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Montreal port CEO says need for federal cash 'urgent' as expansion cost balloons

MONTREAL — The cost of the Montreal port expansion has ballooned by nearly 50 per cent, prompting its CEO to call for more cash from the federal government.
A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says the federal government is committed to supporting the Port of Montreal as it seeks more funding for the ballooning cost of a container terminal expansion. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL — The cost of the Montreal port expansion has ballooned by nearly 50 per cent, prompting its CEO to call for more cash from the federal government.

Martin Imbleau, who heads the Montreal port authority, claimed it can wait only “a few weeks” for the additional funding he’s requested from Ottawa to finance the new shipping container terminal, dubbing the need “urgent.”

“What I had the opportunity to say, which was confirmed to me in my conversation with the minister, is that federal contribution and participation were a matter of weeks and not months,” Imbleau told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday, two days after he spoke with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

“We can make do with that timeline. It is still urgent, and that is the message that I communicated,” he said in French.

The project price tag has risen from a $950-million ceiling to about $1.4 billion as a result of inflation, according to two sources familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak about it due to confidential negotiations.

Alghabra said the government is committed to supporting the expansion, but he has yet to offer a response on whether or how much Ottawa might provide.

“We have never turned down a funding application from the Port of Montreal. We are currently working with them on this ongoing application,” he told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“We in the government of Canada have a process that sometimes can take longer than we’d like, but we’re working through the process for this project and I’ve committed to the CEO that we’re going to work with them on getting to an answer soon.”

The new terminal — about 50 kilometres downstream of downtown Montreal in Contrecoeur, Que. — would boost the port's container capacity by 60 per cent to 2.1 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units), as Canada’s supply chain nears what a federal task force deemed a "breaking point."

In an October report, the group cited hurdles ranging from wildfires and floods to “wild swings” in supply and demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and called for more investment in critical infrastructure — “before our country’s reputation as a reliable trading partner is further tarnished, as we heard from stakeholders and U.S. trading partners.”

The Canada Infrastructure Bank pledged a $300-million loan to the port project in 2019, and the Quebec government allotted a $75-million grant in its latest budget, on top of the $55 million already earmarked.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2023.

— With files from Stéphane Rolland

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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