Marine Transportation Strategy
Read The Future of the Great Lakes Economy: Ontario’s Marine Transportation Strategy, our plan to strengthen Ontario’s position as a leader in marine transportation.
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I’m proud to introduce Ontario’s first-ever Marine Transportation Strategy, the blueprint to grow Ontario’s marine transportation network over the next 10 years. This strategy builds on the extensive consultation and feedback we’ve received to date from key stakeholders and partners in the marine industry and lays the foundation to strengthen Ontario’s marine transportation sector for generations to come.
As our population grows, we’re focused on securing a stronger Ontario for the families that are here and want to come here. This starts by building a resilient transportation network that will keep goods and people moving. The marine sector is a critical component of Ontario’s robust transportation system that links to our railway and trucking networks. Moving goods by water is also one of the most cost-effective transportation solutions, ensuring our goods get to market quickly and helping our economy grow.
Ontario is home to four of the five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, which provide vital connections to the global supply chain. The Great Lakes region is a critical economic corridor for both Ontario and Canada. Every year, it generates more than 50 per cent of our cross-border trade with our most important trading partner, the United States, while supporting millions of good-paying jobs.
The Marine Transportation Strategy builds on Ontario’s four regional transportation plans: the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Northern, Southwestern and Eastern Ontario plans. These plans were developed to address the unique transportation needs of Ontario’s rapidly growing population, including a commitment to improve the performance and sustainability of the marine sector.
With the collaboration of our strong partners, such as the Ontario Marine Council, travel and tourism boards, local chambers of commerce, and marine businesses, we’re bringing this commitment to life. The Ontario Marine Transportation Strategy is another step in the right direction toward our shared goal of positioning Ontario as a global leader in marine transportation.
Working together, I look forward to building the strong and sustainable marine sector that Ontario needs to thrive.
– Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, Minister of Transportation
Parliamentary Assistant’s message
Ontario’s marine sector is a vital component of our transportation network with untapped potential to contribute to Ontario’s economy.
That’s why we met with a broad range of stakeholders to develop our first-ever Marine Transportation Strategy, outlining our 10-year vision for building a world-class marine transportation network that will benefit Ontarians for generations to come.
Over the last 18 months, we’ve heard from port organizations, shipbuilders, Indigenous partners, local businesses, tourism boards, and stakeholders about the unique needs and opportunities of Ontario’s marine sector. This important feedback informed the development of the strategy and will breathe new life into the sector.
During stakeholder consultations, we learned about the challenges faced by the marine sector while moving goods and people. By providing a centralized ‘one-window’ provincial support for the marine sector, strengthening marine’s position within the multimodal transportation network, and raising awareness of career opportunities in the marine industry, we will help enhance our economy and create thriving communities along our seaways.
This strategy will also position Ontario’s marine sector to become a leader in environmental sustainability. We’ll collaborate with the public and private sector to find innovative ways of decarbonizing marine transportation – and we’ll work closely with the federal government to champion Ontario’s marine industry priorities.
The four pillars outlined in this strategy will serve as the foundation for building a marine sector that will make Ontario a leading jurisdiction. And our work has only just begun. We’ll continue to consult with industry, Indigenous partners and the public as we implement and update this strategy – everyone will have a seat at the table.
We look forward to continuing to work with all our partners in the marine sector as we roll up our sleeves to get this important work done.
– Hardeep Singh Grewal, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Transportation
Land and water acknowledgement
Ontario recognizes that the land and waterways located within the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway region are home to Indigenous peoples dating back countless generations.
Ontario would like to show respect and gratitude for the contributions of Indigenous peoples and recognize the long history of Indigenous stewardship of the land and waterways.
As part of Ontario’s Marine Transportation Strategy, the province acknowledges the sacredness of water to Indigenous peoples. Water is life; it is critical to cultural practices, transportation and access to resources.
Ontario is committed to continuing to work collaboratively with Indigenous communities and organizations to ensure that their priorities are reflected in our collective work to support the prosperity and sustainability of marine transportation in the province.
