An ongoing blockade at the Ambassador Bridge is having a swift impact on production and labour in a broad range of industries across Ontario as protesters clog the key economic artery connecting the U.S. to Canada.
On Wednesday, unions at auto plants across the province reported production slowdowns resulting in “short-term layoffs” while the plants struggled to receive the parts necessary to create vehicles.
Steel manufacturers and food distributors, meanwhile, reported shipping delays and higher costs to transport vehicles that could hamper supply and push up retail prices.
Medtech Canada, which represents the medical technology industry, said that critical medical supplies are facing delays getting to Canadian patients and health providers — including medical imaging equipment used during surgeries — as a result of complicated rerouting.
Thousands of trucks that typically transport goods across the Ambassador Bridge have been redirected to narrower border crossings between Port Huron, in Michigan, and Sarnia, Ont., but the trip comes with its own set of delays, higher costs and logistical challenges.
“The distance by truck through the alternative routes takes a lot longer than it looks on the map,” said Bill Anderson, director of the Cross-Border Institute in Windsor.
“And anytime you try to shove two bridges’ worth of trucks onto one bridge, you’re destined for a massive traffic jam.”
Medtech president and CEO Nicole DeKort told the Star that truckers for some medical equipment businesses have faced challenges rerouting in Sarnia “due to customs paperwork listing the Ambassador Bridge as being the crossing point.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, delays at the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, had risen to 4.5 hours, according to the Canadian Border Services Agency.
At least three auto plants in southwestern Ontario cut their production and sent workers home early on Tuesday and Wednesday as a result of the backlog.
Ford Motor Company reduced production at its assembly plants in Oakville and Windsor by 50 per cent, and cut staff hours from eight to four hours per day, according to the local unions.
Stellantis, a multinational auto-manufacturing company, sent home 5,000 workers from its Windsor assembly plant citing “parts shortages.”
After a series of temporary shutdowns in January due to COVID-19 outbreaks and supply chain problems, the new blockades have “only compounded the supply chain problem,” said Mark Sciberras, president of Unifor Local 707, which represents 3,000 workers at the Oakville Assembly Plant.
Unifor’s national office decried the blockade — which stem from ongoing trucker protests in Ottawa — as an “attack (on) workers’ jobs by threatening production slowdowns and additional periods of layoffs.”
“They must come to an end,” said Shane Wark, assistant to Unifor president Jerry Dias.
“These blockades are creating added hardship on Unifor members and their families in the auto sector, following two years of extraordinary production and supply chain disruptions.”
Beyond auto-plants, the Ambassador Bridge is also critical for the shipment of fresh produce into Ontario.
According to the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, roughly 40 per cent of all produce shipped to the Ontario Food Terminal — Canada’s largest wholesale fruit and distribution centre — comes across the Ambassador Bridge.
The goods can be rerouted through Sarnia, but likely at the expense of produce with a shorter shelf-life, said Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.
“Now we’re starting to see product that’s no longer of a quality to sell in the market, and product that has to be disposed of,” said Lemaire.
“All of those businesses coming out of COVID-19 restrictions, like restaurants and food places, they will have more challenges finding the products they need and at the price they need.”
About $400 million in trade flows across the Ambassador Bridge every day.
On Wednesday, federal transport minister Omar Alghabra said the blockades were putting supply chains and food supplies at risk.
“This is an illegal blockade against the people of Ontario and against all Canadians,” Alghabra said.
But neither the provincial nor the federal government, nor the City of Windsor, has indicated any intention of removing the protesters blocking the border crossing.
“Such action may inflame the situation and cause more folks to come and join the protest,” said Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens on Wednesday.
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