Minister-led Roundtable: Trade Corridors to Global Markets (1st Session) - Summary of Discussion


May 24, 2016, 9:30AM to 11:30AM | Toronto, ON

Summary of Discussion

The meeting was conducted under Chatham House Rule: "When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed."

Notes on Roundtable Discussion:

The Trade Corridors to Global Markets roundtable focused on the role that transportation plays in supporting Canada's economic prosperity and global competitiveness. In this context, participants discussed ways in which Canada's transportation system can best support trade and economic growth.

Highlights of participants comments follow below, grouped according to the four specific questions that were posed.

  1. What are the key strategic priorities for transportation infrastructure and policy in Canada to enable efficient and reliable connections to global markets?
    • Different regulatory standards for vehicle weights and measures across the provinces and territories are an impediment to transnational trucking. For example, wide-based tires are proven to increase fuel economy by 3-5 percent, but there are weight penalties for using these tires in some provincial jurisdictions, meaning available truck capacity and potential efficiency gains cannot be maximized. Provincial or territorial best practices should be championed nationally.
    • Canada lacks a fluid and consistent funding model, and a consistent standard/strategy, for a national highway system – one that also includes roads in the North.
    • Locating logistics facilities closer to waterways can help to ease roadway congestion and capitalize on underutilized marine capacity.
    • Part of the success of Canada's Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative can be attributed to strong support from the government. This success should be replicated for the Continental Gateway and Atlantic Gateway regions.
    • Canada's future transportation vision needs to include effective inter-agency collaboration among federal departments and organizations.
    • Intermodal shipping has become a large segment of the freight transportation sector. However, moving containers in and out of ports is unbalanced, which leads to the creation of bottlenecks. This is becoming a challenge for railways, ports, and trade logistics companies. Being able to reduce inefficiencies will require reliable data to help improve forecasting.
    • Information "silos" plague the efficiency of intermodal shipping as there is a lack of sharing between ports, railways, and trucking. Better forecasting and information sharing is required to improve container repositioning and bottlenecks.
    • Effective collaboration between industry and government is needed to maximize economic opportunities. Domestic cost inefficiencies negatively impact Canada's ability to compete globally. The costs of domestic freight transportation is an important factor influencing new or expanded industrial investments.
    • Higher automation rates are required within the transport sector to compete globally and support the development of smart cities. Strategies to increase automation must be balanced with support for labour market and skills training.
    • Environmental considerations are coming to the forefront at the same time as we are seeking to optimize trade.
  2. How can the Government of Canada best engage with our partners and stakeholders to develop a national outlook on trade-related transportation infrastructure priorities?
    • All relevant actors in government and in business need to work together to see how Canada's global competitiveness can be improved. All nodes rely on the flow of freight over the first and last mile of a supply chain, which are linked by roads; therefore, there is a need to reduce congestion on roads, especially in cities.
    • Federal leadership and more collaboration among federal departments are required to ensure coherent messaging and cooperative action.
    • Focusing on the "right problem definition" is important for informing the development of the long-term agenda for transportation in Canada. Transportation supports trade but activities of the sector itself, in terms of employment and taxes for example, are also important contributors to the Canadian economy.
    • Canada should consider incentives that promote investments by transportation companies. Market-based pricing signals must be in place. Even though most transportation service providers self-finance their activities and reinvestment, sometimes public support for large projects is needed.
    • Regulatory intervention can result in negative consequences that are counter-productive to national output.
    • All elements of the transportation sector are facing capacity issues due to a lack of qualified human resources, which will be exacerbated as demands for transportation service increase when the economy rebounds.
    • The rail industry has been growing faster than export growth and faster than the general rate of the Canadian economy. The incentives are there for railroads to invest so long as the proper policy and regulatory frameworks are in place.
  3. What is your view of the partnership model that was used over the past decade to support multimodal transportation infrastructure and policy investments? How can this approach be improved? Is a new model required?
    • Innovation in the transportation sector is badly needed in Canada. The federal government should provide key stakeholders, such as port authorities, railway companies, airports, etc., with the proper financial and/or policy incentives to allow them to develop new startups that would address their specific needs.
    • There is a need to develop Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for these investments, to track these measures over time, and to consider other investments that may be aligned and help to further leverage original investments.
    • Innovation and investment are two fundamental, critical thrusts that need to be encouraged in Canada. The Pacific Gateway was an example of good targeted investments. The government should emulate this in other "gateway" regions.
    • On innovation, government has a role to play in "priming the pump" and investing in areas that the private sector might find too risky. If the investment doesn't bear fruit, government should pull out. If it is successful, then government should allow the private sector to take over so that government can allocate public resources to other emerging opportunities.
    • Canadian ports need to move away from the "chicken in every pot" mentality and stop competing regionally; instead, they must take a view of Canada's global competitiveness that is bigger than any region. Canada must maximize its regional advantages to benefit the national system and improve its competitiveness globally.
    • The federal government should harmonize regulations to open transport corridors. Provincial, territorial, and regional governments and private industry must work together to maximize Canada's advantage nationally.
    • Government investments in transportation nodes facilitate and benefit private-sector advancements. Government and industry have the same objective: to build a system that gets goods to market efficiently.
    • Need to get all interested parties, including labour, to work together to develop an industrial strategy that allows partners in the logistics chain to identify issues and solutions collectively.
    • Community impacts and Indigenous rights must also be considered.
    • When looking at global best practices, the overall approach to manufacturing is "industry 4.0."Footnote 1 We now speak of competitiveness from a connectivity and innovation standpoint. How do private and public sector investments interact to ensure effective production capacity in Canada?
    • Government should take steps to have a transportation land bank to ensure availability of land for expansion of the transportation system.
  4. What kind of information and data on transportation is needed to provide a good evidence base that will allow for analysis to inform investments in trade-related transportation infrastructure?
    • The availability of transport data in Canada has been diminishing. Canada needs to make data a priority so we can make appropriate decisions regarding where to invest, the feasibility of potential projects, and the development of a national transportation strategy.
    • Data needs to be published more often and in a timely fashion, and be affordable for port authorities, airports, shippers, academics, and others. Data needs that were formally addressed by Statistics Canada have not been replaced effectively.
    • Government can take data that is currently being collected by federal entities and reformat it so that it is more useful to industry. The various levels of government should work together to share information that will provide a clearer picture of the overall industry and system. Better coordination of data within the federal government can help to reduce the reporting burden.
    • We must consider what we need data for. What kinds of data are being collected and what are we trying to achieve with these data?
    • Data collection should be "end-to-end", and include all the key steps in each supply chain.
    • Data should be used to promote investment, support innovation and commercial initiatives.
    • We also need to have people in place with the competency and capacity to analyze and use the data appropriately.
    • The federal government should also not lose sight of sharing data globally with its trading partners, and mutual recognition of international data.