In the August 2023 CAAR Communicator, I rambled at length on the dock worker strike disrupting British Columbia ports and essentially shutting down a significant volume of Canadian exports to Asia.
This past August, I attended the 2023 Fertilizer Canada Conference in Vancouver; it included a tour of the Port of Vancouver. Throughout the 90-minute water tour, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority proudly reviewed 29 significant terminals, including the investments made or in the process of increasing capacity and efficiencies, reducing environmental impact and turn-around time for all forms of logistics, and updating capabilities to address new imports and exports.
Deploying new technologies and automating processes’ have allowed some terminals to reduce labour requirements and their overall terminal footprint.
Ironically, one of the issues for the striking dock workers in July was the loss of jobs due to the terminal investments. Rather than taking a proactive approach to the evolving use of new technology and equipment, the union determined the best counter was to oppose investment, modernization, and the capabilities of Canada’s largest port to protect jobs.
This is counterintuitive to how businesses operate. The lowest cost of production drives efficiencies and investment. As I stated, investments that enhance Canada’s capabilities to export raw materials, commodities, and finished goods are suitable for all Canadians.
We have experienced significant logistic disruptions in eastern and western Canada that have impacted the agriculture supply chain. Railway and Federal inspector labour upheaval, Covid-19: employee and employer, border disruptions, rain events causing severe erosion and failure of rail and highway infrastructures, loss of region agriculture productivity, indigenous or group-caused rail or border blockades, and forest fires.
Some of these we can manage in a reactive manner as situations arise, while others can be managed through more proactive means.
To be successful, we must look beyond the bandage response and address logistics disruptions as they occur.
The Canadian reputation as a reliable supplier has been damaged in the past five years. As foreign trade agreements are developed, a key feature of Canada must include the promise to deliver.
Foreign investment will follow if we demonstrate a commitment to invest—public investment with a long strategy that includes policies for identifying essential services.
Employees and unions have the right to negotiate wages and benefits. At the same time, short-term contracts with strikes every two to three years do not build confidence with importing nations. A second agriculture direction includes the relentless pursuit of pro-growth, open-for-business policies.
Even before that, we need to re-evaluate the Canadian logistics risk assessment. The vast majority of risks are country-internal, nature-based, or artificial. Critical at risk, likelihood of each risk happening, level of disruption? Eliminate, mitigate, or manage? Do we account for the 1:100- or 1:700-year weather events instead of the excuse that it’s just climate change as they occur?
Global opportunities for Canadian agriculture commodities, refined goods, and finished goods continue to be promising. We can do more with suitable private-public investments. Logistics are complicated and long-term. The investment commitment is relatively short compared to the build.
What should the exporting nation of Canada strive to be and be recognized as—a reliable supplier?
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