Ontario’s marine sector
Marine transportation – the movement of people and goods over water – is a key piece of the puzzle in Ontario’s multimodal transportation network. Ontario’s marine sector keeps our economy moving, helps get goods to market faster, and supports increased recreation and tourism across the province.
A key feature of Ontario’s marine geography is the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway system. The 3,700-kilometre inland waterway connects Ontario directly with eight Midwestern United States, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces, serving as an important link to provincial, national, and international supply chains, while supporting trade with these regions. According to the Port of Montreal, approximately 30 per cent of the volume of goods arriving at the port continue through to Ontario. Ontario’s waterways and ports also play a critical role in the movement of goods to and from Western Canada and international markets.
Marine transportation is a key driver of Ontario’s economy, facilitating the movement of bulk cargo to and from Ontario’s more than 30 ports. Connecting to the rail and truck network, it helps move up to 63 million tonnes of goods annually, getting them to market faster and more cost-effectively than other modes of transportation.
Ferries are another integral part of Ontario’s marine sector and broader transportation network. Remote and more urbanized communities rely on marine transportation, whether it’s to get to work or medical appointments, or access other essential services. Ferry services also facilitate the movement of goods that communities rely on daily. Ontario provides support to 11 passenger ferry operations across the province, with 16 vessels that serve 12 provincial routes and one international route to the United States. We recognize how important reliable ferry services are for the communities that rely on them, which is why we committed to improving the services in the province’s regional transportation plans for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and Eastern Ontario.
Marine transportation is also an important driver for travel and tourism in Ontario. Particularly in the Great Lakes Region, marine tourism connects more people to key destinations and attractions, including the Thousand Islands, Niagara Falls, Georgian Bay and more. In 2023 alone, The Great Lakes Cruise Association estimates that total cruise tourism expenditures in Canadian ports along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway system will generate $14.3 million, stimulating economic growth across the province.
Engagement on the marine transportation strategy
The Ontario Marine Transportation Strategy is informed by significant engagement with stakeholders and partners in the industry. This has helped shape our understanding of the trends, challenges, and opportunities for growth within the sector, while outlining a path forward that allows us to achieve our shared goal of growing Ontario’s marine sector.
Our collaborative approach to developing this strategy has included gathering input from industry experts, governmental bodies and Indigenous partners. This strategy is a living document. As it evolves, we will continue to seek feedback from our partners and the public to ensure it is responsive to the needs of the industry and Ontarians.
Key engagement sessions completed to date include:
- April 2022 – Preliminary Input Session
- More than 50 participants, including representatives from the marine transportation sector and related industries, such as port owners/operators, terminal users, shipbuilders, manufacturing and industry stakeholders, maritime freight operators and passenger/ferry operators, attended an information-gathering session to share their input and perspectives to inform the development of the strategy.
- Spring-Summer 2022 – Commercial port and passenger operators survey
- The Ministry of Transportation conducted two comprehensive surveys in spring-summer 2022: the Ontario Ports Survey and the Ontario Marine Passenger Operator Survey. The surveys helped the ministry develop an understanding of current commercial marine port and ferry/cruise operator conditions in Ontario and provided a foundation for discussing their current needs, outlooks and opportunities.
- November 2022 – Minister’s Roundtable Session
- The Minister of Transportation held an in-person roundtable with sector stakeholders to discuss key themes and proposed policy goals and to seek input on opportunities for provincial actions that could be included in the strategy.
- Nearly 20 participants attended, including marine associations, port authorities, shipbuilders and mayors of the Niagara region.
- February-March 2023 – Regional Roundtable Sessions
- MPP Hardeep Grewal, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Transportation, held three virtual regional roundtable sessions. The sessions presented key themes and areas where the province could take action in a marine transportation strategy.
- More than 50 participants attended, including representatives from the marine transportation sector and related industries, as well as port authorities, shipbuilders, mayors and Indigenous communities and organizations.
