The eight-day strike at the St. Lawrence Seaway, one of the major maritime trade routes between Canada and the United States, has had a huge economic impact on both countries, costing millions of dollars and resulting in backlogs that could take several days to clear, industry groups say.
Ship traffic resumed at the seaway with some 360 union workers back on the job Monday after a tentative agreement was reached. That deal has yet to be ratified by the unionized employees, who walked off the job on Oct. 22.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) estimate the shutdown cost $34 million per day, based on the annual average economic activity generated at the busy seaway that connects the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic Ocean.
However, the Chamber of Marine Commerce, a bi-national association, is expecting a much higher loss for both countries.
“It is estimated that upwards of $110 million per day was cumulatively lost in the Canadian and U.S. economies as a result of the seaway shutdown,” Jason Card, a spokesperson for the CMC, told Global News in an emailed statement Monday.
“While movement of goods within and between Canada and the U.S. was affected, the strike also had implications for global trade, and Canada and America’s reputation as a reliable global trading partner,” Card said.
Approximately 67,000 jobs associated directly and indirectly with cargo movement were affected, he added.
Despite tentative deal, Seaway strike could still impact Manitoba
Last year, about 36.3 million metric tons of cargo valued at $16.7 billion passed through the St. Lawrence Seaway’s infrastructure, according to a report published in July.
The grain industry was especially hit by the shutdown, Card said.
The movement of cargo, including sand, salt, cement, potash, iron, steel and machinery, as well as liquid products, such as gasoline, diesel, kerosene and alternative fuels, was also disrupted, according to the CME.
There is concern for small businesses, as strikes typically result in the loss of sales and potential revenue as well as financial penalties due to delays in shipments, said Jasmin Guenette, vice-president of national affairs with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
“The impact of delays associated with a strike like this, and the cost impact associated with a strike like this, is quite significant for smaller employers,” he told Global in a phone interview.
This is the second time this year that a major labour disruption in Canada has halted cargo movement at sea. A 13-day strike at British Columbia’s ports in July sent ripple effects from coast to coast over the summer.
St. Lawrence Seaway shut down as workers go on strike
With cargo now moving again on the St. Lawrence Seaway, it could take most of the week to clear the backlog of ships halted during the labour stoppage — and even longer for supply chains to normalize.
“It is our understanding that the backlog of ships will take at least four to five days to clear through the seaway,” Card said.
The CME in a statement Monday urged the federal government to come up with a plan for “lasting stability in Canada’s transportation system” to ensure such disruptions do not continue to impact the economy.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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