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Port of Montreal's Next Gatekeeper Will Have Big Shoes to Fill
When Dominic Taddeo began working at the Port of Montreal in 1974, it was far from the economic engine it is today.
With the emergence of container traffic in the 1970s, nobody figured on Montreal becoming a major player in the shipping business, he recalled in an interview this week.
The federal government, which then ran every aspect of the nation's ports, was content to relegate Montreal to moving bulk cargo like grain from the Great Lakes.
The government put its money into building up east coast container ports at Halifax and Saint John.
But Taddeo, who retires next month as chief executive officer of the Port Authority after 23 years in the top job, played a major role in reversing Montreal's fortunes.
This city now vies with New York as the top container port in eastern North America.
Thanks to about $450 million in investments in container facilities and close co-operation with rail carriers Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, Montreal became a gateway to Ontario and the U.S. Midwest.
Taddeo, 68, said his successor will have to remain vigilant to keep Montreal's competitive advantage and maintain the port's economic contribution to the city.
The facility generates about $2 billion in economic activity annually and supports thousands of direct and indirect jobs.
His successor will have big shoes to fill, as Taddeo has run a profitable and growing operation.
The federal government retains ownership, but the Port Authority is run on an independent, commercial basis and reinvests its earnings in improved services.
More than 160 people have applied for the job, including at least two internal candidates.
Several high-profile names outside the Port Authority have been mentioned as possible candidates, including former city of Montreal director-general Robert Abdallah.
The board committee searching for a replacement is said to have made its choice and a recommendation is being made to the full board. The job carries a base salary of between $250,000 and $300,000 a year.
The shipping industry's shift to Montreal began in the early 1980s, after several companies chose the port as a hub.
Taddeo and other port officials had to convince Ottawa to allow them to invest in intermodal facilities.
"I knew we had to transform the port," he recalled.
"We started building our case. We started explaining to the powers that be at that time" that Montreal was a logical destination.
New infrastructure was built and the shipping lines soon followed. CP Ships returned to Montreal after having left in the 1960s and Cast Container built up a major operation.
A key event in the port's development was the purchase by CP Rail of the Delaware & Hudson railroad into the U.S. Midwest.
That enabled containers to be offloaded directly onto rail routes serving the American market. A container landing in Montreal is now delivered to Chicago within 36 hours.
Growth in the trucking industry also became explosive, and trucks now account for about 40 per cent of the volume moved through the Port of Montreal.
While Asian trade through west coast ports now vastly outstrips business on the North Atlantic, Taddeo remains convinced the Port of Montreal will continue to thrive on its European business.
But Montreal must ensure it can compete effectively against New York, Baltimore and Virginia's Hampton Roads, even as the Canadian dollar goes up in value.
Productivity and service will be key to preserving market share, he said. It's also important that stepped-up port security measures to deal with criminal activity and potential terrorism not become too cumbersome.
Taddeo foresees growth continuing to the point where the port may have to look at building new facilities on the South Shore, where it owns a block of land.
He also expects to see continued efforts to reclaim port land for redevelopment of the harbourfront - something he's largely resisted so far.
The Bickerdike basin, in particular, has been eyed by private developers, while pressure has mounted to relocate the rail lines that serve the port.
Taddeo recognizes that such pressures are bound to intensify, but he cautions that public officials must not jeopardize the port's important role.