- April 2023 – Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) Workshop
- The Ministry of Transportation established a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) composed of marine sector leaders and experts. The first TAC Workshop held in April 2023 allowed stakeholders to share input and technical advice to ensure that strategy development incorporates sector expertise and priorities.
Opportunities for growth
Ontario is already seizing opportunities to expand and grow its marine sector, including by investing in training for shipbuilders through Ontario’s Shipyard Modernization Project and electrifying the ferries for Amherst Island and Wolfe Island. However, in a province with as much potential to succeed in the marine sector as Ontario, there is more work to do. As part of Ontario’s Marine Transportation Strategy, we will continue to work closely with industry to address key trends and opportunities that were identified through stakeholder engagement, including:
Growing a Skilled Workforce – The marine sector has been facing long-standing labour challenges that need to be addressed for the sector’s long-term viability. According to Transport Canada, 43 per cent of the marine workforce will retire over the next 10 years.
Building More Infrastructure – In order to remain competitive, stakeholders expressed that existing maritime and landside infrastructure needs to be maintained and improved to reach the sector’s full potential. Critical infrastructure includes ports, docks, piers, breakwaters, railways and roads.
Improving Multimodal Connection – Marine transportation needs to be better integrated with other modes of on-shore transportation that provide access to local tourism attractions, amenities and job opportunities.
Enhancing Environmental Sustainability – The marine sector has expressed interest in initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, such as green technologies and alternative fuels. Leveraging marine shipping offers environmental advantages to onshore transportation methods. For example, vessels operating on the Great Lakes are, on average, seven times more fuel efficient than trucks.
Ontario is committed to ensuring the marine sector realizes its full potential. A strong sector will provide economic, social, and environmental benefits for Ontarians, while securing provincial prosperity in the years to come. The Ontario Marine Transportation Strategy is anchored around four central pillars that align with key opportunities for growth identified by marine industry stakeholders. These four pillars set a strong foundation for the future of Ontario’s marine sector and will guide the province’s short and long-term actions.
Pillar 1 – Strengthening marine’s position in the multimodal network:
This pillar is focused on ensuring that the marine sector is a strong and accessible mode of transportation for people and goods. This will result in a greener multimodal network that reduces gridlock, connects communities to reliable marine transportation services, provides reliable connectivity for communities and lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Pillar 2 – Supporting infrastructure and economic development:
This pillar is focused on building the infrastructure needed to strengthen the performance and prosperity of Ontario’s marine sector, including marine tourism. Targeted infrastructure investments to boost economic growth could include supporting port expansion, revitalization projects, advancing alternative fuel infrastructure, and improving multimodal connections.
Pillar 3 – Investing in education, labour and training:
This pillar is focused on taking action to promote awareness of marine as a viable career path while ensuring Ontario’s marine sector is supported by a strong, skilled and diverse labour pool. Ontario will also work to promote marine sector labour opportunities and explore opportunities for ongoing investments to advance marine-related education and training.
Pillar 4 – Greening marine transportation:
This pillar is focused on building an environmentally sustainable marine sector and an overall greener provincial transportation network by supporting low-carbon initiatives, including alternative fuels research.
The strategy is focused on bodies of water that connect into international waterways (e.g., Great Lakes, Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway, James Bay / Hudson Bay), lakes and rivers with community and provincial passenger ferry services, as well as international, national and provincial marine shipping routes.
Other waterways and lakes within the boundaries of the province and marine-related recreational or leisure activities are not included within the scope of the strategy.
The strategy will guide Ontario to achieve its objectives for a strong and sustainable provincial marine sector.
By achieving the strategy’s objectives, the following outcomes will be met:
- Defined provincial role in marine transportation: New, active role for the province in building a resilient sector and strengthened relationships with private and public partners. Includes actively advocating for Ontario’s marine sector priorities and providing centralized support for the sector through the establishment of a new office.
- Integrated multimodal network: Strengthened connections between marine and other modes of transportation, enabling the efficient movement of people and goods and the greening of the broader transportation sector.
