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Canada Conversations Podcast: March 26, 2021

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[00:00:06] Hi, everyone, and welcome to the March 26, 2021 episode of Automotive News Canada Conversations. I’m your host, Greg Layson, the digital and mobile editor here at Automotive News Canada. 

[00:00:17] The land border between Canada and the United States has been closed to non-essential travel for more than a year, and the two countries haven’t yet identified a date on which it will reopen. So members of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers are struggling to service U.S. auto customers when new business and conduct business as usual because employees aren’t considered essential, at least not essential enough to cross without some confusion and restrictions. We’ll find out what it all means for the industry and what mold makers want changed at the border. When we talk to Jonathan as a party, the president of Liverpool and Windsor, Ontario, the interim chair and head of international foreign affairs at the Canadian Association of Mold Makers on this episode of Automotive News Canada Conversations. John, thanks for joining me on the podcast this week. 

[00:01:02] Oh, no, it’s great to be with you, Greg. It’s an important topic to us. And so any opportunity we get to try and get our opinion or get our suggestions and get our opinions and get our views on the out in the open, we’ll take advantage of it. Thank you. 

[00:01:13] No problem. We’re going to jump right in. What is the situation like at the border right now for your members? 

[00:01:19] You know, it’s a very it’s a high degree of uncertainty. You know, I’ve got some members that are saying, you know, spotty at best. I’ve got other people saying that it’s not worth even trying and everything in between. It’s really hard. So the border really at this point has become a trade barrier, not a trade opportunity. And that’s about the only way we can describe it. So for our members who export 80 to 90 and sometimes 100 per cent of their product to the United States, it’s crippling them. 

[00:01:47] What are they encountering at the border upon their return? Because it seems like the problems or the confusion is about the return to Canada, maybe not necessarily entering the United States and maybe I’m wrong, but just kind of outline or paint a picture for me about what it is they encounter when they go to and from America to service customers. 

[00:02:10] Well, you know, right off the bat, let’s just kind of distinguish between the two. So if somebody is trying to enter the United States from Canada, they don’t have any issues. Right. The United States has been very much they’ve understood that essential business must continue to cross the border. So from the US side, a Canadian trying to enter the United States, there’s no issues, none at all. Now, there are questions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a wide open border. But they basically want to make sure that people aren’t just going to go shopping or, you know, go on vacation. Right. They want to make sure its business travel. So as long as your business travel, the United States is is welcoming of visitors. It’s the Canadian side, the side when the U.S. visitor or a Canadian is trying to return to Canada, where the issue is and that’s strictly on this side at this point, we don’t have any issues on the other side. And now let’s talk about that. There are two types of scenarios that we really want to make sure that we address. The first one is, is a US visitor coming to Canada. So we need that. And we basically call that the APACS meeting. We normally have, you know, let’s say five to ten meetings on a project during the year where US visitors would come to visit us. We’ve basically eliminated all of those except for one meeting, which is the final sign off or any equipment. And that’s for safety and performance and quality. Right. Similar to when you’re buying a house, you go and do that, walk through before you purchase a house. That’s essentially what a client from the US is coming here to do. The other scenario is, you know, we get paid for this equipment, but we get paid to install or what we call commissioning of the equipment in the United States. Again, we’ve eliminated this to just about only one visit. And we need our Canadians to be able to go to the United States to fulfill the contractual obligations of actually installing the equipment. When they return back to Canada, they’re being told they have to allow for a 14 day quarantine, same as our U.S. visitors. And you can understand how difficult that really is because it’s almost impossible. You know, most of the time these visitors are coming for, you know, a one, two, maybe three hour visit. They can’t allow to be isolated for fourteen days on this side of the border for a two hour meeting. It’s just not going to work. And then on the other hand, we have technicians who are still asked to isolate, but they can’t do that either, because to be honest with you, they’ll come home for two days and they’re going to either be going back to their job here to prepare for the next job or they may be going back to the United States to continue the installation. So you can see how that’s complicated and it’s just not working. 

[00:04:32] So what is Canada Border Services Agency or the federal government telling you about the jobs they do, what constitutes essential work? Because what you’re describing to me, to an observer, sounds like essential work. It’s part of the contract that you must go over and install the equipment. But upon return, Canada is saying that’s not essential enough. Why are they telling you that or why are they describing it in that sense that it’s not essential work? Because we’ve heard people need a regular pattern of travel to establish essential work, such as a nurse who works three or four days a week or something of that nature. Why are you different? What are they telling you about your members that isn’t essential? 

