OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is moving forward with a vaccination mandate for international truckers despite mounting pressure from critics who say it will exacerbate driver shortages and raise the price of goods imported from the United States.
Canada will require all truckers entering from the United States to present proof of vaccination beginning Saturday as part of its fight against COVID-19.
This could force some 16,000, or 10%, of cross-border drivers off the road, estimates the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA). The government estimates that 5% of drivers will be impacted, according to a government source.
The mandate is the first political step taken since the start of the pandemic that could limit cross-border trucking traffic. Trucks crossed the border freely when the border was closed for 20 months, as they were seen as essential to keep supply chains flowing.
“We do not anticipate significant disruptions or shortages for Canadians,” the source said.
Trudeau has championed a strict vaccination policy for officials and federally regulated workers, and the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to have strengthened his government’s resolve to stick to the policy.
Industry groups and opposition parties say it’s a bad idea, especially at a time when the Bank of Canada is considering its first interest rate hike since October 2018.
Even though the vast majority of Canadian truckers are vaccinated, those who are not “are already starting to quit,” said Stephen Laskowski, CTA president and CEO, adding that the industry is already short of some 18,000 drivers. .
More than two-thirds of the $ 650 billion in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travel by road.
“Everyone has been talking about inflation. And that will continue to fuel that, ”said Steve Bamford, Managing Director of Bamford Produce, an importer and exporter of fresh fruits and vegetables based in Ontario.
The cost of trucking fruits and vegetables from California and Arizona doubled during the pandemic due to the existing driver shortage, Bamford said. Fresh food is susceptible to freight issues because it expires quickly.
Supply chain disruptions pushed Canada’s headline inflation rate to an 18-year high in November, and the Bank of Canada has indicated it could raise it as early as April.
“We’re going to see the prices skyrocket for groceries, for everything, if we see tens of thousands of unemployed truckers,” Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole said Thursday, adding that there might be “reasonable accommodations” such as regular testing.
Interprovincial Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc attacked O’Toole on Friday for a “lack of leadership” on COVID-19 that “would only force more lockdowns and put Canadians at risk.”
‘KEEP ON TRUCKING’
Canada’s Department of Health made no comment when asked if accommodations could be made for unvaccinated drivers.
The Canada border agency, in response to a request from Reuters, said unvaccinated truck drivers who are not Canadians will be turned away at the border from January 15, which could lead to delays in crossing. Canadian drivers will be allowed to re-enter the country, but will need to be quarantined for 14 days.
Vaccinated drivers will be allowed to enter and skip a molecular coronavirus test before arrival, the agency said.
The Biden administration wants truck drivers in companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly, a policy that has been challenged in the United States Supreme Court.
In November, the price of food purchased in Canadian stores rose 4.7% from the previous year, the largest increase in seven years, and the prices of fresh vegetables rose even more due to the costs of higher shipping.
“You are going to see some impact on inflation and on the availability of goods for sale,” said Jimmy Jean, chief economist at Desjardins Group, adding that the mandate could trigger price hikes that prompt the central bank to increase. rates faster than expected. .
Joseph Sbrocchi, executive director of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, said “now is not the time to create this zero-sum game for Canadians”, especially during the winter months. where so much fresh food is imported.
Derek Holt, vice president of capital markets economics at Scotiabank, disagrees.
“Continue to truck with immunization warrants,” he said, warning that there would be a “higher price for the economy and for the health system if you don’t vaccinate more people now” .