- Increased marine labour supply and strong workforce: Marine transportation businesses and provincial ferry services have access to a strong, skilled and diverse labour pool.
- Increased awareness and promotion: Enhanced public awareness of Ontario’s marine transportation system and the economic benefits it provides.
- Strong ferry transportation services: Communities continue to have reliable access to provincial ferry transportation services that connect them to essential services and goods through the broader transportation network.
- Strengthened resiliency of the marine sector: Fostering a business environment that supports the performance and prosperity of Ontario’s marine sector and Ontario’s economic development.
- Enhanced environmental sustainability: Advancements in decarbonization to leverage the environmental benefits of marine transportation operations and decrease GHG emissions, while allowing for sustainable business growth.
Areas of action
Pillar 1: Strengthening marine’s position in the multimodal network
A strong marine sector is critical to a strong transportation network. Ontario is committed to propelling the marine sector to new heights, ensuring a strong and sustainable mode of transportation for people and goods, including those in First Nations communities, northern, eastern and rural Ontario.
Action 1: Establishing the Ontario Marine Partnership and Development Office
Ontario recognizes opportunities for growing the marine sector require a coordinated provincial approach. To achieve this, Ontario will establish an Ontario Marine Partnership and Development Office. This dedicated office will play a key role in overseeing the implementation of Ontario’s first-ever Marine Transportation strategy. Its work will include, developing and tracking key performance measures to monitor success, leading engagement with industry partners, and serving as the provincial voice when advocating for and building awareness of Ontario’s marine sector priorities.
The Ontario Marine Partnership and Development Office will act as the central point of contact for the marine industry, helping to foster strong collaboration between stakeholders, partners and the government. Ensuring more streamlined coordination between all parties will help us meet shared objectives and challenges, while driving successful outcomes for the marine industry.
Action 2: Implementing an inter-governmental engagement and awareness plan
As part of Ontario’s work to build a strong marine transportation network, the province will continue to strengthen and enhance collaboration with its federal and provincial government counterparts by implementing a strategic inter-governmental engagement and awareness plan.
Work under this plan will include advocating for more streamlined approvals with Transport Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency to address the marine sector’s key challenges that fall under federal jurisdiction or cross provincial boundaries. Ontario will also look to strengthen its existing relationships with provincial partners, including Quebec and British Columbia, to explore lessons that can be applied to Ontario’s marine sector, such as opportunities to strengthen short sea shipping and shipbuilding in Ontario.
Action 3: Completing the provincial ferry review
Ontario is reviewing the way ferry services are delivered in the province as part of its plan to ensure provincial ferry operations are reliable and efficient for the people who use them.
Action 4: Developing a strategic provincial ferry policy
As part of Ontario’s longer-term vision to support the marine sector, the province will develop a strategic provincial ferry policy that ensures ferry services support existing provincial transportation plans and are an integrated part of the multimodal transportation network.
Action 5: Developing a provincewide multimodal Strategic Goods Movement Network across Ontario
To achieve efficient and seamless connections throughout the supply chain, Ontario will identify a provincewide multimodal Strategic Goods Movement Network (SGMN), enhancing integration between transportation modes and supporting infrastructure. SGMN is a multimodal network of key corridors, facilities, and connections for supporting and facilitating the movement of goods across the GGH region and beyond. It will cover the region’s key multimodal freight nodes, including marine ports, and will result in stronger multimodal connections. Leveraging the strengths of each transportation mode will optimize the movement of goods, minimize environmental impacts, unlock economic potential and improve the efficiency of intermodal connections.
Pillar 2: Supporting Infrastructure and Economic Development
Ensuring the proper infrastructure is in place to support Ontario’s marine sector is a critical first step toward unlocking its full potential. We are committed to supporting the investments needed to build new and improved maritime and landside infrastructure that will increase capacity in the sector and keep goods and people moving.