[00:05:15] Well, really, what they’ve done is they’ve basically made the definition of essential and they’ve kind of done this on their own. Nobody’s telling them to do this, but they’ve kind of made their own definition at the border. And and PEJAK, which is the Public Health Association of Canada, the Agency of Canada, they’ve basically said if you’re not employed in the United States or if you’re employed in the United States, you’re OK. But if you’re not employed in the United States, you’re not essential. And the problem with that is that we have a definition here that says that if you make stuff that is providing for the for the community and for the economy, like, you know, brake parts or or ice cream containers or hospital beds or PPE, you’re deemed essential. But to the border, you’re not deemed essential unless you actually work in the United States, unless you’re employed in the United States. And that’s the fatal mistake, is that they forgot that being employed in the United States, don’t get me wrong, is essential. But if you’re being employed by someone in the United States through a contract, that’s also essential and they’ve basically completely eliminated that whole group, that whole group that has contracts, not just employment, that whole group is being told you’re not essential. Doesn’t matter if you can show that you’re going across the border every day. Doesn’t matter if you can show that you’re part of the essential group. That means nothing unless you’re employed in the United States, you’re not getting across that border without a 14 day isolation. 

[00:06:37] And that seems to run counter to what we’ve heard politicians and industry insiders talk about is that we need to compete as a region. We need more seamless borders. We need an auto sector that competes from Canada to Mexico against Europe and against Asia. How frustrating is that to hear on one side that we need to be united in this as an auto industry, but then at the same time be told you can’t be united because right now the borders closed? 

[00:07:05] I think it’s it’s it’s debilitating. I mean, to be honest with you, every day we’re we’re trying to make sure that that border seems invisible. We’ve signed we’ve signed free trade agreements. We’ve basically created the fabric of North America based on our borders not being an impediment, that we can move goods across the border and move people across the border. And that’s what makes North America so strong. And we’re basically just throwing that out and ignored the fact that we have to continue to do business like we’ve done such a great job all these years of integrating our supply chains as this. They’re almost one right running, as you know, one North American superpower. And then we put this barrier in between. And, you know, our government didn’t think that that was going to have any negative ramifications. I mean, to be honest with you, I think it’s ridiculous. I look at Europe and Europe has done such an amazing job that you can go from country to country and they can move freely so they can move workers freely. And I speak to Europeans all the time and I try and explain that we still need a passport to cross the border from Canada, United States. And they look at that and they’re like, you guys haven’t figured it out. 

Like the Europeans have already done this and they’re doing it well and and they’re thriving because they have done it. But yet here in North America, where we’ve had an undefended border for almost, what, 200 years, we still can’t figure this out. It’s terrible. 

[00:08:31] This is a personal business question, but I am curious and I don’t know how you want to answer that or what how much you can tell me, but how much money has this cost your company or more broadly speaking, your members in general? Can you ballpark it for us in terms of a monetary value on this closure? 

[00:08:49] Well, for my own business alone, I can already tell you I’ve lost 30 percent of myself. A third of my sales are gone because clients have basically said you can’t fulfill the contractual obligations that are that are set because you can’t cross the border and I can’t come to you. So a third of my sales has already said, no, you can’t bid or been taken away. So for me, that’s that’s getting up between five and seven million dollars. Just myself. I know I’m not alone and I’m about the average size. There are guys that are bigger than me. So I would probably tell you that, you know, we are monitoring it. Six months ago, it was, you know, 10 to 30 million dollars. That was six months ago. The problem’s gotten worse. The border has gotten more strict. So I can guarantee you that that’s already above hundreds of millions of dollars of lost business. And I know I just heard about a contract, actually. This week that was taken away from a Canadian mold maker and it was already over 30 million dollars. So the numbers are getting bigger because it’s gone on longer. You know, I’ve told people before, you know, the measures they put in place were acceptable for, you know, a very short term emergency situation, you know, one to three months. But for them to think that they could keep this type of policy for six months, nine months, and now a year is really just ridiculous. And I’ve used the term that the government stuck their head in the sand. I hate to use that term, but it’s totally true because they’ve basically just decided they’re going to do nothing and just let it work itself out while the rest of us just struggle and try and figure it out. It’ll come a point where there will be no pieces to pick up because they’ll be gone, because everybody is able to pick them up and there’ll be nothing left for Canadian manufacturers. 

