Plastics News has an updated, plastics centric update of this story. Read it here
Canada-US bridge blockade threatens 'fragile supply chains'
The truckers' protest against the Canadian government's Covid policies lingered into its third day at the Detroit-Windsor bridge.
An ongoing blockade at one of North America's busiest land border crossings is starting to negatively affect Canadian auto assembly.
Stellantis, the company that owns the Chrysler and Jeep brands, said Feb. 9 that it had to short-shift its first shift and afternoon shift on Feb. 8 at its Windsor, Ontario, assembly plant due to parts shortages. The plant was operating as of Feb. 9.
"We continue to work closely with our [cargo] carriers to get parts into the plant and, at this time, expect that the afternoon shift will start as scheduled," the automaker said in a statement to Automotive News Canada.
Representatives across Canada’s automotive industry and police in Windsor are calling on protestors to end their blockade of one of the continent’s busiest land border crossings.
Protestors, demanding anything from the end of vaccine mandates to the ousting of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, brought traffic onto and off the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor to a standstill Feb. 7 in Windsor.
As of Feb. 9, the Windsor Police Service and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) both said online the bridge remains closed.
"We encourage the organizers of the demonstration to maintain an open communication with Windsor Police personnel, using reasoned and tempered approach to come to a peaceful resolution," Windsor police said in a 7 a.m. Twitter post.
The CBSA, meanwhile, updated its border wait times website to note the crossing "temporarily closed."
Pockets of protestors have parked mainly pickups at multiple intersections of Huron Church Road, the six-lane thoroughfare leading to the critical piece of infrastructure that connects Windsor and Detroit.
The CBSA on Feb. 8 declared the port of entry closed until further notice.
On the same day, the Michigan Department of Transportation said the Ambassador Bridge remained closed on the U.S. side. It advised those headed to Canada to use the Port Huron, Mich., crossing, which connects that American city with Sarnia, Ont., located about 60 miles north of Detroit.
Overall, more than 25 percent of goods traded between Canadian and the U.S. moves across the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge.
At the micro-level, 7,000 trucks are estimated to cross the Windsor-Detroit corridor every day, says the Windsor–Detroit Bridge Authority, the Canadian federal crown corporation responsible for administering the construction of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge between Windsor and Detroit.
The bridge authority says about 2.5 million trucks cross the bridge each year. The authority says those truckloads of goods, which include auto parts and new vehicles, represent more than $100 billion in bilateral trade every year.
“Basically, if there’s a shutdown of transportation routes, the auto industry comes to a screeching halt in about two days,” Robert Wildeboer, executive chairman of Martinrea International Inc., said on Bloomberg Television.
The slowdowns are a problem for Martinrea, which is based in the Vaughan, Ontario, but has locations in the U.S. and around the world. Martinrea's operations include plastic hoses for fuel systems.
“We have 38 trucks cross at the Detroit border per day and 16 in Sarnia,” Wildeboer said.
He called on Trudeau to back down on new rules that require truckers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the country. The vaccine mandate is one of the causes of the protests that have paralyzed downtown Ottawa, Ontario, for more than 10 days.
The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, which lobbies on behalf of the Detroit 3 automakers in Canada, is calling for an immediate end to the protests.
“Blockades at Canada’s borders are threatening fragile supply chains already under pressure due to pandemic related shortages and backlogs,” CVMA CEO Brian Kingston said in a statement. “We are calling on cooperation from all levels of government to resolve this situation and bring an immediate end to these blockades.”
Kingston called the crossing “a key conduit for motor vehicles and parts, Canada’s second largest export.”
“Auto production relies on efficient supply chain logistics for delivery of parts, components and vehicles,” he said. “Persistent delays at the Ambassador Bridge risk disrupting automotive production that employs tens of thousands of Canadians.”
As of Feb. 8, the blockade had not impacted production for General Motors.
"We are aware of the situation and working closely with our logistics providers to mitigate any production disruptions," spokesman Daniel Flores on Tuesday told Crain's Detroit Business, a sibling publication of Automotive News Canada.
Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, said in an interview that Canada’s auto industry could withstand a two-day closure of the bridge before it affected supply and shipments.
In a post on Twitter, he called it “a brain-dead move” by protestors
“Blocking the Ambassador Bridge could create a daily shortage of about C$300M (US$236 million) goods and raise prices on both sides of the border,” he warned.
Volpe also thanked the truckers who aren’t part of the blockade in Windsor or the occupation of Ottawa.
“Thank you to the thousands of working truckers who woke up at 3 a.m. to haul $50 million in auto parts to car factories today,” he said in a separate tweet.
The protests across Canada began as truckers demanding an end to a federal vaccine mandate that required them to be inoculated to return to Canada after a trip to the U.S., which has a similar reciprocal vaccine rule.
The Teamsters union, which represents about 55,000 truckers, denounced the protests in a statement, saying 90 percent of their members are vaccinated.
“The so-called 'freedom convoy' and the despicable display of hate lead by the political right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada, nor the vast majority of our members, and in fact has served to delegitimize the real concerns of most truck drivers today,” the union said. “We firmly believe in the right to protest government policies and voice a wide array of opinions, but what is happening in Ottawa has done more harm to Teamsters members.
“Teamsters Canada would welcome collaboration with government and employers to address today’s real challenges in the trucking industry to keep the supply chain going and Canada’s economy growing.”
The chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge, called on officials to "take prompt action" to resolve the situation quickly.
"International commerce needs to resume," Matt Moroun said in a statement, noting that the company and his family sympathize with truck drivers and others caught up in the blockade.
"We recognize that truck drivers are essential workers that work hard to deliver necessities to all of us, and that the Canadian government has done a tremendous job with vaccine rates."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford stopped short of calling for an end to the protests.
“The Ambassador Bridge is a vital trade artery between Canada and the U.S. Many essential workers, including frontline health-care workers, rely on it to get to work. Police are on the scene to ensure traffic is moving safely,” he said in a tweet of his own.
Only passenger vehicles can access the bridge through an entrance off a more residential street. And commercial trucks are also banned from using the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel which connects the downtown cores of each city.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.
Do you have an opinion about this story? Do you have some thoughts you'd like to share with our readers? Plastics News would love to hear from you. Email your letter to Editor at [email protected]