MONTREAL, Que. — The Association du camionnage du Québec’s (ACQ) Industry Day, a virtual event presenting a series of conferences and an exhibition, kicked off this week with a speech from Karine Goyette, ACQ chairman.
Speaking about the Covid-19 pandemic, Goyette stressed that the trucking industry, unlike other sectors, has had to continue operations and send its employees to the front lines.
“Our industry has come to light as essential. People have finally realized that without trucks on the road, the goods they consume would not be on the shelves. The pandemic will have been a good thing in a way: the image of our industry has picked up,” she said.
Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel continued in the same vein in his opening remarks.
“In my name and in the name of Quebec society, all our gratitude since the start of this pandemic. Thank you to your businesses and your resources for coming to the front to supply us with consumer products and essential goods to weather this pandemic. This period highlights the real scope of road transport. Quebec needs you,” he declared.
The first hour of the lecture belonged to economist, Yves-Thomas Dorval, executive chairman of the Quebec Employers Council.
The unpredictable and unknown situation we are currently experiencing was not created by an economic crisis or the bursting of bubbles linked to speculation, but by a health crisis. Dorval explained that the consequences of this health crisis will last over time for various reasons.
“As long as we do not have access to vaccines that will be widespread and effective for the entire population, we risk being in this situation long enough, with periods like we are currently living in Quebec [a second wave], of varying lengths. So, the economy itself is going to be very volatile,” he said.
The recession that we are currently experiencing due to the pandemic means that we find ourselves in the heart of an atypical recession.
Before the health crisis, there were already issues such as diplomatic issues with China and protectionism in the U.S. Other factors have particularly affected our industry, such as the CN strike, rail blockades and a strike at the Port of Montreal.
“The health crisis started in China at the end of 2019. It created other logistical challenges, such as an abrupt halt in the transport of goods in ports. This whole logistics ecosystem still has impacts today,” said Dorval
The first thing to consider in an economic crisis is the purchasing power of consumers or businesses, because that is what drives production and distribution.
To deal with the pandemic, the federal and provincial governments have put in place measures that ensure that purchasing power has not been greatly reduced.
“All of this brought us to a truly atypical recession,” explained Dorval. “There was a political and government decision that had the effect of stopping operations, except essential services. So, several economic sectors fell quickly and sharply. The government subsequently reopened certain sectors of the economy. From there, we saw companies experiencing fairly or very significant growth (hardware stores for example), but certain parts of the economy continued to experience a marked shutdown or slowdown (aeronautics, accommodation, major events).”
When a recession strikes, there are always challenges and opportunities.
Businesses based on e-commerce are among those that have been presented with opportunities. Things are more problematic for those relying on local commerce. In some sectors, teleworking has allowed companies to return to normal productivity and, in some cases, to increase their productivity.
The sectors most affected between February and June, based on the decline in GDP, were air transport (-94%), restaurants and accommodation (-45%), content and media (-28%) and transport and warehousing (-26%).
Retail sales fell sharply, but soared as a result of the income supports offered by the federal government.
In Quebec, approximately 400,000 people are unemployed, half of them directly because of the pandemic. In Canada, there are about two million unemployed people.
Demographic aging continues and labor needs are also atypical: despite some 400,000 people who say they are looking for a job, some sectors are in short supply.
The economic outlook for the rest of the year, taking into account the great economic plunge caused by the pandemic from March to June, forecasts negative growth. For 2021, we can still see interesting and more significant growth in Quebec than in the rest of Canada. However, if you are in heavily affected industries, such as aviation, the outlook remains bleak.
The stock markets remain very volatile due to the health crisis, and the second wave that is taking hold in Quebec will have worrying economic and psychosocial repercussions.
“Two things will change the game,” predicted Dorval. “Treatments and vaccines for Covid-19. There is fierce competition internationally to develop a vaccine, but it will take a number of months to get there.”
Steve Bouchard started writing about trucks over 20 years ago, making him by far the most experienced trucking journalist in Quebec. Steve is the editor of Quebec’s leading French-language trucking magazine, Transport Routier, published by Newcom Média Québec since its creation in 2000. He is also editor of the associated website transportroutier.ca, and a contributor to Today’s Trucking and Trucknews.com.