Can inspiration be found in port cities ?
Interview : Mario Girard, President-Director General, Port of Quebec, Canada
(13th World Conference Cities and Ports – 19/06/2012)*
AIVP : You were appointed President-Director General of the Quebec Port Authority in January 2011. After 18 months at the head of the port, how would you describe the City-Port relation in Quebec ?
M. Girard : I consider that the City-Port relation is developing strongly. When I arrived in the job, one of the first things I did as PDG was to commission a public survey to find out the level of people’s perception and knowledge about the Quebec Port Authority (QPA) and its operations. The results were very revealing. According to the survey, people were generally ill-informed about the Port of Quebec. This led to the creation of several myths which are solidly anchored in the imagination of people in Quebec. For that reason, my team and I have made the effort to meet a very large number of action groups representing as faithfully as possible all the people who live around the Port of Quebec. This activity has enabled us to re-establish the facts in several cases, and to develop new bases on which we are now consolidating our City-Port relation. This initiative has given birth to a community relations committee to ensure that the efforts we make survive over time.
AIVP : Do you think that culture can act as a catalyst in City-Port relations ?
M. Girard : If we talk about culture in the broadest sense, I think it can go some way towards getting people to see a more ludic, less commercial aspect of the port environment. Indeed, culture can help to make a port accessible, give it a more human appearance, give it a face and features of its own. It can even help a port to become better integrated into its medium. More precisely, if we talk more specifically of maritime culture as such, I think it should be valued and reinforced. It must never be taken for granted. You know, when a city has a strong, solid port culture, this implicitly means that it fully understands the importance of the port’s impact, both economically and socially. Now the myths have been debunked, which favours the city-port relation and enhances the effectiveness of the various cooperative efforts between the parties.
AIVP : And beyond culture, how can the port rouse curiosity in the people for the reality of the port’s existence, whether river of maritime ?
M. Girard : Quite simply by maintaining a continuous relation with the population. You must show sincere, meaningful interest in people by involving them and showing them that the port authority genuinely seeks integration with the medium around it. You must take into account the hopes and doubts of these people, who constitute the port’s economic and social environment. The port authority must act to take steps which will last in time, such as creating a community relations committee, holding open days, participating in economic and maritime chambers, holding meetings with groups and organisations to encourage dialogue, etc. In short, the port and the people must share their respective challenges and communicate with one another in the greatest mutual respect. Each must know the reality of the other. The possibility of learning and understanding entails curiosity. For this, mutual open-mindedness is absolutely essential.
AIVP : You are also vice president of the Quebec International Summer Festival! An extra way of attracting cruise ship operators ?
M. Girard : As a matter of fact my involvement with the management of the Quebec Summer Festival goes back long before my arrival at the Port of Quebec. You cannot make any contacts at this level. Besides, 80% of the business generated by international cruise ships in the Port of Quebec occurs during the months of September and October, while the Quebec Summer Festival runs from 5 to 15 July. Of course, the QPA and all the actors involved in developing cruise ship activity on the Saint-Lawrence are working very hard to exploit the summer season with the international cruise ship market. However, although the Quebec Summer Festival represents a product with an international appeal for Quebec’s tourism offer, at present it is not an additional means of attracting cruise ship operators.
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