Vancouver Island facing supply chain issues, panic buying

Local News Provincial

While gas supply remains steady, dairy products are running out

Photo by Ken Mizokoshi via CBC.

Following catastrophic flooding in the Fraser Valley and southern interior of B.C. that damaged highways, provincial officials and produce suppliers are warning of delays for key goods such as milk and eggs. Meanwhile, a rush to buy gas following perceived disruptions to the supply chain have led to empty pumps. 

On Vancouver Island, the disruptions are mostly temporary as provincial officials work to find other sources for key goods. However, with much of the Sumas Prairie farmlands flooded, it could be some time before dairy products return to shelves. In the meantime, experts are calling for a halt in panic buying and for consumers to only purchase only what they need.

Panic-buying gas

Following a rush of lineups at gas stations and empty pumps, the provincial government put limits on gas on Nov. 19 in much of southern B.C., including Vancouver Island. Customers can only buy 30 litres each trip to the pump. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth had originally said that the measures would be in place for roughly two weeks while supplies are replenished. On Nov. 29, the province extended rationing for another two weeks. This will bring rationing forward until Dec. 14.

Farnworth said that gas is being brought up from the United States to fulfill demand, but did not say how long that would take. Two tankers have already arrived. Many railway routes that bring gas to B.C. from Alberta have been damaged or washed away. The same holds for roads used by tanker trucks to get gas to individual gas stations.

On Vancouver Island, only essential travel was allowed on the Malahat as repairs from flooding damage took place. Overnight closures limited the amount of gas getting to stations in Victoria. This limit is part of what has caused the panic buying of gas, as most of the Island’s gas comes from Washington state and is shipped in by barge and then stored in Chemainus and Nanaimo. The Trans-Mountain Pipeline, which brings gas from Alberta to Burnaby, has also been shut down since Nov. 14. 

Adel Guitouni of UVic’s Gustavson School of Business says that the issue is the unexpected demand and not any disruption to the supply chain. As an example, he said gas stations expect a certain demand and so order a certain amount of gas. The abrupt increase in demand plus an inability to meet it due to slow supply chains is why we are facing a shortage.

“This is creating a huge variability in the demand,” said Guitouni. “Those gas stations, they did not order gas for this behavior.

Food and consumer goods

When it comes to food and other goods, Guitouni says the situation varies. 

For items such as eggs and milk, the province’s reliance on the Fraser Valley has caused major issues. B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham says hundreds of farms have been affected and that many chickens and cattle have been lost in the flooding. It will take time before farmers are able to resume production. 

Many local grocery stores saw temporary shortages of meat and dairy products and have asked customers to limit their purchases of these items. Local grocers such as Red Barn as well as dairy producer Agropur have said that shortages will not last long and that the supply chain is almost back up to full capacity.

Local supply chain issues also aggravate global ones: disruption to the local supply chain causes an increased reliance on imported goods, including food, which can be subject to any manner of delays. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, items such as books are already behind schedule. The flooding just makes this situation worse.

“The supply chain issues we are experiencing right now are two types. You have the macro type which is actually related to the shortages along the global supply chain that was happening before…the flooding,” said Guitouni. “And the second type of shortages is what is induced by the change in the demand and that is the way we are consuming.”

Future supply chains

Between the heat dome in June and the flooding in November, climate change is here to stay. Moving forward, Guitouni says the markets will likely open up alternate supply lines to cope with natural disasters and other disruptions. 

“In terms of market, I think we will see us maybe importing more from other places around the world, which again, is going to add additional pressure on the supply chain. The global supply chain is going to add more emissions and so on because we have to travel our food a little bit longer,” he said. 

The global supply chain is already stretched remarkably thin and is built on an ethos of efficiency and cost-reduction. Guitouni says it is not built for the kind of disruptions climate change will bring, as evidenced by the recent floods. He says he’d like to see the province take this opportunity, as it rebuilds following the floods and to rethink their relationship with supply chains and global trade. 

“We need to start thinking about our well being, because everything that comes to us is coming through these supply chains,” he said. “We need to start encouraging and developing local food supply, local supply chains.”

Ultimately, however, the nature of the supply chain is influenced by individual choices of consumers. If consumers change their patterns, then so does the supply chain. Guitouni says that the future of sustainability in the supply chain relies on individual choices. Buying local and shopping sustainably will help push governments and corporations to change their business practices and move towards a more sustainable model.

For governments and consumers alike, how we modify and alter supply chains over the coming years will determine how we adapt to climate change.

“The good news is, in my opinion, the future is more sustainable,” said Guitouni. “We can start moving very quickly and use this to rebuild supply chains that are good for the environment, good for the people, and good for the economy.”