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Boldness is what Canada needs to be a successful trading nation

TORONTO, Ont. -It took just one word for Charles McMillan, a former advisor to prime minister Brian Mulroney and one of the architects of the Free Trade Agreement, to describe what Canada needed to be...

TORONTO, Ont. -It took just one word for Charles McMillan, a former advisor to prime minister Brian Mulroney and one of the architects of the Free Trade Agreement, to describe what Canada needed to be successful in a future dominated by global competition: boldness.

Incremental thinking just won’t cut it in a world bent on “going big” McMillan advised supply chain professionals attending the 21st Annual Transportation Innovation and Cost Savings Conference, organized by well-known transportation lawyer Richard Lande and held this year at Toronto’s Science Centre.

McMillan said the transport sector specifically needs more boldness to deal with the following traditional shortfalls:

• Transportation and logistics practices have been either regional (east-west) or national in focus, and governed by Central Canada’s population and manufacturing base;

• Most Canadian exports beyond automotive products have been raw materials destined for Japan and other Asian countries, often with Canada being a price taker;

• While Vancouver has been congested, Atlantic ports and provincial airports such as Calgary have been isolated from large markets;

• There has been a distinct lack of a national champion.

Yet, the leading trading nations are quickly working their way beyond similar obstacles. There is enormous integration taking place between Japan, India and China, for example. Both India and China are spending heavily on infrastructure and Europe isn’t standing still either.

“Are we going to be a player or are we going to be passive?” McMillan asked. “Too much of our time and thinking is tied to a silo mentality of who gets what.”

For example, McMillan said that Canada’s port system needs a more integrated approach than we currently have, with Vancouver and Halifax acting as international gateways and the other ports acting in support.

He also questioned if both government and business are being aggressive or forward thinking enough in addressing the opportunities presented by the burgeoning economies in Asia. For example, China has no significant iron ore deposits, without which it can’t make the steel necessary for its infrastructure.

“The demand needs for India and China are infinite. They need raw materials, energy, food. We have those in abundance. Are we going to do it on our terms or theirs? How many premiers outside of Quebec and Ontario have spent a lot of time in India and China cultivating future demand? How many Canadian companies are taking their senior team to Asia?” he questioned.

The importance of logistics to Canada’s competitiveness as a trading nation was certainly not lost on Kelly Winters, general manager of Alliance Shippers, either.

As she pointed out, “logistics is the strategic glue that binds all functions in a company together.” During her address to the conference, she advised taking a multi-modal approach.

“Yesterday’s traffic manager had a North American or regional focus and used (primarily) trucks. Today we have to look at many modes of transportation to get products to market,” she said.

Productivity is an important measure for global shippers when choosing locations from which to base their operations and ship their goods. Many global players, Toyota for example, have very precise measurements in place for their own operations. But McMillan questioned if our marine and airports have productivity measures that could measure up to such global standards.

“The rest of the world looks at Canada with enormous envy. But we have to change our viewpoint. We have to become outward looking and forward thinking,” he said. •

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