Transport Minister says truck drivers refusing to comply with mandate won’t lead to food shortage
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that about 15 per cent of truckers — as many as 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra is assuring Canadians there’s no reason to fear food shortages will result from a small minority of truck drivers refusing to comply with a vaccine mandate in order to cross the Canada-U.S. border.
In an interview, Alghabra said the large grocery store chains and other retailers have assured him they have plenty of goods to provide their customers, despite some labour shortages and supply chain bottlenecks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moreover, he said there’s been no “measurable impact” on the number of trucks crossing the border since the vaccine mandate went into effect on Jan. 15.
Alghabra acknowledged that pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions and the role truckers play in ensuring the smooth flow of goods into the country are serious issues deserving of “rational and meaningful” debate and “even criticism” of government policy.
But he called out critics, including Conservative politicians, for exaggerating and embellishing the problems, spreading fear among Canadians already stressed by almost two years of coping with the global health crisis.
“I don’t want to minimize the fact that we have to remain vigilant and work together to address these issues (of supply chain disruptions),” Alghabra told The Canadian Press, adding he plans to hold a summit on the issue with retailers on Jan. 31.
“But this notion that we’re going to starve is really unfortunate and does disservice to Canadians, to Canadian society and to the debate that we need to be having.”
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that about 15 per cent of truckers — as many as 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It has strongly denounced any protests on public roadways, highways and bridges and has urged all truckers to get inoculated.
Alghabra said the federal government deliberately gave truckers more time to get vaccinated when it imposed an immunization requirement last fall on workers in the air, rail and marine transportation sectors. In consultation with the trucking and retail industries, he said the government waited for a “critical mass” of truckers to get their shots before making it mandatory.
Alghabra said he’s also been monitoring the volume of trucks crossing the border each day since Jan. 15 and has seen no measurable reduction in the number of trucks. Last week, he said almost 100,000 trucks crossed the border — about the same as usual for this time of year, despite a big snowstorm that hit Central Canada and the U.S. and one of those days being an American holiday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17).
On Jan. 26, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business also urged the federal government to reverse its vaccination policy for truckers. The organization represents 95,000 small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada, including about 500 in the trucking sector.
Earlier, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce had urged the government to give truckers more time to get vaccinated while the Canadian Manufacturing Coalition has also called for the vaccine mandate to be scrapped entirely.
But Alghabra said it would accomplish nothing to postpone or scrap the requirement that truckers entering Canada be fully immunized, since the United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.
“It won’t really make a difference. The U.S. has a mandate,” he said.
The best way to end supply chain disruptions is to end the pandemic and the best way to do that is to get vaccinated, which is what the vaccine mandate is all about, he argued.