Industry insiders are concerned that the federal government’s vaccine mandate on cross-border truckers will worsen the already strained supply chains, leading to shortages at grocery stores.
“Ottawa’s plan to require all truckers entering from the United States to show proof of vaccination starting Jan. 15 cannot happen at a worse time,” said Sylvain Charlebois, professor and senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, on Twitter on Jan. 10.
“I’m not sure Canadians are aware of how fragile our food supply chain is right now, due to Omicron.”
The Liberal government announced in mid-November that truck drivers coming into Canada would need to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 15. Up until then, truckers have been exempted from the mandate as they are considered essential service providers.
But on Jan. 12 evening, Canada Border Services Agency spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy told The Canadian Press that Canadian big-riggers will not have to quarantine if they are unvaccinated or have received only one dose.
Yet on Jan. 13, the federal government backed down Purdy’s claim, saying that the original rules stayed.
“Let us be clear: This has not changed. The information shared yesterday was provided in error. Our teams have been in touch with industry representatives to ensure they have the correct information,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in a joint statement.
Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman says the flip-flopping by the federal government will disrupt supply chains and impact Canadians’ lives adversely.
“Today’s reversal on the reversal by the government will only make Canada’s cost of living crisis worse by driving the price of basic essentials like groceries up,” she posted on Twitter on Jan. 13 following the ministers’ announcement.
“When Canadians need more certainty—they get less. This is a mess.”
In an interview with CP24 Tonight on Jan. 13, Charlebois said the vaccine mandate on truckers is akin to cutting “the flow of blood” of a person.
“If you cut anything, if you disrupt that flow, that fluidity, you will end up seeing empty shelves, higher food prices,” he said.
“Unfortunately, because on our side, we actually buy for well over $21 billion worth of food products [from the] U.S. every single year, and almost 70 percent of it actually goes through the border on wheels with truckers, and so there’s a lot of business, and a lot of that business happens between November and March.”
The mandate, once it comes into force Saturday, will require Canadian truckers to “meet requirements for pre-entry, arrival, and Day 8 testing, as well as quarantine requirements,” said the ministers in the joint statement, as these truckers “can’t be denied entry in Canada.”
For non-Canadian truckers crossing over to Canada from the United States, they will be directed back if they cannot provide their proof of vaccination or a valid medical contraindication to the COVID-19 vaccines.
Charlebois said the screening of every truck at the land borders will slow everything down, from transportation, warehousing, to distribution and will shoot up food prices.
“When you slow things down with supply chains, it will end up costing more, costing more for consumers in the end,” the professor said in the interview.
“We were expecting food prices to go up by as much as 7 percent in 2022. This could actually put the inflation rate at a much higher level for 2022 as a result of this disruption, unfortunately.”
Ron Foxcroft, chairman and president of Fluke Transportation, says the last-minute reversal by Ottawa put the trucking sector in “peril.”
“Before March 6, 2020, our industry was about 18,000 drivers short,” he said in an interview with Global News’ “On Point with Alex Pierson” on Jan. 13. “And now the numbers are closer to, in Canada, about 23,000.
“That alone is a big problem. Now you throw in the pandemic, and now you throw in this gongshow today,” he added.
Foxcroft agreed with the host that the mandate will not only sideline thousands of truckers, but it will also affect every Canadian who needs essential goods eventually.
“We truck essential services, things that go into grocery stores, big box stores, pharmacy stores,” he said. “The average person has to depend on that, the average person has to eat.”
But if more truckers choose to leave the sector for good, Canadians will bear the brunt of it.
“Finally, we’re going to have shelves empty—and forget the price, I mean, it’s going to hurt the little guy, it’s going to hurt everyone in Canada,” Foxcroft said.
Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), echoed Foxcroft’s sentiment of vaccinated truckers being sidelined when the vaccine mandate kicks in on Saturday.
“We’re a reflection of Canadian society. Right now about 15–16 percent of Canadian society isn’t vaccinated. We can expect that a minimum of 10 percent of these drivers not to be vaccinated,” he said in an interview with CP24 Tonight on Jan. 13, along with Charlebois.
Meanwhile, the United States is preparing to impose similar restrictions on Canadian truckers on Jan. 22.
Laskowski said CTA has been warning the Canadian and U.S. governments that this is not the right time to implement the mandate.
“Both Ottawa and Washington appear not to heed our warnings,” he said.
“They are not heeding the warnings of other members of the supply chain, our customers, and we’re about to understand those consequences on Saturday.”
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.