Decarbonization, community relations top priorities for Montreal Port

by Emily Atkins

“On a scale of one to 10 my happiness is at 22,” said an upbeat Martin Imbleau in a fireside chat that marks his one-year anniversary as CEO of the port of Montreal.

Martin Imbleau (CNW Group/Montreal Port Authority)

Imbleau sat down with IHS Markit’s Peter Tirschwell for a live chat at a Traffic Club of Montreal event on December 1 that was also webcast to interested stakeholders.

Imbleau said that in spite of a year that started with the pandemic, then the blockage of the Suez canal, then a strike at the port, and then the international supply chain crisis which is affecting everyone, “the Port of M has been pretty resilient.”

Although the port has not seen the type of congestion that West Coast ports are experiencing, Montreal has seen a dramatic climb in the number of empty containers being shipped.

“For the first time in history, the logistics industry is contributing to inflation,” he said.

He added that the difficulties in his first year accelerated his learning the ports business since he arrived in the job after a 25-year career in utilities.

A low-key neighbour

Imbleau noted that although he had been the port’s neighbour for 25 years, he was unaware until he began working there of its importance to not only Montreal, but the provinces of Quebec and Ontario and the Mid-west. “This organization affects 100 percent of the corporations and citizens of Quebec,” he said.

Going forward, Imbleau has two priorities. First is to reach out to communities and improve their understanding of what the port does. Second is to ask stakeholders what they want to see improve in the port’s’ operations, notably in terms of decarbonizing its operations.

Decarbonization “is the most important thing to tackle because it is the right thing to do,” Imbleau said. He said the port plans to get involved upstream and downstream of its usual operational realm to accelerate change. He wants customers to choose Montreal ultimately because it is a green business.

Labour issues

Tirschwell asked if the strikes at the port this spring, and the previous summer, had hurt its reputation. “It’s a concern,” Imbleau agreed. “Our reputation was affected and is affected internationally with the strikes we had here. We are concerned about future negotiations.”

He expressed his appreciation that the federal government understood the fundamental importance of the port in enacting back-to-work legislation so quickly this year.

But he also suggested that this time of crisis in global supply chains really underlines the value that ports play, and the benefits of all parties working together to ensure smooth operations 24/7 and 365 days a year, “without affecting the rights of either employees or employers.” A port is a public service, he noted. The benefits of fluid operation accrue to the users, not the port itself.

Contrecoeur

The port has just issued the request for qualification for an operator for the Contrecoeur terminal, which is under development 40 kilometres downstream form Montreal proper.

Imbleau said the new terminal will be needed because current facilities are almost at capacity. “A public service has a moral obligation to build facilities ahead of the parade,” he said.

The port is looking for an operating partner that shares its “DNA and decarbonization philosophy”, and brings innovation and marketing savvy to the project, Imbleau said. He said they want a partner that will “leapfrog” the port’s technology to prepare it for future growth.  He believes it will be able to capture more business serving the Mid-West as well and Ontario and Quebec, using the Port’s rapid turnaround business model.