved expeditiously should be a priority for the Government of Canada and the commercial marine transportation sector.