Ontario investments in revitalizing dock infrastructure
Ontario continues to invest in critical infrastructure that supports provincial ferry services. Significant recent investments include the Ontario government awarding $82.5 million in contracts to revitalize the Kingston Ferry and $63.3 million to revitalize the Marysville Ferry Dock in 2021. These infrastructure investments demonstrate Ontario’s ongoing commitment to ensuring communities and residents have access to high-quality ferry services.
Action 1: Exploring opportunities for incentives to support economic growth and competitiveness
Ontario has a robust shipbuilding and repair industry. In 2022, ship and boat building generated $52.8 million in GDP and approximately 935 jobs.
Ontario is committed to exploring financial incentives for the shipbuilding industry in Ontario that support the needs of the province’s shipbuilders to ensure we are positioned as competitive leaders in the industry. This commitment focuses on building and repairing ships as well as maintaining competitiveness, creating jobs and growing the economy.
Action 2: Leveraging existing initiatives to support marine industry growth
Ontario will leverage existing provincial funding and programs, such as the Regional Development Program and the Driving Prosperity automotive plan, to support further economic development, innovation and commercialization, research, trade and investment within the marine sector.
Action 3: Building tomorrow, today
Over the next 10 years, Ontario will explore opportunities to build marine infrastructure and stimulate economic development. Key projects include port expansion and revitalization, landside infrastructure, short sea shipping and making marine tourism easier. Ontario will also explore opportunities to support the modernization of the marine sector, including encouraging the assessment and adoption of innovative data and technology initiatives that can support improved performance, sustainability and safety within the sector.
Pillar 3: Investing in education, labour and training
To support the longevity and sustainability of the marine industry, Ontario will look to enhance and expand education, labour and training opportunities. This will include examining opportunities to support initiatives that will have a positive impact on Indigenous partners and other equity-seeking groups.
Action 1: Actively promoting awareness of marine careers
Raising awareness of the available career opportunities in the Ontario marine sector is the first step to ensuring we build the foundation for a strong sector. Ontario will work with its agency and educational partners, including Skilled Trades Ontario, to promote marine sector labour opportunities. We will also look to promote marine careers to students by engaging directly through interactive exhibits and hands-on activities available through Level Up! Skilled Trades Career Fairs.
Ontario is already making strides to ensure secondary school students have access to a variety of job skills programs to help them discover and explore skilled trades as career opportunities. Ontario will build on the success of critical initiatives, such as the Specialist High Skills Major program and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, to ensure that students can learn more about marine sector career opportunities and take advantage of existing marine apprenticeship opportunities, including the Marine Engine Technician trade.
Action 2: Expanding opportunities for learning and training
Ontario will look to leverage opportunities to support the creation of new micro-credentials with a marine-related focus, including at post-secondary institutions. Micro-credentials are rapid training programs offered across Ontario’s publicly assisted colleges and universities, private career colleges, and Indigenous Institutes that help provide the skills needed for in-demand jobs, including retraining and skills upgrading.
To further support hands-on training, Ontario will leverage existing and potential new experiential learning opportunities to increase student awareness of the marine sector. Examples of this could include working with partners to establish cooperative education placements or other curriculum-linked learning experiences.
Action 3: Leveraging existing initiatives to support workforce development
Ontario will leverage existing provincial funding programs, including the Skills Development Fund, to train and retain more marine workers.
Ontario Training Next Generation of Shipbuilders
In July 2023, Ontario announced an investment of more than $3.7 million through the Skills Development Fund to help 300 shipyard workers, apprentices and jobseekers in Hamilton and Port Weller get the training they need to succeed.
This funding is in addition to an $8.7 million investment in May 2022 to launch the Ontario Shipyard Modernization Project at Heddle Shipyards.
These investments will help modernize Ontario’s shipyards to attract lucrative shipbuilding contracts and thousands of well-paying jobs to the province.
Ontario will work with diverse partners – such as Indigenous organizations, employment and training organizations – to target opportunities to enhance and expand education and training initiatives for underrepresented groups.
Action 4: Building the workforce of the future
Ontario will work closely with its public and private industry partners to boost enrolment in marine-related education programs and provide new internship opportunities that allow learners to practise alongside working mariners. Ontario will continue to work in collaboration with key stakeholders and partners to achieve this.
