Clearly, there are some jobs governments do better than the private sector, such as healthcare, but should they be adding running the supply chain to their duties during the COVID-19 crisis?
Empty shelves, lineups outside stores and long queues when ordering food online has made some people nervous about whether supply chains will be able to keep up with demand as people follow government directives to remain at home until at least May.
“[These] measures will make sure communities are taking necessary steps, in co-ordination with the Province, to get ready should more action be required to combat COVID-19,” stated Mike Farnsworth, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
That’s as far as it should go, says Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy, and director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab, at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“I believe the private sector is better equipped to respond quickly to market disruptions, like COVID-19,” he told Canadian Shipper. “Governments are clearly oversubscribed right now and would not be able to appreciate the subtleties of global supply chains. The time to make decisions is also key, which may be a problem with more bureaucracy.”
He believes it’s not surprising to hear groups focusing on local foods and regional supply chains, but points out food supply chains are inherently global.
“If governments want to get involved, assuring national and perhaps international coordination would be the best way to do it.”
Suspending any bylaws that restrict goods delivery at any time of day, a measure taken by many local and provincial governments, including B.C., is one action that will ensure retailers can receive deliveries 24 hours of a day, seven days a week to ensure essential goods remain in stock.
While changing the rules is one thing, practically, how would governments even get involved on the ground with supply chains?
“The government’s statement seems more aspirational than realistic to me because what can they do?” asks Barry Prentice, a professor at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business and a transportation and supply chain management expert. “Typically, supply chains involve moving and storing goods. So, unless you have officials or the military can replace these functions of the private sector, it is unclear what kind of involvement they could have.”
During what promises to be a long process before anything resembling normality returns, Prentice suggests that the federal government can be proactive in helping to maintain the critical food supply chain by facilitating the arrival of the estimated 60,000 seasonal workers who come to Canada to work in in agriculture industry, which will help to feed the country.
“They need to help these workers to arrive and be safe. Without them, Canadians will have a lot less local fresh fruits and vegetables to enjoy by summer’s end.”