Port of Quebec | Container transport resurfaces

Three years after the Laurentia port terminal project foundered, the idea of ​​container handling is resurfacing at the Port of Quebec. QSL wants to handle metal boxes there – a project that would be very different from the one that had been blocked by Ottawa.

Published at 1:37 a.m.

Updated at 6:00 a.m.

Without encroaching on the river, the Quebec maritime company wants to redevelop its existing facilities in Beauport Bay. There are still several steps to take before the project, which should represent an investment of 60 million, can be made official.

For QSL President and CEO Robert Bellisle, this terminal would be complementary to the activities of the Port of Montreal, where the draft is less than that – 15 m – of the port facilities of the Old Capital.

“If we can lighten the ships in Quebec, they will be able to go to Montreal and make the journey from Europe at their maximum capacity,” the manager explained in an interview. “That’s not the case for the container ships sailing to Montreal today.”

Mr. Bellisle believes that 200,000 “twenty-foot equivalent” containers could transit each year on its docks in Beauport Bay. This is far from the business model of the Laurentia project, which was led by the Port of Quebec, and its maximum annual volume of 700,000 metal boxes.

The largest operator of port terminals on the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes, QSL specializes primarily in handling bulk cargo, such as salt and sugar, as well as non-containerized goods. Its acquisition of Montreal-based Empire Stevedoring in 2021 opened the door to the container ship market. This transaction accelerated QSL’s thinking about its Quebec City facilities.

The Laurentia project targeted another market axis. What we are aiming for is to work with the constraints that exist when going from Quebec to Montreal, and vice versa.

Robert Bellisle, President and CEO of QSL

Forget Laurentia

In June 2021, the Trudeau government torpedoed Laurentia, which had been on the drawing board of the Port of Quebec since 2015. This $775 million project included the addition of a 610 m deep-water wharf line. It would have encroached on the breeding grounds of the striped bass, a fish whose population has been endangered on more than one occasion. The mitigation measures proposed by the developers at the time in terms of air quality and noise in nearby residential areas were deemed insufficient by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.

QSL’s president believes that converting existing facilities should reassure federal authorities on the striped bass issue.

Jacques Roy, a transportation expert and professor of operations and logistics management at HEC Montréal, views the project favorably. However, he believes that some of the issues that were detrimental to Laurentia may resurface in the debate.

“I understand the magnitude is not the same, but truck traffic could increase in the surrounding area,” he said. “Noise and traffic, that’s where there could be issues.”

Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a professor in the Department of Maritime Business Administration at Texas A&M University, believes that QSL has just found an interesting niche.

“Shipping companies that cross the Atlantic would have a greater margin of error on the amount of containers they can put on a ship,” says the expert. “There can be a local trickle-down effect. When there are new stops available, it can interest companies, for example, to consider a distribution centre in the area.”

Essential authorization

In the business community, QSL’s thinking was welcomed. Even the Port of Montreal, which had expressed concerns about the Laurentia project, welcomed a project that “will optimize the complementarity and resilience of the logistics chain.” The organization did not mention any potential repercussions on its current volume.

Pending the filing of a formal notice of project, QSL hopes to see the Trudeau government respond favorably to its request to expand customs activities at the Port of Quebec to allow the import and export of containers.

“There are already customs officers, so we’re talking about adding a little bit of staff here,” said Bellisle, adding that his company was prepared to pitch in to set up the space needed for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to do the work.

QSL, which counts the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) among its shareholders, believes that the signals coming from Ottawa are positive. As of Friday, the CBSA had not responded to questions from The Press.

QSL in brief

Year of foundation: 1978

Head office: Quebec

President and CEO: Robert Bellisle

Sectors of activity: Mooring, logistics, transport

Workforce: More than 2000 employees

Geographic presence: 66 port terminals in Canada and the United States

Learn more

  • 11,3 m
    Maximum depth of vessels that can generally be accommodated by the Port of Montreal

    Source: Montreal Port Authority

    1,5 million
    “Twenty-foot equivalent” containers handled in 2023 in Montreal

    Source: Montreal Port Authority



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