Skip to main content

As workers in the Quebec Port stripped "Montreal" off the Canada Steamship Lines cargo ship Birchglen, the vessel was losing more than just a Canadian port of registry. It was losing its Canadian crew and the Maple Leaf flag that attached it to its country of ownership.

Canadian workers were being replaced with a cheaper Ukrainian crew and captain. The flag of Barbados -- a flag of convenience as it is known in the shipping industry -- will soon be flying on the ship's masthead. And a freshly painted "Bridgetown" will mark the ship's new port of registration in Barbados, a country used by shipping companies to lower taxes.

The practice is commonplace in the industry. And it would have gone largely unnoticed if it weren't for the fact that the vessel belongs to the shipping empire run by Prime Minister Paul Martin's family.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Martin transferred control of his Canada Steamship Lines Inc. empire to his sons last March, after he faced a storm of criticism that his business interests would place him in conflict with his official duties.

A total of 20 Canadian commercial sailors on the Birchglen were laid off and have been replaced with 22 Ukrainian crew members who will be paid lower wages and receive fewer benefits.

For Canada Steamship Lines parent company CSL Group Inc., the practice makes good business sense. The company argues that higher Canadian wages make it impossible to compete internationally. And because Canadian law requires a vessel registered in Canada to maintain an all-Canadian crew, the company says it had no choice but to register the ship in Barbados.

"If we don't have a foreign crew we will not achieve a certain level of competitiveness," CSL spokeswoman Martine Malk said yesterday.

"If we want to compete we need those lower wages."

Ms. Malk added that the Birchglen would remain a Canadian-owned ship. That will require the company to pay taxes in Canada on the ship's revenue overseas rather than the lower tax on profits -- 2.5 per cent or as low as 1 per cent -- paid to Barbados from the company's foreign ships registered abroad.

For the Prime Minister, being associated with a company that is hiring foreign workers to replace laid-off Canadians is giving the opposition ammunition to attack the Liberals for ignoring the needs of Canadians.

Story continues below advertisement

"The government has to put an end to a practice that creates unemployment for our workers here while allowing Canadian vessels to use cheap labour from foreign countries," said Roger Clavet, the Bloc Québécois candidate in the Quebec City riding of Louis-Hébert. "CSL can now stand for 'Canada's Shameless Leader.' "

The Bloc said it has built a case to demonstrate that as finance minister, Mr. Martin was in conflict of interest when his government adopted tax laws that allowed CSL to avoid paying $103-million in taxes to the Canadian government.

The Bloc was also poised to reignite the debate over the $161-million in business dealings that CSL had with the federal government over the past 11 years.

Mr. Martin has attempted to focus public attention on his ability to meet higher ethical standards, defending himself from renewed Bloc attacks on his personal integrity. But Bloc candidates remain convinced that Mr. Martin's former ties to the shipping empire he sold to his sons last year is an issue that has only begun to simmer in the minds of voters in Quebec, where Liberal support has slipped considerably in the past two months.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter