If there were any doubts about how thoroughly dependent the United States and Canada are on their trucking fleets and cross-border trade, the truckers’ protests of the past three weeks have made it clear: trucks are the lifeblood of North American commerce.
The protests—especially the blockade of the Detroit-Windsor border crossing—have caused delays and bottlenecks in production across the automotive industry in the U.S. and Canada. Toyota, Ford, GM, Honda, and other major automakers have been forced to curtail production due to parts and materials shortages. The shortages have even caused short-term layoffs, according to a spokesperson for Unifor, the union representing workers at Canadian auto assembly plants.
While the Detroit-Windsor crossing was opened Monday morning (February 14), blockades continued to disrupt crossings in Manitoba and Alberta. The impacts have affected industries beyond automotive, especially food and beverage manufacturers that depend on agricultural imports which were traded at the rate of almost $50 billion in 2019. Even before the protests started, the trade group Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada opposed the vaccination requirement for cross-border truck drivers—predicting that 70% of cross-border trade would be disrupted. Now that disruption has resulted in independent grocery stores in Canada reporting shortages of fruit, vegetables, and cereal.
As of posting, when the protests will end is still an open question. Although the protesters initially took aim at the federal vaccination requirement, they are now demanding an end to all of Canada’s pandemic health measures. So far, the Trudeau Administration has refused to negotiate, calling the group a “fringe minority.” These developments will likely complicate and delay any resolution to the crisis.
As the protests entered their third week, public opposition was growing, and that opposition included conservative leaders who initially supported the protests, according to the New York Times. But the BBC reports that recent polls show that while two-thirds of Canadians oppose the protest, nearly half of respondents said political leaders have displayed a “condescending attitude toward Canadians who disagree with vaccine mandates and lockdowns.”
The poll “suggests a heavy-handed police [action] to end the protest may only spark more disruptions by the well-organised group.” And according to a security expert from the Royal Military College in Ontario, forcibly removing the protesters, “would be un-Canadian. … When people protest, we wait it out and try to negotiate our way out of it.”
SCRM Best Practices
All of which points to the importance of taking aggressive risk management measures for supply chains instead of waiting out the crisis. At a minimum, companies should determine which of their suppliers may be impacted, survey those suppliers to confirm what parts and materials are impacted, and inquire about mitigations that are in process. Cross-team collaboration between in-house commodity managers and supply chain teams and supplier managers should focus on obtaining up-to-date data on inventory and production capacity, then using that data to seek alternative supply sources.
Other tactics to consider: Work with logistics providers to consider alternative driving routes to impacted border crossing, or even consider sea or air shipping.