Ambassador Bridge blockade stalled billions in trade — and there could be other effects: expert

A six-day blockade at the Ambassador Bridge not only delayed billions worth of goods travelling between Canada and the United States — it also has businesses and experts worried about future of cross-border relations.

Economy, trade relationship taking biggest hit, one expert says

Protesters at the Ambassador Bridge blockaded the area, stopping movement on and off the bridge for six days. (Mike Evans/CBC)

A six-day blockade at the Ambassador Bridge not only delayed billions worth of goods travelling between Canada and the United States — it also has businesses and experts worried about future of cross-border relations.

Traffic resumed across the Ambassador Bridge on Monday after the prolonged protest against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 public health measures shuttered the international crossing between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit. 

About 40 per cent of what crosses the bridge includes automotive parts and equipment, and machinery and electrical equipment, according to the University of Windsor's Cross Border Institute. 

Jonathon Azzopardi, CEO and president of Tecumseh-based auto parts maker Laval International, told CBC news Monday that after the border closure, he's concerned about his company's future. 

"There's really no competitive advantage to coming here. There's enough reason for them to keep [business in the United States] other than we're just good suppliers. I'm really afraid, because other than that, there's not much else. You put a border as an impediment or a risk," he said. 

Azzopardi said that the protest brought his business to a near standstill and if it went on any longer, staff would have likely been impacted. 

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Police look on as a protest vehicle leaves a demonstration which has blocked traffic across the Ambassador Bridge by protesters against COVID-19 restrictions prior to police enforcement of an injunction against the protesters, in Windsor, Ont., Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"We continued to produce parts wherever we could, because we had to keep people busy, we had the materials. Everybody was reaching some shred of hope that it was going to get taken care of every day," he said.

Some companies rerouted their truck drivers to use the Blue Water bridge in Sarnia. Azzopardi said his company did send some drivers, but what normally takes two hours ended up taking 19.

Is the cross-border trade relationship at stake? 

Bill Anderson, director of the university's Cross Border Institute, said the ballpark figure is $3 billion to $6 billion in goods that didn't cross the border in the last week.

Yet, he said it's hard to place an exact total because the impacts could be more far-reaching than just the value of the materials that didn't make it. 

"If it was a part for a car that didn't come, and as a result of that an assembly line had to shut down, the economic impact might be quite larger than the value of the part that couldn't come across," he said. 

During a news conference Monday, Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland said the recent protests across the country are "doing great damage" to Canada's economy and "reputation as a reliable trading partner." 

"These costs are real. They threaten businesses, big and small, and they threaten the livelihoods of Canadian workers, just as we are all working so hard to recover from the economic damage caused by COVID," Freeland said. 

But Anderson emphasized that this doesn't mean that billions of dollars were "lost," adding that most of it likely can be made up. 

Recovery, he said, could take weeks or months. 

Bill Anderson is the director of the University of Windsor's Cross Border Institute. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"If you have an industrial plant and it has a certain level of output and now you're saying, 'we just lost ... let's say it was four or five days, how do we make that all up?' you can't make it up in four or five days because you're still got to produce what you would normally produce in those days, so you do 10 per cent more every day for the next 40 days," he said. 

In addition to economic and production costs, Anderson said Canada's trade relationship with the U.S. might also have taken a hit. 

He said a situation like this "implies a kind of risk" and could "prevent future investments in the future." 

Anderson said in recent days, a member of U.S. Congress pointed to the situation as a reason to keep production and supply chains domestic. 

Moving forward, Anderson said he hopes there is increased security put in place to prevent future blockades and better protect border crossings. 

With files from Tony Doucette