In Brief: AIMS President Brian Lee Crowley argues that funding for ports in the region should focus on growth from the Port of Halifax. Increasing shipping to Halifax would be good for Atlantic Canada through spin-offs and better export opportunities for manufacturers.

SAINT JOHN – With Halifax port well-positioned to profit from the expected boom in transatlantic shipping, New Brunswick’s best chance to benefit from trade growth could lie in developing a more effective inland transportation infrastructure.

Halifax’s proximity to eastern markets, its deep water harbour, and highly developed infrastructure make it an ideal port to serve the growing market between Asia and eastern North America via the Suez Canal, according to transportation experts.

Meanwhile, hopes of a comprehensive Atlantic Gateway strategy that would include all the ports within the four eastern provinces appears to be dwindling.

Lawrence Cannon, the federal minister of transportation, voiced his support for Halifax’s potential as a North American shipping hub at the Association of Canadian Port Authorities annual general meeting in Saint John Monday.

“The mega-vessels that sail through the Suez Canal, across the Atlantic Ocean and into ports on North America’s eastern seaboard can link Halifax and India,” Cannon said.

“Atlantic Canada has quicker and more cost-effective access to the North American market place. It’s been a vital link between the American heartland and Europe. We think it could be a part of a corridor to Asia as well.”

Cannon was guest speaker at the opening of the 50th annual general meeting for the Association of Canadian Port Authorities, running from Monday to Wednesday in Saint John.

“What we want to do is capture an increasing share of that which is going to be moving through the Suez Canal in addition to keeping our foot in the European markets,” George Malec, the Halifax port’s vice-president, business development and operations, said.

At the same time, port officials in Saint John and Belledune are working to create a more comprehensive provincial gateway strategy, and lobbying for increased government funding to improve transportation infrastructure.

Rayburn Doucett, the president and CEO of the Belledune Port Authority, said he was in talks with the Saint John port to “solidify a strategy for New Brunswick on the whole.”

“We’d like to get Halifax on board too, because it’s not a pipeline we’re talking about. They’re going to have to pass through New Brunswick to get these goods to the rest of North America,” Doucett said.

While the port has seen growth in the last few years, Doucett said he was in discussion with federal and provincial government officials to upgrade existing facilities to make it more competitive.

On the whole, though, it appears the federal government will not support a comprehensive regional strategy that would apply to all ports in Atlantic Canada.

Brian Bohunicky, a director in the federal government’s department of transportation, said talk of an Atlantic Gateway begins in the private sector.

“It’s a market-driven approach,” Bohunicky said last week.

“Gateways don’t exist because governments put a bunch of money on the table. We’re not looking to develop province-specific strategies.”

The Asia-Pacific Gateway was developed over a stretch of 15 years, and private funding for the developments far exceeded contributions from government, Bohunicky said.

Brian Lee Crowley, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, echoed this sentiment, arguing funding should focus on the potential growth stemming from the Halifax port.

“We have to decide what’s best for the region,” he said. “It’s not a question of whether three ports or one can become a shipping hub. It’s a question of one or none.”

Malec and Crowley both suggested an increase in shipping to Halifax would benefit the whole region, creating spin-offs for inland transportation businesses and cheaper export opportunities for manufacturing companies throughout Atlantic Canada.

“The more boxes we have coming in through the port of Halifax, creating slots on vessels, the more export opportunities are available for Atlantic Canadian shippers to move their goods to market in a cost-effective manner,” Malec said.