[00:10:24] This seems to be about relationships as much as it is about money and health and safety. What about those relationships you have with automakers and other global manufacturers? You serve in the U.S. as mold makers. What happens to those relationships if the border problem isn’t resolved? Because these are industries that are cyclical. You bid on products that are needed five years from now. I just wonder what happens when those relationships are dissolved. Can you get them back? 

[00:10:54] Well, Greg, you ask a very, very well thought, a question, because it’s a big problem. So, for example, the context I lost with the customers that I have were customers of mine for the last twenty five years. So these aren’t just new clients we just stumbled upon. And you know that we’ll pick up a few more. Right. These are long relationships that have many, many, many years to create, 25 years, to be exact, with one client. And it’s not that they don’t want to do business with us. They do want to do business with us, but they can’t do business with us. So what do they do? They go find another another solution for for something that we’ve been providing a solution for the last twenty five years. Now, think about that. Somebody else has now taken the lead position on a position that it took me twenty five years to get. That doesn’t happen overnight and it may never come back. That’s what we’re trying to get people to understand, that the relationship is broken. It’s not that they don’t want to do business with us, that they can’t do business with us, and they’re going to find another source. And more than likely, it’s going to be a low cost bidder like China or it’s going to be a domestic source in the United States. Now, once that’s gone, you’re going to be chasing it forever. Not only that, these these opportunities only come around every five years. So you may not get another chance to actually engage with that client to facilitate a contract for another five years. So, so much will change in that next five years that, you know, you might not even still be in business. So it’s I know it’s complicated and it’s hard to understand, but the relationships are strong. They’re needed, and they only get a very cyclical five year opportunity to be able to be established. And we’re losing those every day, every day they’re being taken away from us. 

[00:12:32] Has the federal government consulted with you, have they reached out and said, come to the table and let’s come up with a policy or a plan to get you and your members servicing their customers in the United States, has that happen? Have they reached out? 

[00:12:49] You know, I’m going to be totally honest. I’m going to say, yes, they have they’ve done their best to try and listen to our issues. But there comes a point in time when we’re done listening to them and they’re done listening to us and actions must be taken. And that’s where we’re at this point. We’ve gone for a long time. We were getting desperate. Now we are desperate. And now that we are desperate, we need them to take action, not just listen and tell us they need to actually work the problem. And that’s what we’ve been asking for for a long time. Enough with the information sessions, enough with you listening to us and us listening to you. We got to sit down and work out the problem so that we can satisfy all the stakeholders that are involved. You know, we know that PIAC, you know, their job is to keep all of our our our our communities and our families safe because they’re in trouble. They’re in charge of public health. And we know that CBSA has to control our borders and make sure that, you know, they don’t allow that the things that could hurt us inside our country. We it. But but there’s a way to get this done because we’re only talking two to three hundred visitors. That’s the first thing. The second thing is we’ve already shown that we were able to accommodate visitors without actually creating any unsafe environments for our community because the visitors have only brought in some around less than 10 percent of the infections. 

And the thing that I want everybody to know is, is that manufacturers are the largest employer in Ontario, but we have the lowest percentage of cross contamination within our facilities. And I’m going to repeat this number. We are zero point zero six five percent of all of the work related cases in Ontario at a seventeen thousand seven hundred cases. The last time I checked, we were one hundred and twelve. 

[00:14:33] That’s amazing. I’m glad you brought that up, because I wanted to ask you about that, you know, one of my question was, I assume these restrictions are in place for health and safety reasons, namely to stop the spread of covid-19 by curbing, I guess, technically, what is international travel. But how safe is the mold making industry when it comes to covid-19, for example, your facility? Have you had any on the shop floor? Have you had any in the boardroom’s? Have you had any visitor from the U.S. bring it here that you’re aware of? 

[00:15:02] Well, I’m proud to say that we have had 12 people who have contracted the virus. Right. But we’ve had zero cross contamination within the facility. So we’ve had 12 times that somebody had it was either entered our facility or content or contained themselves where it did not spread to another employee. To me, that’s just amazing that we had it 12 times. You know, they say how it spreads so quickly and it’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to get it with your household. Like we have shown that because of the measures we take that we actually don’t cross contaminate our employees, even if they do bring it in, because we know that we can’t stop people like we looked at all 12 cases. We did our own, you know, we did our own what that called when we went back and actually contact tracing, the contact tracing, that’s it. We went back and did contact tracing and they got it from doing something they probably shouldn’t have been doing at home. But once it got to the plant, nobody else got it. And we don’t take any chances. Like, I’ll be honest with you, I have visitors. They have to use the visitor’s bathroom. We have a common bathroom for everybody else. The visitor must use the visitors bathroom. Why? Because then we can if they were sick, it’s in it’s in that one bathroom and I can clean it and it doesn’t get to everybody else. Every every common surface that people touch is cleaned every hour. So door handles and everything else clean every hour. The entire plant is cleaned once a day and certain sectors are clean twice a day. So if somebody did get it on a shift, we can guarantee that they actually didn’t give it to the other shift because it’s been entirely cleaned before the next shift starts. 

