The Port of Montreal is experiencing an economic slowdown

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The port of Montreal is experiencing an economic slowdown

The Economic activity has been slowing down at the Port of Montreal for several months.

Stacked containers, congestion and bottlenecks created by the logistical chaos during the pandemic… All of this is well and truly a thing of the past at the Port of Montreal, which is at the forefront of the economic slowdown.

Individuals, but also companies, are ordering less. That's what I noticed too; we are a predictive indicator, so when we start to slow down, we know that the next few quarters will be more difficult, underlines Martin Imbleau, CEO of the Port of Montreal, in an interview with Radio-Canada.

If, throughout 2022, the Port of Montreal has experienced an increase in its volumes, since the end of the year, the decline is rather between 2% and 5%, and announces a start to the year 2023 placed under sign of economic slowdown.

Since November, we have really seen a drop in traffic and what this tells us is that spring and until summer, we risk having a certain slowdown, because it was SMEs from Abitibi to Estrie who stopped ordering, stocks were full and their demand is now weaker, explains the manager.

The latter is not worried about too great an impact on the turnover of the port authority, but more of an effect on economic activity in Quebec.

“That we are making less profit this year is not dramatic. […] Our concern is focused on the economic lung of all the regions, and there, we will have a drop this year, that's for sure. »

— Martin Imbleau, CEO of the Port of Montreal

Martin Imbleau, CEO of the Port of Montreal.

< p class="e-p">Each year, approximately $100 billion worth of goods pass through the Port Authority, the second largest in Canada.

It's colossal. So a few percentage points less represents an economic impact for the regions of Quebec, says Mr. Imbleau.

Last year, the Port of Montreal had to deal with pandemic logistics chaos, as in many ports around the world. Scalded by the many delays, several companies had ordered too much and the containers had piled up.

During the summer, the Journal de Montréalreported that importers were taking up to 13 days to pick up their goods, while the deadline was five days in 2021.

Indeed, we have gone from a logic where we had more provisions, we played squirrel more, we put more in the jowls as they say. Everyone did that, everyone built up stocks, says Imbleau.

All the companies in Quebec and Ontario created so much inventory that we finally saw volumes drop in the fall because they were overcapacity. And there, it was a bit the opposite towards the end of the year, we saw the volumes drop a little, he adds.

A farmer harvests wheat in a war-damaged field near Kramatorsk on July 7, 2022.

That said, while a drop in containerized materials is expected, other sectors will compensate, notably energy and cereals, whose prices have risen since the conflict in Ukraine.

The grain sector is having an exceptional year. We will export even more cereals and grains from Western Canada, he said.

A few decades ago, the Port of Montreal was the most important grain port in the world. Currently, this sector represents between 10% and 15% of the Port Authority's turnover.

Cereals still pass a lot through Montreal, wheat, oats, through example. But we also now have more niche products, lentils without GMOs (genetically modified organisms), but also chickpeas, he argues.

With economic activity at half mast for some months, the Port of Montreal is looking ahead and believes that major investments will be necessary.

“We need to expand the infrastructure for containerization. Montreal will reach full capacity within five years; two million containers, don't throw any more, the yard is full. And it's starting to back up.

— Martin Imbleau, CEO of the Port of Montreal

This is why the administration wants to develop its expansion project in Contrecoeur. The final investment decision will be made this year and it will be the largest port project in the history of the St. Lawrence.

A total of 1.15 million containers could pass through these facilities each year by 2026-2027.

The containers are sealed when they pass through the Port of Montreal and they are not systematically inspected, says CEO Martin Imbleau.

No fewer than 9,591 vehicles were stolen in Montreal last year, compared to 6,527 in 2021, according to a CBC investigation. Many of these vehicles pass through the Port of Montreal, which is an important hub for their export abroad.

According to Mr. Imbleau, several checks have already been carried out at the facilities. There is no vehicle theft in the Port of Montreal, period. Because it is a hypersecure site. What happens is that the car thefts are done in Quebec and Ontario, they put it in containers and it goes to us, he explains.

He says, however, that all parties involved need to do better.

< p>“When the containers arrive, they are sealed. We inspect a portion of the containers, but we do not inspect all the containers. So, it's very annoying, because our reputation takes a hit, when it's really marginal as a situation. But, it makes headlines. »

— Martin Imbleau, CEO of the Port of Montreal

So we have to be better, and we also need border services to do a top job to ensure that it's not happening again, he said.

Hydro-Québec President and CEO Sophie Brochu has announced that she will step down on April 11 2023.

After spending more than two decades in the energy field, notably at Gaz Métro, now Énergir, with a stint at Hydro-Québec, Mr. Imbleau has been leading the Port of Montreal for two years now.

Her name has been circulating for a few weeks as a possible replacement for Sophie Brochu, resigning CEO of Hydro-Québec. However, the principal concerned claims to be very satisfied with his current position and has not received any calls so far.

I was surprised, but after working in this industry for 25 years, you know a lot of people, he admits.

These are just rumours, there are no smoke signals in this case. I have the pleasure of leading a very important public service, he continues.

We have just tabled our strategic plan. We are going to transform the Port of Montreal, in particular with its rapprochement in the communities, I have a lot of fun doing what I do, he concludes, broad smile, impeccable costume.