Nanaimo-Ladysmith Liberal candidate Michelle Corfield, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and volunteers make calls Wednesday night at Corfield’s campaign office. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Liberals say Nanaimo’s port important to economic diversification

Transport Minister Marc Garneau campaigned in Nanaimo-Ladysmith on Wednesday

A nationwide review of all Canada’s ports is meant to modernize, not interfere, said the federal transport minister.

Marc Garneau was in Nanaimo on Wednesday night campaigning with Nanaimo-Ladysmith Liberal candidate Michelle Corfield and the minister said the ports modernization review will bring “possible changes to governance and other factors” but won’t take away the autonomy that port authorities have.

“It’s not something where we’re going to say, ‘we’re going to change this port this way,’” Garneau said. “What we’re looking for are changes and modernization that will apply to all 18 port authorities across the country.”

He said while there’s some federal government oversight, ports “basically chart their own course” while growing in ways compatible with communities and for the betterment of local economies.

“We encourage them to develop in the areas where they can create business for the port where they can help the local economy, and I think Nanaimo is an example of a very active port authority that’s doing good things,” Garneau said.

He suggested that the federal government is a willing partner in helping ports realize opportunities, and he pointed to the vehicle processing plant that recently began operations on Nanaimo’s assembly wharf.

“This is a need that has been filled by Nanaimo and it’s because of their initiative and their decision to look at how the government could help, and to apply for it, and to receive that help,” said Garneau. “That help is because it creates jobs, it creates long-term stability for the port. so we’re very open to that.”

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Corfield is Port of Nanaimo chairwoman, but has stepped aside from that role for the byelection campaign. She said the Liberal government worked well with ports, pointing to environmental assessments, fisheries modernization and renewal of the Transportation Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act.

“All of those things help us understand where the government’s going nationally, to enable us to create strategic plans and ultimately business plans and develop businesses that are meaningful to the local economy while matching a national interest,” Corfield said.

She sees potential for “extreme growth” in economic diversification in Nanaimo-Ladysmith and some of that can happen at the port, she said, with short-sea shipping and generally diversifying marine traffic.

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“There are always opportunities when you’re looking for them and … certain markets change, so you’re looking for new opportunities,” Garneau said.

He pointed to the $2-billion national trade corridors fund for infrastructure, which he said will improve the movement of goods. Removing bottlenecks is necessary to ensure opportunities and participation in trade with foreign markets, said Garneau.

“If we don’t, they’re going to be looking somewhere else,” the minister said. “We’ve got to have an efficient transportation system and I think we’re well on our way – in the second-biggest country on Earth, which is not an easy challenge – but I think we’re well on our way to improving our trade corridors so that we can get those goods out of our ports to foreign markets in a reliable and efficient way.”

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection is May 6. Candidates include Corfield; Bob Chamberlin, NDP; John Hirst, Conservatives; Paul Manly, Greens; Jennifer Clarke, People’s Party of Canada; Brian Marlatt, Progressive Canadian Party; and Jakob Letkemann, National Citizens Alliance.

Advance voting will be April 26-29. For more information on how and where to vote, click here.

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