The federal government risks hitting Canada’s fragile supply chains with another shockwave if it proceeds with a planned vaccination mandate for truckers, say the Conservatives and industry groups.
Ottawa will begin requiring proof of vaccination for all truckers starting January 15.
Some warn that the mandate will sideline thousands of workers in an industry already suffering from driver shortages.
“There are serious consequences to the supply chain if this policy remains in place,” said MP Melissa Lantsman, the Conservatives’ transport critic.
“I don’t quite understand how [the Liberals] haven’t given Canadians and the industry the assurances they need that this doesn’t get worse.”
Lantsman sent a letter to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra this week asking his government to do more to support the trucking industry if the mandate is introduced as planned.
Global supply chains have been under immense strain throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in widespread shipping delays and shortages of certain products.
Those worried about the government’s plan to require vaccines for truckers say the loss of more drivers could threaten the movement of essential supplies, like food and construction materials, and make it hard for small businesses to deliver their products to customers.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters have all asked the federal government to either eliminate or postpone the mandate.
The Liberal government has not indicated it intends to alter or delay the mandate.
Industry could lose tens of thousands of drivers
The CTA estimates that about 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian truckers— between 12,000 and 22,000 workers — will be forced off the job when the mandate is enforced.
That loss would worsen the plight of what the group describes as a struggling industry. Canada already faced a shortage of 20,000 drivers in the spring of 2021.
Stephen Laskowski, president of the CTA, said further losses would disproportionately harm smaller companies that don’t have the money or ability to secure trucking services in a market with fewer drivers available.
“Certain sectors of the economy may have little disruption,” he told CBC News. “Others that cannot be as competitive … will see more of the effects.”
The CTA estimates that about 70 per cent of the $650 billion U.S.-Canada trade moves by truck.
Truckers who are not vaccinated will not be permitted to cross the border into Canada starting January 15.
Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said the disruption caused by the mandate eventually will be obvious across the country.
“We’ll be seeing shortages of goods in stores,” said Beatty.
‘No excuse’ for not being vaccinated
Laskowski said vaccination rates within the trucking industry largely mirror those in the larger Canadian population.
According to CBC News data, 80.6 per cent of eligible Canadians have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 86.9 per cent have received at least one dose.
Laskowski said vaccination rates vary widely between trucking companies, with some reporting rates close to 100 per cent and others reporting rates below 50 per cent.
In her letter to the government, Lantsman said that truckers who work alone in their vehicles represent a low risk for COVID-19 transmission. Some health experts say, however, that truckers travelling long distances across the continent could end up unwittingly transporting the novel coronavirus.
“With the increasing variant coming along, there is no excuse at all now for not being vaccinated,” said Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Occupational and Public Health.
In an email to CBC News, Alghabra’s office did not answer a question about the mandate and whether it could be altered.
“Our government is committed to continuing to work collaboratively to find solutions to logistical challenges that have emerged since the onset of the pandemic,” a spokesperson wrote.