Lessons learned: Local politicians, businesses reflect on one year anniversary of Ambassador Bridge blockade
One year ago, all eyes were on the city of Windsor, Ont. as protestors opposing COVID-19 restrictions shut down the busiest international border crossing.
Despite a court injunction, protestors held their ground for six days. The Ambassador Bridge blockade halted an estimated nearly $4 billion in trade activity.
“We started to see plant closures because goods couldn't get through in Ontario, in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, as far away as an auto plant in Kentucky,” said Flavio Volpe, president of the Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.
On a local scale, Volpe said many local auto workers were on temporary lay off.
“I remember thinking how crazy this was. That these were Windsorites doing to their own friends and neighbours,” said Volpe.
Since the blockade, Volpe has been working to rebuild Canada’s reputation as a reliable trade partner.
At a recent auto industry event, Volpe said many automakers questioned him about the risk of doing business with Canadian companies.
“We have to spend a lot of our time explaining to people how we fixed it, closed the door and how we're mitigating it for the future,” Volpe explained. “This gives us less opportunity to actually talk about the talent in our city.”
Dozens of businesses in west Windsor impacted by the Ambassador Bridge blockade have now received federal relief funding totaling nearly $505,000.
Fred’s Farm Fresh received $10,000, the maximum amount.
“It did help but we probably lost that amount just on the roses we had purchased. We have to order our Valentine’s Day roses at least a month ahead of time,” said owner Fred Bouzide.
Ontario has since passed Bill 100, Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act, to prevent this type of disruption from happening again.
“It’s very clear that if you block a major piece of infrastructure, the fine starts at $100,000 and the action is immediate now,” said Volpe.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens is also confident the legislation in place will prevent a future blockade.
“I think the existing legislation actually has enough teeth now to send a sharp signal to anyone thinking about doing this again, that they shouldn’t, because the consequences are too high,” said Dilkens.
One local politician believes there was one positive that came from the blockade. NDP MP Brian Masse said upper levels of government now understand how important it is to secure our border.
“I’ve been pushing for permanent funding for the creation of a border authority to manage traffic internationally,” said Masse.
He believes we need a strategic plan for a variety of potential border disruptions.
“Borders should be as a planned operation. We shouldn't be winging it every day. That's kind of still what we're doing, we're winging it every day,” he said.
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