Weeklong dock strike on Canada’s west coast is starting to pinch small businesses, experts say

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Canadian consumers aren’t yet feeling the impact of the weekold port strike in British Columbia, but businesses are beginning to be pinched by the shutdown of docks that handle 25% of the country’s foreign trade, experts said Friday.

The strike by 7,400 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada began July 1 and shut down more than 30 west coast ports.

Robin Guy, vice president and deputy leader of government relations at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said the affected ports handle cargo worth over 800 million Canadian dollars ($600 million) every day.

“It affects us, it affects people internationally who are relying on Canadian goods to be delivered,” Guy said.

Greg Wilson, director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, said he didn’t expect Canadian consumers to “really see significant impacts for weeks.”

It’s a different story, he said, for small businesses that operate on slim margins and are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you’re a small retailer, if your goods are stuck, wow are you annoyed,” Wilson said. Large retailers have more flexibility, he added: “They have supply chain professionals (who) can work to divert containers” to other ports

Robert Kavcic, a senior economist with the Bank of Montreal, said businesses that export products like potash, fertilizer or forest goods are being squeezed.

“The longer those outbound shipments get backed up, the more issues they have here domestically with inventories at their own location and possibly having to cut back production because of that,” he said.

The British Columbia Council of Forest Industries issued a statement Friday urging the parties to resolve the walkout. It said the shutdown ports handle forest products exports worth about 15 billion Canadian dollars ($11 billion) annually.

Business groups and the provincial governments in Alberta and Saskatchewan have called on the national government to force an end to the strike. Some are frustrated the government used legislation in 2021 to end a walkout by Port of Montreal dock workers after only one day.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference Friday that he believes the best deals are reached at the bargaining table.

Earlier this week, the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association, which represents employers in the strike, said it didn’t think more bargaining would produce an agreement.

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