Supply chain summit lays foundation for future consultations

by Emily Atkins

A supply chain summit conducted today by the federal government has laid foundations for continuing consultations and work to repair and improve Canada’s supply chain resilience.

The meeting included representatives from Canada’s major transportation suppliers, major retailers and federal ministers.

Transport minister Omar Alghabra led the four-hour session that was also attended by international trade minister Mary Ng, industry minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, employment minister Carla Qualtrough, labour minister Seamus O’Regan and agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

Dennis Darby, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) president and CEO, was joined by more than 30 other representatives from industry including manufacturing, agriculture, and business.

Address labour shortages

Darby called on the federal government to immediately speed up immigration to address severe labour shortages, and detailed short and long-term solutions to ease supply chain bottlenecks, including striking 60-day sector specific task forces to deal with the most pressing issues.

For the longer term, CME urged the government to accelerate investments in critical trade infrastructure, to aggressively increase economic class immigration targets, and to work closely with the U.S. to remove protectionist policies that hurt integrated manufacturing supply chains.

“Manufacturers have been feeling supply chain pressures for months now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Darby. “Omicron, natural disasters in B.C., and the trucker vaccine mandate, have all added to the crisis. We applaud the government for sitting down with industry to hammer out fixes to these problems.”

At the summit, CME urged the government to continue working with industry by setting up dedicated working groups that would deal with these challenges, identify specific problems, and come up with solutions.

Darby also asked the government to immediately:

  • The government strike 60-day sector specific tasks forces that will identify supply chain problems, their solutions, and get the government to commit to implementing the recommendations;
  • Address all transportation bottlenecks and avoid policies that will aggravate them further;
  • Speed up immigration into Canada to fill vacant jobs in manufacturing and other key sectors;
  • Government assistance for manufacturers still struggling with the impacts of supply chain disruptions.

Forest industry

“There are three main issues we need collective action on – future-ready infrastructure, rail service reliability, and the labour force of tomorrow,” said Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) president and CEO Derek Nighbor.

“For one, bottlenecks in key corridors are repeatedly slowing our supply chain down and hurting our global competitiveness. Getting to the bottom of issues in frequently congested spots like BC’s Lower Mainland must be a top priority of this discussion,” Nighbor said.

The forest industry also raised the issue of rail service reliability. Unfortunately, there is a recurring problem with too many mills simply not getting rail cars when they need them, Darby said. Labour supply challenges are an ongoing concern for the forest industry as well, especially as it relates to truck driver shortages across the country.

“We are a reasonable group in Canadian forestry. We understand there are going to be system delays when the weather is bad or when our transportation partners are dealing with employees off sick because of COVID-19,” Nighbor added. “But over the past few years there have been way too many Groundhog Day moments. There are systemic issues that absolutely require solutions for the long-term and we look forward to working with the federal government and our transportation and labour partners on a plan for action,” he concluded.

Federal initiatives

At a post-summit press conference Alghabra announced a series of measures to help address these concerns. The government will create new supply chain task force, consulting with industry to recommend long and short term actions to address supply chain challenges. It will also establish an online portal where stakeholders and businesses will be able to provide options and suggestions to resolve these problems.

As well, Alghabra announced that there will be a new call for proposals under the Trade Corridors Fund with up to $15 million in new funding.