Vaccine mandate for cross-border hauliers enters into force; Ottawa calls chargeback ‘error’

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 Canadian Border Services Agency said an inbound vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing from the U.S. would not take effect this week, the federal government said the rollback was a mistake.

The CBSA’s comment to The Canadian Press, which caused a great deal of confusion in the trucking industry, “was given by mistake,” a joint statement issued late Thursday afternoon by three federal ministers said.

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

On Wednesday night, the CBSA spokesman said Canadian truck drivers should not be quarantined if they are unvaccinated or had only received one dose.

But ministers said from Saturday that Canadian truck drivers must be vaccinated if they want to avoid quarantine and molecular tests. Unvaccinated American big rigs will be returned at the border.

The US-Canada supply chain may still be subject to disruption due to vaccine mandates

Ottawa is dropping the vaccine mandate to its hauliers after pressure from industry

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

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

Business groups have spent months expressing concerns about the vaccine requirement for truck drivers, noting that it could slow down cross-border trade and increase commodity costs.

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

The alliance has warned of a significant driver shortage, and a survey it has conducted suggests that 10 percent to 15 percent of the 120,000 Canadian drivers who cross the border may leave the industry when the vaccine mandate is introduced.

Mr. Laskowski said the alliance has not been against a vaccine mandate, but he said it was a matter of timing and the need to allow a smooth transition. There is not a sector of the economy that is not dependent on trucking for cross-border trade, he added.

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

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

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

“At a time when inflation is already at a record high, Canadians will be the ones paying the price for the Trudeau government’s poor political decisions,” she said Thursday. She also asked Ottawa to consider rapid testing as an alternative.

Dennis Darby, president and chief executive of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said the shortage of drivers could exacerbate existing supply chain problems related to COVID-19 and various natural disasters.

“Even if it’s 10 or 15 percent of drivers, that means there will be some delay in the system. And that means companies will either have to slow down production or close production lines, as they did in the absence of integrated circuits,” he said. Mr. Darby.

Officials are urging truck drivers to use the government’s ArriveCAN app to store their vaccine passports. Drivers will be allowed to use paper documentation at the border, but only “for a limited time,” the CTA said Wednesday after meeting with officials.

Unvaccinated Canadian and U.S. 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 significant or non-significant reasons.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in October that the rule would take effect in January, though it did not specify the date.

The US proposal has drawn criticism from business associations and politicians. In December, 14 Republican senators wrote to President Joe Biden protesting against the cross-border vaccine mandate.

“Despite the good intentions underlying this action, we fear that the introduction of vaccination mandates as a requirement to cross the border will exacerbate the existing challenges facing our freight network and supply chain, and may further boost 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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