Colliers project leaders ports article

What Does it Take to Build the Future of Canada’s Port and Marine Industry?

By Captain Jamie Marshall and Darcey Hormann

As seen in the July issue of Pacific Ports Magazine.

From infrastructure renewal and supply chain integration to sustainability mandates and stakeholder relationship-building, the port and marine industries have a lot going on these days. Captain Jamie Marshall and Darcey Hormann are at the heart of the action, helping sector players take on ambitious new projects through their work at Colliers Project Leaders, a Canadian firm with more than 30 years’ experience planning and executing complex, large-scale infrastructure initiatives.

Pacific Ports: If you had to sum up the state of today’s port and marine industries in a word, what would it be?

Captain Jamie Marshall (National Sector Lead, Ports & Marine): For me, the word is definitely ‘transformative’. Organizations are trying to plan their way forward while dealing with changing economic conditions, climate impacts, industry consolidation and technological advancements. They need to build more capacity, which requires close partnerships with Indigenous communities and a variety of stakeholders. Everywhere you look, there’s change going on.

Darcey Hormann (Director, Infrastructure – Western Canada): I agree and would add ‘complex’. We’re seeing big projects with dozens of participants that can take years — sometimes a decade or more — to get to the finish line. And we are here for our clients to see them through. Often, it’s not just a single project: industry members are engaging in whole programs of change. We’re involved in a mandate for flood protection and enabling infrastructure works in Ontario, which includes 21 sub-projects under that banner. As these and other projects evolve, we’re noticing a shift toward industry greening. This adds another layer of complexity as we move away from fossil fuels and seek more sustainable solutions.

PP: What makes the sector so complex?

DH: There are so many dimensions to it, for one thing. From stakeholder and Indigenous engagement to overseas shipping and logistics, commuter ferries, recreational boating, offshore infrastructure, power generation and so much more. Each element is very different. The challenges and requirements vary from project to project, but each is truly unique.

CJM: None of it exists in isolation, either. Ports are tightly integrated with road and rail systems, for instance. If you want to increase capacity at the port, you need truck and train infrastructure to keep up. Pilotage is another example. You can bring ships in from sea, but you need pilots to get them to harbour. The systems have to work together, so projects need a very broad, big-picture view. And that picture needs to extend beyond project logistics. You need to consider the natural environment you’re working in, engage the right Indigenous communities, and be prepared to make operational changes to protect species at risk.

We’re seeing big projects with dozens of participants that can take years to get to the finish line. And often it’s not just a single project: industry members are engaging in whole programs of change.

PP: Is there a key to managing all those moving parts?

DH: The first thing is to understand the ecosystem and its interdependencies, and to define strategic outcomes. Which industries or professions are affected by a given project? Which government bodies, at which levels, should be involved — or may be potential funders? What does the community look like, and how do you give people a voice in the process? We use tools including stakeholder and engagement sessions to identify risks that the program or owner team may not otherwise be aware of and then use tools like risk registers and workshops to map out dependencies and develop mitigation or risk transfer strategies.

CJM: It’s about knowing who your neighbours are and building relationships with them even before you have a project to discuss. That’s especially critical when you’re working with Indigenous communities. It takes time to establish a foundation of trust. You can’t just walk in and say, “We want to build this, let’s collaborate.”

PP: Are there other groups that should be included more often?

CJM: It’s important for environmental organizations to be included. Places like Denmark and Singapore offer proven examples of how regulations can drive enabling legislation and promote growth and development in the economic sector. We’re moving that way in Canada. It’s continually improving.

PP: What types of projects are you seeing most today?

DH: Ports are expanding their physical footprints to increase capacity, whether that’s to handle more ship-to-shore traffic or for rail gantry systems, container storage and the like. We’ve actually just started working on a new container terminal project in Eastern Canada. There’s also a lot of focus on optimizing operations to process more cargo faster. And companies are investing in digitalization — integrating the supply chain from end to end with automation, GPS tracking, and Internet of Things sensors. It’s all paperless and connected.

CJM: Environmental safety and sustainability are big drivers as well. Those were the key components of a series of wharf and harbour projects across Canada’s East Coast. We provided comprehensive project management services to more than 30 projects including dredging, wharf reconstruction, sheet pile installation, environmental clean-up management and more – laying the foundation for future investment planning and growth.

PP: How does environmental sustainability factor into some of the other projects you’re overseeing?

CJM: It’s motivating a lot of innovation. The challenge is to be as future-proof as possible. When I was in the ferry industry, we switched from diesel to liquid natural gas as a stepping stone to a lower carbon future. Today hydrogen and electric power are commercially feasible. But even with batteries, there are questions: How long will lithium supplies last? Where will the supply of energy come from? Whatever gets adopted today has to be viable long term.

DH: Commercial and economic goals go hand-in-hand with environmental sustainability. When you’re more efficient and cost-effective, you can scale up more easily to meet demand, with less impact on the marine environment and other habitats. Climate resiliency is more of a common driver. We’re seeing an increase in extreme weather events. As a result, there are more frequent conditions where port operations are impacted, which in turn makes infrastructure resiliency more critical.

Ports are expanding their physical footprints to increase capacity. There’s also a lot of focus on optimizing operations to process more cargo faster. And companies are investing in digitalization.

PP: Given the scope of today’s projects, where do organizations need the most support?

DH: Stakeholder relations is an area where more support is needed: building relationships, getting partners aligned and establishing common ground. Also, project planning to clearly understand the stated and implied needs of all project participants for all project elements, including the selection of the project delivery model. These projects often have to be phased over years, with realistic milestones and coordination of everything from engineering and permitting to procurement and construction.

Port operators know ports, shippers know shipping. They need a partner who understands the bigger context and how it all fits together, and who can be their representative as the project rolls along.

PP: Are you feeling positive about what’s ahead for the port and marine industries?

CJM: Absolutely. There’s a lot of energy and urgency behind what’s happening in the sector today. Governments are making capital investments because they know how important it is to have efficient, competitive port, marine and rail systems. The will is there to get Canada’s natural resources into the global economy – by air, land or sea – so we can support industry greening and create a more sustainable future.

DH: And there are new priorities emerging, too, like Arctic shipping, which is going to be huge in the decades to come. It’s already happening in Canada. For example, we’ve provided project management and technical expertise for the early stages of a port works project in Northern Canada.

CJM: The port and marine industries have been around for a long time, but this really does feel like the dawn of a new era.