During the annual Marine Club Dinner, Peter Cresswell
, president and CEO of Algoma Central Corp., told 1,200 shipping and marine industry executives the future of the Great Lakes
-St. Lawrence Waterway is in peril.
"Deregulation in both the rail and trucking industries, and U.S. subsidies favoring the Mississippi marine route, have threatened the economic viability of this transportation wonder," Cresswell said. "In turn, they have threatened the competitive advantage of those industries - particularly steel - which must rely on this marine route for their survival."
Excessive user fees, over-regulation and duplication were also cited by Cresswell as significant causes of the waterway's competitive frailty. According to Cresswell, regulators need to instead foster a competitive transportation environment where "rail competes with water and water can compete with rail.
"No policy change - regulatory or legislative - to Canada's overall transportation system should negatively affect the competitive position of the waterway, but rather, should enhance it."
As an example of the serious threat to the shipping industry, Cresswell cited statistics for the Port of Thunder Bay, where grain shipments have dropped to five million tons in 1998, from a high of 19 million tons in the 1980s.
Cresswell welcomed The Canada Marine Act (1998), which commercialized Canadian Ports and the St. Lawrence Seaway. He said it was an important first step, but only a first step, if the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Waterway is to survive into the next century.