Trucker vaccine mandate on track and going ahead: Trudeau

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pressing ahead with a vaccine for international truck drivers despite mounting pressure from critics who say it will exacerbate driver shortages and raise prices for imported goods from the United States.

Canada will require all truck drivers arriving from the United States to show proof of vaccination starting Saturday as part of its fight against COVID-19.

That could put about 16,000, or 10%, of cross-border drivers off the roads, according to estimates by the Canadian Truck Alliance (CTA). The government estimates that 5% of drivers will be affected, according to a government source.

The mandate is the first policy action taken since the onset of the pandemic that could limit cross-border trucking. Trucks crossed freely when the borders were closed for 20 months because they were considered essential to keep supply chains flowing.

“We don’t expect disruptions or a major shortage of Canadians,” the source said.

Trudeau has advocated a strict vaccination policy for civil servants and federally regulated workers, and the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to have bolstered his government’s resolve to stick with the policy.

Industry groups and opposition parties say it’s a bad idea, especially as the Bank of Canada eye its first rate hike since October 2018.

Although the vast majority of Canadian truck drivers have been vaccinated, those who have not been “really starting to quit,” said Stephen Laskowsky, president and CEO of the CTA, adding that the industry is already short of about 18,000 drivers.

More than two-thirds of the $650 billion in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on the roads.

“Everyone has been talking about inflation. And this will continue to fuel that,” said Steve Bamford, CEO of Bamford Produce, an Ontario-based importer and exporter of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Bamford said the cost of moving a truckload of fruits and vegetables from California and Arizona has doubled during the pandemic due to the current shortage of drivers. Fresh foods are sensitive to shipping issues because they expire quickly.

Supply chain turmoil sent Canada’s core inflation rate to an 18-year high in November, and the Bank of Canada indicated it could raise the inflation rate as soon as April.

“We will see a sharp rise in grocery prices, for everything, if we see tens of thousands of unemployed truck drivers,” Tory leader Erin O’Toole said on Thursday, adding that there could be “reasonable accommodations” such as regular testing.

Inter-Provincial Affairs Minister Dominique LeBlanc attacked O’Toole on Friday for a “lack of leadership” over COVID-19 that “would force more lockdowns and put Canadians at greater risk.”

‘Continue to do its job’

Health Canada did not comment when asked if any amenities could be provided to unvaccinated drivers.

The Canada Border Agency, in response to a Reuters query, said unvaccinated truck drivers who are not Canadians will be turned back at the border beginning January 15, which could cause the crossing to be delayed. Canadian drivers will be allowed to return to the country, but will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The agency said vaccinated drivers will be allowed in and allowed to skip a molecular coronavirus test prior to arrival.

The Biden administration wants truck drivers at companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, a policy that has been challenged in the US Supreme Court.

In November, the price of food purchased in Canadian stores rose 4.7% from the previous year, the largest jump in seven years, and prices for fresh vegetables rose even more due to higher shipping costs.

“You will see some impact on inflation and on the availability of goods for sale,” said Jamie Jane, chief economist at Desjardins, adding that the mandate could lead to higher rates that prompt the central bank to raise interest rates faster than expected. .

“This is not the time to create a zero-sum game for Canadians,” said Joseph Sprucci, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, especially in the winter months when so much fresh food is imported.

Derek Holt, vice president of capital markets economics at Scotiabank, disagrees.

“Keep on moving with vaccine mandates,” he said, warning that “there is a greater price to pay to the economy and to the health system if more people are not vaccinated now.”

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