Pillar 4: Greening Marine Transportation
Ontario is working to build a marine sector that is environmentally sustainable for future generations. This starts by harnessing more green and low-carbon emissions technologies that reduce marine transportation’s carbon footprint.
Action 1: Strengthening Ontario’s role in supporting decarbonization of the marine sector
Ontario’s Electric Ferries
Ontario is leading by example, purchasing the Amherst Islander II and the Wolfe Islander IV, which are among the first electric passenger and vehicle ferries in North America. Those electric ferries are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 7.4 million kilograms of carbon dioxide per year compared to conventional diesel ferries, the equivalent of taking 1,357 cars off the road.
Ontario is already taking action to reduce emissions across the transportation network, including by building the largest expansion of public transit in Canadian history resulting in the electrification of trains and taking millions of cars off the road everyday. The province is also supporting the uptake of low-carbon vehicles with historic investments to position Ontario as a global leader in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing.
Through this strategy, Ontario is committed to building on these important initiatives and working with our sector and government partners at the municipal, provincial, territorial and federal levels to identify collective actions to continue to green the marine transportation sector. This includes working with the federal government to support Transport Canada’s Canadian Green Shipping Corridor Framework goal of a net-zero path by 2050 for Canada’s marine sector.
Ontario will work to identify opportunities to collaborate with private and public sector partners, including other Great Lakes jurisdictions, to advance work in areas such as green shipping corridors, zero-emission technologies and alternative fuels. Engagement with other jurisdictions will also provide valuable insight into best practices and successful measures that could be applied to the Ontario landscape.
Action 2: Support research in decarbonization solutions for the marine sector
Ontario is committed to fostering enhanced collaboration between public and private organizations to encourage research and innovation that support the transition to renewable energy sources. Through collaboration with industry partners, educational institutions, research centres and other thought leaders, Ontario can play a crucial role in building a more resilient and sustainable future.
Measuring for success
The ability to measure progress is fundamental to the success of the Ontario Marine Transportation Strategy. To achieve this, the province will develop and monitor progress toward key performance measures. Performance indicators will be released as part of a future phase of the strategy and refined over time. For instance, potential indicators could be developed around marine sector jobs and GDP contribution, GHG emissions, or provincial support for the sector. As the strategy evolves and these performance measures are developed, Ontario welcomes your feedback.
This strategy provides the path forward for our 10-year vision to support a stronger marine sector in Ontario. Built upon the valuable insights and feedback we gathered from industry experts, stakeholders and partners in the sector, the strategy is informed by those who know the industry best.
Since day one, Ontario has listened and worked with you to understand potential opportunities to strengthen and grow the marine sector. The strategy is intended to be an evergreen document and we will continue to take your lead to ensure that it reflects the current needs of the industry and all Ontarians. We will also continue to engage with our Indigenous partners to ensure that their rights, interests and perspectives are reflected in the actions of the strategy.
The marine sector is a critical component of Ontario’s transportation network. We are committed to continuing to work collaboratively across the industry to build a leadership role for Ontario in marine transportation.
We encourage you to review this strategy and provide feedback on our proposed goals and actions.
- footnote Back to paragraph Council of the Great Lakes Region. The Great Lakes Economy: The Growth Engine of North America.
- footnote Back to paragraph Martin Associates. 2022 data. Economic Impacts of Maritime Shipping in The Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Region. July 2023.
- footnote Back to paragraph Great Lakes Cruise Association, 2022.
- footnote Back to paragraph Transport Canada. 2022.
- footnote Back to paragraph Chamber of Marine Commerce, 2016.
- footnote Back to paragraph Statistics Canada. Table 36-10-0489-01 Labour statistics consistent with the System of National Accounts (SNA), by job category and industry.
- footnote Back to paragraph Statistics Canada. Table 36-10-0402-01 Gross domestic product (GDP) at basic prices, by industry, provinces and territories (x 1,000,000).