Vaccine mandate ‘not an issue at all,’ CEO of Canada’s largest trucking company says
The vast majority of TFI's Canadian drivers are inoculated against COVID-19, Bedard said, adding that an eventual end to the exemption for cross-border truckers had been predictable.
Canada’s largest trucking company is virtually untouched by the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, says TFI International Inc. chairman and CEO Alain Bedard.
“Vaccination at TFI is not an issue at all,” he told analysts on a conference call on Feb. 8.
“We have a few drivers that still say no, but what we do with them is we just keep them in Canada” — a strategy adopted by several large transport outfits but less available to smaller ones.
The vast majority of TFI’s Canadian drivers are inoculated against COVID-19, Bedard said, adding that an eventual end to the exemption for cross-border truckers had been predictable. It was announced by the federal government on Nov. 19 and took effect Jan. 15.
He said last month looked like “the best January ever for the company,” coming after a fourth quarter that saw profits jump by more than two-thirds and revenue leap by 91 per cent.
“The biggest issue for us really in January is sick people in the U.S. with COVID” — particularly at TForce Freight, the massive transporter of smaller packages and cargo previously known as UPS Freight that TFI bought from United Parcel Service for US$800 million last year — Bedard said.
Last month, the federal government required non-essential Canadian workers including truck drivers to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14-day quarantine upon re-entry from the United States — a rule the Canadian Trucking Alliance asked to be delayed but has now accepted. The United States imposed the same rule on American drivers a week later on Jan. 22, with Canadians who are not fully vaccinated barred from entry to the U.S. and vice versa.
The past 11 days have seen truckers bear down on Ottawa for a protest against the mandate and other pandemic restrictions, snowballing into an entrenched demonstration downtown encompassing a grab bag of grievances that has jammed streets and sparked confrontations and 60 criminal investigations. Starting Sunday, police have tried to get a firmer grip on the scene below Parliament Hill, seizing thousands of litres of diesel fuel and hauling away an oil tanker and a plywood shack.
The number of truckers crossing into Canada fell by 11,358 or 10.5 per cent to 97,321 the week of Jan. 17-23 compared with the week before, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. The next week marked a 2.2 per cent decrease of 2,409 truck drivers to 106,274 from the week of Jan. 10-16.
The decline, which averages out to 6.3 per cent in the two weeks after the trucker vaccine deadline, marks a steeper drop than in preceding years. But 2019 saw cross-border big-rig figures fall 5.4 per cent in the two weeks after mid-January compared with the preceding week, and 2021 also saw a slight drop in the final two weeks of the month.
“Data proves that (the) vaccine mandate has had no measurable impact on the number of truckers crossing our border. Thanks to Canadian truckers who are working around the clock, safely, to ensure that Canadians receive their essential goods,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a Twitter post last week.
The trucking sector continues to face hurdles including a dire labour shortage, but surging demand for consumer items, raw materials and manufacturing components has fuelled growth across the industry.
TFI’s stock rose $9.86 or 8.1 per cent on Feb. 8, closing at $132.16 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Its profits shot up to US$144.1 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31 from US$86.3 million a year earlier.
TFI, which reports in U.S. dollars, said revenue increased to US$2.14 billion in its fourth quarter from $1.12 billion during the same period in 2020. TForce Freight, whose purchase closed in April, accounted for about 81 per cent of the boost in revenue before fuel charges.
On an adjusted basis, the Montreal-based company said diluted earnings per share increased 60 per cent to $1.57 from 98 cents.
The figure registered more than one-third above analyst expectations of $1.17 per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.