How BC Wildfires have Exposed Vulnerabilities in Retail Supply Chains and Communities [Feature]


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Wildfires are challenging supply chains and communities in British Columbia.

The Retail Council of Canada is continuing to participate in supply chain roundtables and monitor the impacts of wildfires on both the supply chain and communities.

“At this point, the wildfires in South Central B.C. are having the greatest impact on the supply chain. Rail and road traffic continues to move, although there are smaller detours impacting the main truck route between the Port of Vancouver and Eastern Canada,” said the national organization. 

“Some communities in the Northwest Territories, as well as the Shuswap and Okanagan regions of B.C. have been significantly impacted by the fires. RCC extends our sympathies to those Canadians who have lost homes or businesses. For those wanting to give to the support of evacuees and recovery, the Canadian Red Cross has created a wildfire relief fund.”

An aerial image of the Lower East Adams Lake Fire showing active smoke activity. The image shows the Adams Lake Mill on the west side of the lake and evacuated communities on the east side. (CSRD photo)

Greg Wilson, Director, Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs for the RCC, said “right now things are quite okay which is to say the only real problems are supply to direct fire zones.”

“And even that is quite a bit better because you have two interruptions on Highway 1 but one of them, the Fraser Canyon interruption, isn’t a major truck route. Most of the trucks go up the Coquihalla (Highway) and then join the Highway 1,” he said. “The impacts are relatively good at this point.

“The first couple of days there were lots of rail (issues). At one point, between the two major railways they had about 40 trains backed up. We were worried because about half of that is probably retail containers but that seems to be relatively good at the moment. So the concern is just getting goods into a couple of communities and the worst ones are in the Shuswap right at the moment.”

Image: Central Okanagan Emergency

Gary Newbury, Rethink Retail’s Top 100 Retail Influencer in 2021, 22 & 23 | and CITT’s Innovator Award 2020, said the focus on reporting around the wildfires, quite understandably, focuses on the direct impact on people’s lives and the sheer devastation being incurred to great swaths of forestry land and inhabitants.

Gary Newbury

“As wildfires become more controlled, attention will switch to helping people recover from their losses and displacement, and finally to the aspects of how vital routes and products/services were disrupted due to the wildfires especially in rural and remote communities,” said Newbury, who helps business leaders navigate disruption and reinvigorate supply chain performance. 

“Simple things we take for granted like potable water, basic foodstuffs, power, light and heating will have all been fundamentally disrupted and efforts will be directed towards restoring transportation and distribution lines to and from affected communities, and rebuilding them.

“Without doubt, much thought will have to be given to how forestry management practices have been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that forest fires became quickly unmanageable. Some thought should be on poor decisions by government to save federal tax dollars, when clearly Canada will be paying a heavy debt for these outbreaks for years to come. The fundamental impacts on businesses and consumers away from the wildfires is yet to be established.

“Given we are already in a cost-of-living crisis, something which tends to affect rural and remote communities very hard, prices will likely rise due to more expensive transportation and accessibility to communities and to businesses that support them.”

West Kelowna Strong

Newbury said the impact of the British Columbia port strikes has also been very disruptive. 

“I have read reports and listened to my network indicating for every day the ports remain closed, it is likely seven to 10 days of delays in processing inbound (and outbound) ships, drayage and making product available for shipment across Canada was being experienced, besides the lack of visibility due to the chaos of off/on strike action,” he said.

“Midway through the handful of days the unions had been on strike, figures of around 40 to 50 days of delays were being suggested. This is devastating for retailers and other businesses looking to serve their customers or waiting for a vital component to complete assembly.

“Prior to the pandemic, we used “Just in Time” supply chains to drive efficiencies and lower costs of bringing product from international suppliers. The downside of this supply chain design was poor resiliency to operate under volatile conditions. These JIT supply chains became highly disrupted. Roll the clock forward three years and it does seem that lessons have not been learned around the need for flexibility in capacity and the need to really accelerate automation of basic functions.

“Technology continues to advance. However, it seems, our openness to embrace such is somewhat limited. And now interest rates have risen progressively over the last 12+ months, the window for making sensible investments is fast closing, which means we remain reliant on labour and goodwill to join up our supply chains which tend not be viewed as robust outside of Canada.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.


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