As of the morning of July 19, 2023, a little-known federal tribunal, the Canada Industrial Relations Board, has required the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to return to regular operations at over 30 ports and sites across British Columbia, including at the Port of Vancouver – the largest port in Canada.
This decision was made after the ILWU leadership rejected an agreement, in principle, that temporarily ended the strike of over 7,400 workers across the province. While the union had bargained on working conditions and scope of work, it primarily focused on wages, citing the very real cost of living for necessities like groceries, gas, heating, and housing.
There are other very real costs attached to this strike. The Vancouver Board of Trade has estimated that every day the port remains shut, it costs $800 million. This is a staggering $10 billion price tag for the Canadian economy. Naturally, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has called for the government to recall Parliament to debate back-to-work legislation.
So, what has been the reaction from political parties?
The federal NDP critic recently told reporters that the NDP would only support the collective bargaining process and not support any back-to-work legislation.
Speaking to reporters, the ministers for labour and transportation called the resumption of a strike "illegal," and beyond encouraging the parties to get back to the negotiating table, they did not appear to have a broader plan.
Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Party's leader, blamed the minister of labour, who was quick to take credit for the initial deal. He also called for the prime minister to chart a plan "within 24 hours" to deal with the impasse.
What do I think? While I have yet to receive a single email or phone call from a constituent to complain about this strike, I have concerns.
As I have been on my summer listening tour in all regions of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, I have heard from constituents that their most significant concerns are the cost of living, housing, and health care. We live in a higher price environment due to out-of-control inflationary spending and higher carbon taxes.
The doubling of rents or housing alone has created an untenable situation for the average worker or pensioner. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that the workers have a legitimate point regarding wages.
Secondly, when small businesses and farmers throughout my riding realize that their inputs or products are stuck in transit and must pay for storage, they often incur contractual losses due to non-delivery. The inevitable shortages that force them to raise their prices will be at a time when a large portion of constituents will be completely tapped out.
In addition to the costs to the economy that the Board of Vancouver rightly raises, there is the question of Canada's reputation and the long-term impacts of a strike.
First, all ports in North America have work stoppages due to labour disputes. However, this is the first strike in Canada at risk of going past two weeks – something we have not seen since the high inflationary days of the 1980s.
If large users of the port decide that they would rather pay more to use less efficient routes than rely on the Port of Vancouver, that could see prices increase in the long term and impact jobs and investment. Once these business decisions are made, they are seldom reviewed.
Speaking of decisions, the Liberals have also been very lax regarding being proactive with our transportation systems. The flare-ups of chaos we have seen in federally regulated airports, to the shutdown of one of our most important supply chains show their neglect.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau triggered the 2021 federal election, he said that the election came at a "pivotal, consequential moment… We will be taking decisions that will last not just for the coming months but for the coming decades."
This is a pivotal, consequential moment for Canadian workers, small businesses, and consumers – all stretched and challenged by the strike. So, I agree with Poilievre that the prime minister must present a plan immediately.
My question this week:
Do you believe that the Liberal Government has done a good job of managing our supply chains? Why or why not?
I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.