SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Frank McKenna wants just one port authority to serve the entire Maritimes.
The former New Brunswick premier made the suggestion Tuesday as part of his keynote address to business and political leaders at the Port Days business conference in Saint John.
“We need scale if we are really going to have power in the marketplace,” he told the crowd.
Mr. McKenna, deputy chairman of the TD Bank Financial Group, said Canada is taking notice of economic activity in the Maritimes. He said his bank’s announcement earlier Tuesday that it will hold its annual general meeting in Saint John next year is an example.
But he said the region’s ports need one voice when marketing the Maritimes to the world and looking for investment from Ottawa.
“We’d have more critical mass,” he said.
Mr. McKenna also suggested the federal government transfer jurisdiction over ports to provincial governments. Ports need local knowledge and local leadership, he said.
“I don’t think Ottawa is the best place in the country to run ports from,” he said.
In addition, Mr. McKenna called for the Atlantic region to become a “gateway economy” with increased professional services.
He said global shipping is a booming business and Canada is not doing enough to take advantage of it. China is doing much more to develop its ports, he said.
“Why can’t we get some of that opportunity?” he said.
Mr. McKenna said the Maritimes are well-situated to take advantage of traffic from the Indian subcontinent and Latin America.
Al Soppitt, president and CEO of the Saint John Port Authority, welcomed Mr. McKenna’s remarks but he said regional port authorities are already working together to boost business in the Maritimes.
He said the region needs investment to develop the Atlantic Gateway concept and capitalize on global shipping business.
Speaking at the conference Tuesday, Mr. Soppitt said the Port of Saint John will soon begin branding itself the Gateway to Latin America, its president and CEO said Tuesday.
“Latin America is for Saint John,” Mr. Soppitt told a group of business and political leaders Tuesday on the final day of the Port Days conference.
He said the city is strategically located to make trade with Latin America attractive. For example, Saint John and New York are virtually the same distance from Latin America but Saint John can offer something New York can’t, he said.
“We don’t have the congestion you might have in New York,” he said.
Mr. Soppitt said Saint John already has a long history of trade with Central America and a trade relationship with Brazil that is growing. The port has been sending significant quantities of potash to Brazil, and more will come from the expansion of the Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan’s Sussex-area operation.
The Saint John Port Authority is doing 1.1 million tonnes of business with Latin America annually, port authority figures show.
Mr. Soppitt said he is comfortable with the Port of Halifax focusing on container traffic from the Suez Canal while the Port of Saint John concentrates on Latin America.