The protest that has clogged downtown Ottawa with trucks, diesel exhaust, and even periodic swastikas, has evidently made its way to Canada’s “northern” border, a.k.a. the Windsor-Detroit border. The iconic Ambassador Bridge spanning the Detroit River has been shut down for the past day as truckers, protesting the new vaccine mandate, obstructing traffic and therefore a quarter of all trade between the US and the Land of the Rising Timbit. The bridge, privately owned by the least favorite of Detroit’s holy trinity of billionaires, carries just under $200 billion in trade per year between the US and Canada. It’s a curious way to own the libs, disrupting a massive avenue of economic activity.
Origins of the Protest Movement
Never mind that the protests themselves aren’t exactly grassroots– but rather are substantially supported by Alberta’s far-right Maverick Party, which sponsored the controversial GoFundMe campaign to support the protests. The Mavericks advocate for a “Wexit,” in which Alberta would secede from the rest of Canada. The party has never actually won any elections, but wields a substantial amount of power via some particularly well-connected and wealthy members. Advocating for policies that are well-packaged in a benign, green color scheme, the Mavericks use coded language like referring to “genuine refugees” on their policy talking points (a common refrain from conservatives is that most immigrants seeking asylum as refugees aren’t “real” refugees, whatever that means). The Maverick-Trump connection is indeed bizarre, but, really, not terribly surprising.
Or, never mind that most of the protesters at the trucking protests are white, when the reality of the demographics of Canadian truckers is in fact quite different.
These first two elements aren’t terribly surprising. Perhaps most bizarre, though, is the idea that the parties of free trade and economic prosperity– the Conservatives in Canada and the Republicans in the US- are trying to own the libs through this act of mass economic disruption that is sure to have substantial effects.
Anatomy of a Shutdown (by The Handbuilt MBA)
Of course, just because around $480 million in trade crosses the bridge each day, doesn’t mean that the closure is necessarily costing GDP that much. Companies usually stock some sort of inventory to allow for short-term disruptions. The “just-in-time” model of manufacturing, in which parts inventories are used as soon as they can be upon arrival, has found some struggles during the pandemic. If your factory– say, making head gaskets- shuts down, the engine factory that you sell to most likely has a little bit of head gasket inventory on hand to continue manufacturing. This may be a few hours worth of inventory or it may be a few weeks. But it’s certainly not a few months of inventory.
Just-In-Time vs. Supply Chain Woes
The move to “just-in-time” manufacturing was driven by massive improvements in factory efficiencies over the past half century ranging from Japanese management techniques pioneered by Toyota and others to technological improvements that improve visibility to managers, operators, and production planners. Inventory requires money to acquire and space to store. The “time value of money” means that spending money on one thing versus another means you’re tying up bucks. Why hold millions in inventory when you could invest that money in R&D? Or, ya know, workers? Anyway, this model works great until your whole ass global supply chain gets completely fouled up.
The few conservatives I’ve engaged with on Twitter seem to be cheering this on, in spite of the fact that the truckers, like Black Lives Matter protesters did on occasion, are indeed blocking traffic. The Black Lives Matter protests, in comparison, they say, were rioters and looters (which is demonstrably untrue)– but even if it had been true, the argument from the right at the time was that these protests were objectionable because the protesters were blocking traffic. How times have changed. Personally? Hey, I don’t care if you block traffic. It’s about time the Canadian far-right joined the War On Cars!
But in all seriousness, it’s just a curious approach to an issue that, well, most truckers don’t really seem too worried about. Truckers in Canada have extremely high rates of vaccinations— reportedly around 90%. And the South Asian truckers, mentioned before, who aren’t taking part in the majority-white blockades? They say the protests are missing the mark as far as the most important issues of safety facing truckers.