One expert says it could compromise Canada’s food security, while Jean-Marc Picard, the executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, calls it “another curveball to the industry.”
“On November 19, 2021, we announced that as of January 15, 2022, certain categories of travellers who are currently exempt from entry requirements, will only be allowed to enter the country if they are fully vaccinated with one of the vaccines approved for entry into Canada,” read a joint statement from the federal ministers of health, transport and public safety released just before 5 p.m. on Thursday.
“These groups include several essential service providers, including truck drivers. 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.”
A Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson told media in a statement that Canadian truckers would be exempt from the vaccination requirements to return to the country.
Picard says the changing guidance has been a “poorly managed situation, to be honest.”
“Something with that magnitude and that potential impact that it could have on the economy, it was disappointing to see how it was communicated and how it was managed after that,” he tells Global News.
Trade relations between Ottawa and Washington are vital. But the supply chain has already been under immense pressure during the pandemic and the trucking industry has been facing growing driver shortages. Those two factors lead to some worry about how Canadians could be impacted.
“I think it’s important to protect Canadians from the virus, but this could actually compromise Canada’s food security,” says Sylvain Charlebois, the senior director of Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab.
“And so we’re playing with fire right now at the border.”
Charlebois says this is the first measure introduced that could impact the transportation of goods at the border since the start of the pandemic.
“We do import well over $21 billion worth of food from the U.S. every year,” he says.
Most of that food is brought in by truckers, he says.
William Gerhardt, owner of Gerhardt Trucking in Lunenburg, N.S., says he supports vaccination.
The company has offered to pay truckers for their time to get the vaccine, ensured they’d be paid if there were side effects, and tried to educate employees.
Only one out of 10 of his cross-border truckers isn’t fully vaccinated.
But there’s more at stake, he says.
“I think the one thing that you’ll see immediately is that there could be a supply chain crunch, for sure,” he says. “But my greater concern is that if … you take 10 per cent of supply — that’s already not enough supply — out of the market, it’s going to cost Canadians more for everything.”
Gerhardt worries the mandates will force inexperienced drivers to replace some of those with years of experience behind the wheel.
The rule and projected impact
Industry representatives had tried to convince officials in both Canada and the United States to push back the vaccination deadline.
Canadian Trucking Association president Stephen Laskowski told Global News on Thursday that the industry has been seeking clarity on how the policy would be enforced.
The rules would still apply to any foreign nationals crossing the border, however, and there was no indication from U.S. border officials that their policy was shifting.
The U.S. has planned a similar mandate to go into effect for any driver crossing into the States as of Jan. 22.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance says 10 to 15 per cent of drivers in the industry are currently unvaccinated. The mandate would therefore take an estimated 12,000 Canadian truckers and thousands more from the U.S. off cross-border shipping routes, a sharp reduction in available workers for an industry already facing a labour shortage and supply chain constraints.
— with files from Craig Lord