[00:16:38] Did you hire extra staff for that? I’m curious, and if that costs the industry in general money, did you have to hire a cleaning agency or your own custodial or janitorial services for that? 

[00:16:49] Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. Thousands and thousands of dollars in cleaning and PPE. You can’t walk through this facility. You can’t go 10 feet without washing your hands like every door. There’s a cleaning station. And before you enter that door, you’ve got to use the cleaning station. So I actually think that our preventative measures are better than most hospitals and the numbers prove it. So I just say to people, I say there’s so many things that are in our favor, but the government is just totally ignoring this. 

[00:17:17] You mentioned 200 visitors. Is that per day, per month, per year? Two hundred visitors total that may or may not have to cross the border. I just wonder if you could put that into context for me. 

[00:17:28] We think it’s between two and three hundred visitors a week. So about two hundred and three hundred of people crossing that border to come in and out is basically what we think is going to make the difference for our industry and our sector. 

[00:17:40] And it 200 to 300 people is enough. If they’re not allowed or it’s made too difficult, that is enough to cripple an entire segment of the auto industry. 

[00:17:50] Oh, easily. Absolutely. I mean, it’s like both sides are being very reasonable. That’s like that. I think people need to understand that the our side is basically said, you know, we’re going to we’re going to limit this to just the the essential visits or the essential meetings. We don’t need to have the six meetings in between. We need to have this one meeting. So we’ve picked up all types of ways of being virtual and allowing the signatures and the approvals to go along so the project can get done. Our clients have done the same thing. Our clients have basically said, you know what, we’re going to work with you to find solutions remotely so that there’s a little bit of, you know, give or take. But we’re down to these these two real visits. That’s all we’re talking about. And I really think it’s a shame that the government won’t even recognize the fact that this group, you know, came forward when they needed to when we were in our darkest hour, when we needed the manufacturers to pull through for PPE and for essential manufacturing and keeping this economy going. And now when it comes down to the actual time when we actually need their support, they basically turn their back on us. And all we need is two to three hundred visitors the same. 

[00:18:56] We’re going to end on this, if I could sit you down in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and some officials from Public Health Canada, what would you say if you could look them in the eye and explain your situation? What would you tell them is the solution? 

[00:19:13] I would say the first thing is stop playing month to month. You can’t plan. You can’t play that game. You can’t plan month, a month. That’s not going to work. We’ve done this for too long. We all know that this is a long term plan and that’s what we need. We need a long term plan. And part of that long term plan is bringing the economy back on track, bringing it back online. Second thing would be is, is it work with us? The manufacturers work with all the different sectors on an individual basis to find solutions that will work, that still keeps our communities safe. And it’s not one single solution that’s going to solve it all. But just sticking your head in the sand and thinking that, you know, this is just going to go away is not working. We need to find a solution, a long term solution where it’s basically trying to be normal and an abnormal world so that we can all continue to exist and we can go back to something normal because the current situation right now is far worse by doing nothing than doing something. We know that now. And we also know that we’re better prepared now than we were when we first went into this. But yet we’re still using the same rules, the same draconian measures that we used the day that we found out about the the pandemic. We need to adapt. We need to adopt new philosophies and new policies to go forward. 

[00:20:32] John, thanks for joining me on the podcast. Stay safe now. 

[00:20:36] Thanks, Greg, and I appreciate it. And for all your listeners, you know, hang in there. We’re going to get through this. We will get through this one way or another. But don’t stop pushing. 

[00:20:45] We will. Best of luck. Thanks. Thanks, Greg. 

[00:20:48] We reached Jonathan at his office in Windsor, Ontario. If you’d like to be a guest on the show, have a suggestion or simply want to comment. Email me at Leysen at Auto News.com. And remember, you can listen to all our previous shows on Spotify, iTunes and Google Play or on our website, Automotive News. Just click the candidate conversations tab at the top of the homepage. 

[00:21:11] That does it for this episode of Automotive News Canada Conversations. We hope you’ll join us next time. So long, everybody. 

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