Q&A with Robin Silvester

Let’s start with an overview of your business.

The amount of trade taking place in the port is mind-boggling: $475 million of cargo a day-basically 20 percent of the total trade in Canada-moves through this port. Everything from the things we buy in the shops, wine, right through to all the fundamentally important exports, whether it’s forest products going into building houses in China or metallurgical coal being made into steel for everything from trains to windmills. Just the amount of grain is enough to feed 200 million people a year.

The Gateway program has re-formed the region to ease this flow. Is it enough?

There are still two pinch points to address. We’re really pleased to see the province getting momentum around what a replacement for the George Massey Tunnel would look like. The other is the road and rail crossings in New Westminster/Surrey. Yes, Gateway has done a lot to raise capacity, but fundamentally we still have the Pattullo Bridge and the New West rail bridge that, in the long term, need to be upgraded.

Are we competitive enough against other regional ports?

Today we’re involved in building 17 overpasses around the Lower Mainland to improve the efficiency of trains flowing in and out of the port. In Seattle and Tacoma, they’re just starting to talk about that. We’re seeing small amounts, 15 to 20 percent of import container business, ultimately going into the U.S. I don’t see it getting much bigger because fundamentally we are a Canadian gateway serving Canada. But because we’ve become efficient, and we’re delivering world-class supply chain performance, we’re winning bits of business around the edge.

How do we keep improving efficiency?

Technology is part of it. More than 50 percent of the truck fleet that services the port has GPS. We can track how long they take to load, the routes they follow. We know how many are using the Massey Tunnel, the Alex Fraser Bridge, the Pattullo. We have well-developed hypotheses about where traffic flows around the Lower Mainland.

What changes do you see in the next decade? Doesthe backlash against oil shipping affect future plans?

Inevitably we’ll see growth, and with that, more engagement from the community and more focus on growth without negatively impacting the environment. A couple decades ago we were the first port in Canada-only the second in North America-to have a full-time environmental person. Today we have a team of 15. It’s one of the areas in our organization that’s growing fastest.

How do you blow off steam?

My wife and I both scuba-dive. We’ve done a lot here in B.C., which has given me a real understanding of the beauty of our marine environment. We do a lot of hiking. We kayak. We spent Christmas hiking in Patagonia. Last summer, we were up in the Arctic and we went up to Baffin Island, spent a week with a sort of expedition camp-out on the ice in Baffin Land. Sitting on the edge of the ice watching narwhals swim by is unbelievable.

Did you know? With Kits Coast Guard station closed, the port’s harbour patrol has an increased role keeping recreational boaters safe around commercial vessels. That, plus its never-closed operations centre and 300 CCTV cameras, secures the waterfront.