The vast majority of truckers in Canada are vaccinated, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday, and won’t be impacted by the cross-border vaccine mandate that a so-called ‘freedom convoy’ is driving to Ottawa to protest.
Conservative politicians, Trudeau added, are simply stoking fear that COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truckers are contributing to supply chain disruptions and fueling inflation.
“Almost 90 per cent of truckers in Canada are vaccinated,” Trudeau said, speaking to reporters in French.
“I regret that the Conservative Party and Conservative politicians are in the process of stoking Canadians’ fears about the supply chain. The reality is that vaccination is how we’ll get through this.”
Trudeau’s government announced in November that all Canadian truckers looking to cross the border from the United States would need to be vaccinated in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine.
But when the policy came into effect on Jan. 15, many truckers and politicians came out against the mandate.
Alberta’s conservative provincial leader, Jason Kenney, called for a pause of the mandate last week, and on Monday posted pictures on Twitter of empty shelves in supermarkets, calling for “immediate action” by both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments.
“This is turning into a crisis,” Kenney wrote.
Pierre Poilievre, who is the Conservative finance critic, last week called the requirements a “vaccine vendetta against our hardworking truckers” that will drive up inflation and result in “empty shelves” at stores.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole stopped short of expressing support for the truckers on Monday.
“At every occasion, I encourage truckers to get vaccinated. That’s the best way to keep supplies flowing,” he said.
“And that’s how we have to tackle this pandemic, get as many people vaccinated as possible and also use all the other tools that we have to make sure we don’t see shortages on shelves.”
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which Trudeau touted on Monday as the “biggest trucker association in Canada” has spoken out against the pending protests.
“The Canadian Trucking Alliance does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges,” they said in a statement on Saturday, just 24 hours before the convoy of largely unvaccinated truckers was set to leave British Columbia en route to Ottawa.
“CTA believes such actions — especially those that interfere with public safety — are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed.”
Those opposed to the measure, however, remain unmoved.
“We’re not backing down and we are going to Ottawa,” Tamara Lich, a protest organizer from Medicine Hat, Alta., said in a Facebook Live video posted on Sunday.
The convoy had raised $3.5 million from some 46,000 donors by Monday afternoon in support of truck drivers poised to converge on Ottawa this weekend, according to the campaign’s GoFundMe page.
Organizers describe the vaccine mandate as an example of political overreach resulting in economic harm, arguing the policy hurts small businesses and denies some workers the means to survive.
“The goal is to regain freedom in Canada,” said Brigitte Belton, a trucker who has been regularly making TikTok videos about the convoy — although, because of work, she said she wasn’t driving alongside them when she spoke to Global News on Monday.
“It seems that Mr. Trudeau thinks that our rights and freedoms can be taken at any point in time.”
Trudeau, meanwhile, has argued that Canada should remain aligned with the United States, its largest trading partner. The United States instituted its own ban on unvaccinated truck drivers on Saturday, a week after Canada implemented its policy.
More than two-thirds of the C$650 billion in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on roads.
However, Belton said Trudeau should take this opportunity to be “a leader.”
“Canada can either be a leader in a free world or they can join whatever Biden’s plan is,” said Belton, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Canadian Manufactures & Exporters President and Chief Executive Dennis Darby said he and other manufacturing lobbies spoke with Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne on Friday about problems caused by the vaccine mandate.
Manufacturers are already seeing delays and price increases, Darby said.
“Our supply chain in North America is a very, very efficient supply chain, but it’s not very resilient,” Darby said in an interview on Monday. “It doesn’t have a lot of slack.”
After the meeting with Champagne, Darby’s group and some 30 other trade associations called for concrete action to tackle supply chain problems, including reversing the trucker inoculation mandate.
The convoy of truckers started off from Vancouver on Sunday on its way to protest the mandate in the capital city of Ottawa, where they expect to arrive this Saturday.
— with files from Reuters, The Canadian Press