‘Freedom Convoy’ Winter Blockades Cost Canadian Economy Billions, Investigation Finds

OTTAWA – Transport Canada estimates that up to $3.9 billion in business activity has been interrupted due to border blockages across the country related to protests against COVID-19 restrictions last winter, announced Wednesday. a public inquiry.

The Public Order Emergency Commission, which is investigating the Liberal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, has reviewed emails between staff of various federal ministers who heard from businesses frustrated with the blockades border crossings between February 8 and 9.

Demonstrators drove large trucks, vans and other vehicles decorated with Canadian flags through Ottawa and several border crossings to protest vaccination mandates for cross-border truckers, COVID-19 restrictions and the Trudeau government.

At various times in early 2022, protesters blocked border crossings at Windsor, Ontario, the small town of Coutts, Alberta, Emerson, Manitoba, and on the Pacific Highway in Surrey, British Columbia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the economic impact of the blockades and the damage to Canada’s economic and national security in the February 14 emergency declaration.

The emails show that ahead of the decision, the automakers raised concerns with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s office about their manufacturing plants being closed due to the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor.

Metro, the grocery chain, told the Alghabra office that “if it lasts longer, it will have a deeper impact.”

Several auto companies have closed or signaled they are about to because parts and personnel could not cross the border at the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest crossing in Canada.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, told the Alghabra office that factories would have to close “if things get critical” and “there are concerns about saving items on the U.S. side.”

The six-day blockade of the bridge has disrupted trade estimated at $2.3 billion, according to analysis by Transport Canada.

At one point, General Motors planned to lease an icebreaker and ship vehicles and parts across the Great Lakes, at least according to a second-hand account in a Feb. 11 email from Julie Turcotte, a senior government official. of the Ministry of Finance.

Companies were “very, very concerned about not having predictability as to when they can move their products and where,” Transport Canada chief economist Christian Dea told the commission during testimony Wednesday after -midday.

Dea analyzed the figures for the economic impact of blockades throughout the protest. The impacts on Canada’s GDP “appeared significant” according to his analysis, Turcotte said in his Feb. 11 email.

Brendan Miller, a lawyer who represents organizers of the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa, offered another much more optimistic analysis released by Statistics Canada in April.

“Overall, the blocked border crossings appear to have had little impact on the overall values ​​of Canadian imports and exports in February,” concludes the Statistics Canada report.

Analysis showed that cross-border traffic decreased in places where protests took place, but was offset by higher traffic at nearby crossings as trucks took different routes into the United States to avoid blockages.

Michael Keenan, the deputy minister of Transport Canada, told the commission that some of the costs to the Canadian economy cannot be measured.

Keenan said the lockdowns couldn’t have come at a worse time, as several U.S. companies were deliberating new investment in auto projects in Ontario.

When Ford Canada halted production at an Oakville plant during the Windsor border blockade, Alghabra’s chief of staff noted that the situation was viewed by U.S. parent companies as “just another reason not to invest in Canada”.

“We saw a growing question about whether Canada was a reliable trading partner and whether these trade corridors will remain open,” Keenan told the commission on Wednesday. “It’s really important because it affects investment decisions.”

In the end, many of these major investments in new factories in Canada came to fruition, but he called it a “near miss.”

He told the commission that the government should consider a national legislative regime to protect trade corridors and better contingency plans that include all three levels of government.

Hearings for the public inquiry began in mid-October and are expected to wrap up by the end of next week, with a final report due in parliament in February.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 16, 2022.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly stated that Ontario Premier Doug Ford halted production of an Oakville plane during the blockade at the border crossing in Windsor, Ontario.

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