Canadian Shipper


Is government involvement in the supply chain a good idea?

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.

While no concrete actions have yet been taken, the B.C. provincial government—using powers under the Emergency Program Act—announced last week the establishment of a new supply chain coordination unit that gives it the authority to take over supply chains for delivering essential goods and services throughout the province. will oversee the distribution of good and services.

“[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.”

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2 Comments » for Is government involvement in the supply chain a good idea?
  1. Steven Young says:

    Wow, what a terrible idea.

    Everytime I hear someone from the Government come in my Office and say, “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help” I can’t help but roll my eyes.
    Nothing the Government touches, ever gets streamlined and seamless like it can in the Private Sector.

  2. Edward Kearns says:

    I have no problem with Provincial and Federal governments
    monitoring transportation related to the food chain, or any other vital commodities (rare gases for health institutions),
    they should not be actively involved.

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