Canadian Manufacturing

Shipping ports feeling the affects of supply chain delays across Canada

The Canadian Press

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The delays stem from several choke points along the chain, including backed-up warehouses, staff shortages and rail capacity.

The pandemic sent shockwaves through the global supply chain and the backlogs are mounting even as freight volumes fall in North America this year.

The delays stem from several choke points along the chain, including backed-up warehouses, staff shortages and rail capacity. Ultimately the longer wait times, and extra costs, are being passed along to consumers.

In the first half of 2022, container volumes at the Port of Vancouver dropped seven per cent from the same period a year earlier. But containers sat on its docks for nearly six days on average, almost twice as long as in 2019 and a 41 per cent increase from 2021.

That “dwell time” rose higher in July, to more than six and a half days. Meanwhile cargo vessels sat at anchor for 9.6 days on average before docking at the country’s largest port as a result of the buildups last month, more than twice as long as they waited last year.


“It’s like Lego bricks,” said Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the B.C. Chamber of Shipping, of shipping containers. “They’re piled up and there’s just no more place to put them.”

In Montreal, Canada’s second-largest port, containers wait four times longer than the 2019 average, and vessel turnaround is similarly well above both 2019 levels and those from a year ago.

A lack of storage space in distribution hubs on the fringes of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver is one reason.

“Warehouses in Ontario and Quebec are largely full,” said Lewis-Manning. “The problem is, there’s something behind it that can’t get through to where it needs to go. And maybe it is a critical part for a manufacturing operation.”

Storage fees, contract extension penalties and “demurrage” fees — issued by a shipping line when freight exceeds the time allotted at a terminal — eventually show up in the retail price tag, on top of higher freight rates and overtime wages for those working on the backlogs.

Ironically, the delays brought on by full warehouses are partly the result of importers’ response to previous supply-chain disruptions.

Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. said earlier this month that its merchandise levels shot up 18 per from a year earlier, which means it has less flexibility for storing off-season items.

Shippers and marine carrier operators see rail as a critical bottleneck.

Grain volumes were down last year due to a drought, but rail companies “still had problems,” said John Corey, president of the Freight Management Association of Canada.

A dire dearth of truck drivers marks another snarl in the chain. The sector saw record vacancies in the first quarter, with 25,560 unfilled driver positions between January and March, according to Trucking HR Canada.

And spillover from heavily backlogged American ports such as Los Angeles and nearby Long Beach further adds to port congestion, while labour shortages at warehouses also gum up the cargo flow.

“You get to a point where one more drop and you start to overflow. And we have started to overflow,” said Chris Hall, CEO of the Shipping Federation of Canada.

Canada’s two main rail lines have been pouring money into network upgrades and new railcars while scrambling to hire workers after laying off thousands in the first year of the pandemic.

CN and CP hope to hire more than 3,800 workers this year, including some 1,850 already on board since Dec. 31. But the labour market — especially for train conductors and engineers — is tighter than it’s been in decades and it takes up to nine months to train some crews.

CN spokesman Jonathan Abecassis said the railway has set up temporary storage capacity in Montreal and Toronto, as the Vancouver port did in February. And CP Rail CEO Keith Creel assured analysts on a call last month the company is flexible: “We have capacity. We’re not holding any freight at West Coast ports or East Coast ports to pace into our inland terminals.”


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