Entry into force of the vaccination mandate for cross-border truckers; Ottawa calls reversal a ‘mistake’

A truck crosses the Bluewater Bridge border crossing between Sarnia, Ont., and Port Huron, Michigan on August 16, 2020.Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press

A day after the Canada Border Services Agency said a new vaccination mandate for truckers from the United States would not go into effect this week, the federal government said the reversal was a error.

The CBSA’s comment to The Canadian Press, which has caused much confusion within the trucking industry, “was provided in error,” according to a joint statement released late Thursday afternoon by three ministers. of the federal cabinet.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino did not provide an explanation of how the mistake was made.

On Wednesday evening, the CBSA spokesperson said Canadian truckers would not have to quarantine if they weren’t vaccinated or only received one dose.

But ministers said from Saturday that Canadian truckers must be vaccinated if they are to avoid quarantine and molecular testing. Large unvaccinated US riggers will be turned away at the border.

The supply chain between the United States and Canada could still face disruption due to vaccination mandates

Ottawa drops vaccination mandate for its truckers after industry pressure

The United States is preparing to impose similar restrictions on Canadian truckers, which are expected to take effect on January 22.

“Our teams have been in contact with industry representatives to ensure they have the correct information,” the ministers’ statement said.

Business groups have spent months voicing concerns over the requirement of vaccinations for lorry drivers, noting it could slow cross-border trade and drive up the cost of goods.

Canadian Trucking Alliance president Stephen Laskowski said in an interview that the alliance was made aware of the CBSA’s comments on Wednesday, which caused confusion because the position was a “fundamental deviation” from what the alliance had been previously informed.

The alliance has warned of a major driver shortage, with a survey it conducted suggesting that 10-15% of the 120,000 Canadian drivers crossing the border could leave the industry when the vaccination mandate is introduced.

Mr Laskowski said the alliance did not object to a vaccine mandate, but he said it was a matter of timing and the need to allow for a smooth transition. There isn’t a sector of the economy that doesn’t depend on trucking for cross-border trade, he added.

“At this point we need more drivers, not fewer,” he said.

The trucking industry has long struggled with labor shortages, and the problem has worsened during the pandemic. Statistics Canada reported that there were 17,210 unfilled truck driver jobs in the third quarter of 2021, the highest since it began collecting data in 2015. The CTA said the number of vacancies is since risen to 22,900.

Conservative transportation critic Melissa Lantsman said Thursday the new rules will increase the cost of living for Canadians, pushing up the price of essential goods, including groceries.

“At a time when inflation is already at an all-time high, it is Canadians who will pay the price for the Trudeau government’s poor policy decisions,” she said Thursday. She also asked Ottawa to consider rapid tests as an alternative.

Dennis Darby, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said driver shortages could compound existing supply chain issues related to COVID-19 and various natural disasters.

“Even if it’s 10 or 15% of drivers, that means there will be some delay in the system. And that means companies either have to slow down production or shut down production lines, like they did during the IC shortage,” Darby said.

Authorities are encouraging truckers to use the government’s ArriveCAN app to store their vaccine passports. Drivers will be allowed to use paper documents at the border, but only “for a limited time”, the CTA said on Wednesday, after meeting with officials.

Unvaccinated Canadian and American drivers with medical exemptions will still be allowed to cross the border.

The United States also requires full vaccination for foreigners entering the country, “whether for essential or non-essential reasons.” The US Department of Homeland Security said in October that the rule would go into effect in January, although it did not specify the date.

The US proposal drew criticism from trade associations and politicians. In December, 14 Republican senators wrote to President Joe Biden opposing the cross-border vaccination mandate.

“Despite the good intentions behind this action, we are concerned that imposing vaccination mandates as a requirement to cross the land border will exacerbate existing challenges facing our freight networks and supply chain, and may yet fuel inflation and rising prices on top of what Americans are already seeing,” the senators wrote.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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