Richardson hopeful Biden administration will help thaw Canada-China canola trade dispute
The head of one of Canada's largest privately-run businesses said the deterioration in bilateral relations between Canada and China has been "very frustrating" but hopes that the Biden Administration in Washington, D.C. will help thaw ties between the two countries.
Hartley T. Richardson, president and chief executive officer of James Richardson & Sons Ltd., said that he is "cautiously optimistic" that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will work together to get their respective economies "back on track" this year.
He also hopes that the U.S. under Biden's leadership will help to resolve lingering issues stemming from the 2019 arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. Shortly after Meng was apprehended, China suspended the licences of two major Canadian shippers, citing pest and quarantine concerns, but the move was believed to be made in retaliation over her arrest. As well, China detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on unproven allegations of spying more than two years ago.
"It's been very frustrating to get caught up in being the meat in the sandwich for political differences between the two countries," Richardson said in an interview, referencing Meng's arrest on Canadian soil at the request of U.S. authorities for alleged violations of Iran sanctions.
"We've been resilient, we've sought out new markets, and if the Chinese are going to need more than what their current suppliers are able to deliver ... I hope we continue to provide service to them because we've found markets elsewhere."
Founded in 1857, James Richardson & Sons is one of Canada's oldest family-run businesses, a diversified conglomerate that has stakes in grain shipping, energy pipelines, real estate and wealth management. Richardson has been steering the company since 1993 and represents the fifth generation of family leadership.
The conglomerate’s latest bet was announced Tuesday, with the acquisition of trucking firm Bison Transport Inc. from Wescan Capital Inc., adding a fleet of 2,100 trucks and 6,000 trailers across North America to James Richardson & Sons’ portfolio.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Richardson said Bison was a company he's been keeping an eye on for years, and grew confident it would be a good fit for his firm after noting that more than 90 per cent of all products are handled by truck at some point of the supply chain.
"We were in the trucking business until 1956, so that was before my time, but we strategically keep our eye open on a couple of different industries," he said, "We were taken by some of the things in the trucking business, particularly how it's an essential service and there's opportunities for it to grow."
Adding a major trucking firm under the James Richardson & Sons banner will also see the company become a major trade player with the U.S., with Richardson stating that the U.S.-Canada border will be "very important to monitor to ensure we have open access to their economy and vice versa." Canada has closed its border to its southern neighbour for non-essential travel since March, but supply chains, including trucking, were not impacted by the measure.
"I think it's gonna take time," he said. "There's been structural cracks to democracy in some ways, and I think it's going to take time for the American population to come together and heal themselves. But they are very resilient and they have proven to be in the past."
Richardson also said there's been a "lack of consistency" in developing a national vaccination program to help combat COVID-19 in Canada, noting that leaving distribution to the provinces has "proven to be problematic." That needs to be solved quickly to help eliminate the economic drag the pandemic is having in Canada, he added.
"Look at countries that are doing a much better job than we are and figure out what they're doing and pull up our socks and get going," he said.