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opinion

Patrick Leblond is a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

By blockading the Ambassador Bridge that connects Windsor and Detroit, the “Freedom Convoy” participants are directly threatening the economic lifelines of Ontario and all of Canada – in a way Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford cannot ignore.

The bridge is by far the most important conduit for trade between Canada and the United States. About 25 per cent of all goods traded between the two countries pass across that bridge, with some 7,000 freight trucks making the crossing each day. For the automotive industry, pivotal to Southwestern Ontario’s economy, the bridge sees about $50-million worth of parts and finished cars daily.

The Ambassador Bridge is also significant for cross-border trade in goods such as agricultural and food products, machinery and equipment, steel, petrochemicals and natural resources (e.g., wood).

The Windsor-Detroit corridor is so important for the economies of Ontario and Canada that it was decided several years ago that another bridge was needed to allow more goods to flow across the border – and to reduce the risk of disruptions should something untoward block the Ambassador Bridge. Unfortunately, the Gordie Howe International Bridge will not be ready for another couple of years.

The blockade will lead to companies reducing or stopping production because of parts shortages (think of a gasket in a car engine, the door on a car or the rim of a wheel). In fact, Ford and Stellantis have already announced that the Ambassador Bridge blockade has forced them to slow down their production, sending thousands of workers home.

A blockade lasting weeks would also lead to higher prices, the result of longer transportation routes and delays at the border. Detours by the Sarnia and Niagara border crossings mean more wear and tear for trucks, more fuel consumption and more time spent behind the wheel. Someone would have to pay for these additional costs.

Shippers (i.e. manufacturers) might be willing to cover those costs in the short run. But if the blockade lasts long enough, they will pass them on to consumers, adding to already increasing costs related to supply-chain disruptions caused by the pandemic.

And let’s not forget that the U.S. side would face the same problems, since the blockade is blocking traffic in both directions. So car assembly plants in Alabama, Tennessee or Texas may easily face higher costs and delays as well.

In such a context, it became difficult for Mr. Ford to argue that this is a municipal problem and that it is up to the city of Windsor to resolve the matter, as has been the case with the Ottawa occupation. If the province’s economy is taken hostage by a blockade of this essential economic lifeline, it becomes Mr. Ford’s problem, even more so in an election year.

The same logic applies to Mr. Trudeau and the federal government. Surely the Biden administration and members of Congress will call on the Prime Minister to resolve a situation that is hurting U.S. businesses and workers (it is also a midterm election year in the U.S.). It would be far more difficult in this case to argue that there is nothing the federal government can do. When a border blockade affects our political relationship with the U.S., it becomes a federal matter.

Resolving this is a matter of great urgency. The sooner, the better.

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