Blog /

Canadian Chamber Addresses Impact of Strike at the Port of Vancouver Before House Committee

Canadian Chamber Addresses Impact of Strike at the Port of Vancouver Before House Committee

On November 30, 2023, we addressed the critical impact of the recent strike at the Port of Vancouver before the House of Commons Committee on International Trade.

On November 30, 2023, our Deputy Leader and VP of Government Relations, Robin Guy, along with Pascal Chan, Senior Director, Transportation, Infrastructure & Construction, testified before the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on International Trade to discuss the critical impact of the recent strike at the Port of Vancouver. They emphasized the significance of trade infrastructure for Canada, where two-thirds of every dollar earned relies on moving goods. The summer strike on the West Coast, affecting Vancouver and Prince Rupert, caused major disruptions, impacting sectors nationwide, from agriculture to manufacturing. The strike halted 25% of Canada’s total trade, affecting potash production, machinery repairs, and even causing agricultural goods to rot, contributing to inflation.

They stressed the need for government action to prevent and resolve such strikes promptly, protecting Canada’s credibility as a reliable trading partner, and expressed concern about Bill C-58, which aims to prohibit the use of replacement workers during strikes, potentially destabilizing supply chains. The testimony urged an honest dialogue to address labor challenges effectively while preserving stability and reliability in Canada’s trade operations.


Good morning, Madame Chair and honourable members.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is the country’s largest business association with an active network of over 400 chambers of commerce and boards of trade representing nearly 200,000 businesses of all sizes, in all sectors and regions of our country.

I am joined today by my colleague Pascal Chan, Senior Director, Transportation, Infrastructure and Construction.

As a trading nation, our trade infrastructure matters more to Canada than many other countries around the world. In fact, 2 out of every 3 dollars that Canada makes rely on moving goods.  This is significantly higher than the OECD average of just over 50%. When Canadian businesses can’t import or export goods reliably, we undermine our ability to grow our economy.

Our West Coast is Canada’s largest gateway to the world handling over $800-million worth of cargo – from agri-foods and potash, to critical minerals and household necessities – every single day. That accounts for a quarter of Canada’s total trade.

This summer, we saw over 35 days of uncertainty and disruption to our West Coast gateways, including Vancouver and Prince Rupert, that caused major delays for Canadian businesses in virtually every sector across the country.

I’ll repeat that 25 per cent of our trade stopped. This meant Canadian potash had to cut production and sales during the strike causing those who rely on Canada for fertilizer had to look elsewhere to ensure they could continue to grow crops.

This meant that businesses looking for replacement parts to fix machinery were delayed causing production to slow or stop.

It meant that fruits and vegetables that we bring to Canada were left to rot in containers as opposed to being on shelves for consumers to enjoy.

Plain and simple – it meant that goods were going to become more expensive for Canadians and fuel inflation.

I will stress to the Committee that the damage from a strike does not simply take place in the days workers are picketing. Businesses need certainty. They need to know that if they are importing or exporting goods that they will get where they need to go, when they need to be there. If not, suppliers will go elsewhere, and it is not guaranteed that they will come back.

When looking at Canada’s record, many of our trading partners are beginning to question if Canada can reliably get goods to market. We saw this shortly after the West Coast port strike with the St. Lawrence Seaway, and with the uncertainty that is looming at the Port of Montreal.

I must state that the Canadian Chamber respects the right to collective bargaining. We believe sincerely that the best deals are reached at the table. But when negotiations break down and meaningful bargaining is no longer possible, the Canadian business community expects the government to show leadership and act in the best interest of the country.

The Canadian Chamber called on the government to use all of the tools it currently had in its toolbox to prevent a strike and then to solve it.

We applauded the Minister of Labour for directing the senior mediator to recommend terms of settlement to reach a fair deal.

But, unfortunately, we did not see that action until nearly two weeks into the ports strike, when significant damage to the economy and Canada’s reputation had already taken place, and that dragged on for further weeks while the union failed to ratify the agreement.

The review initiated by the Minister of Labour and Seniors under Section 106 of the Canadian Labour Code is a key opportunity to do this – to equip the government with more tools to be able to avoid labour disruptions while protecting public interest.

We need to make sure that the government has the ability to force the two sides together in a form of binding resolution. We can’t have the government waiting on the sidelines for two weeks before action is taken.

Canada’s supply chains are only as strong as their weakest link. Government can’t solve all of our supply chain issues – but it must look to enable policies that will enable trade and strengthen supply chains.

Less than a month ago, the Minister of Labour told Canadians that “our credibility as a trading nation depends on the stable operation of our supply chains. We must do everything we can to preserve that stability.” We couldn’t agree more.

However, the introduction of Bill C-58, which aims to prohibit the use of replacement workers during strikes suggests that the government actually wants to move away from preserving stability. It is in fact, doubling down on Canada being seen as an unreliable and unstable trading partner.

We need our leaders to engage in an honest dialogue that will provide our government with the tools it needs to address our labour challenges, while allowing employers and employees to bargain the way they should. For the sake of our economy, I would urge all parties to vote against this legislation.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to answering your questions.

Share this