MONTREAL — The federal government says the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing into Canada from the United States will come into effect this Saturday as planned, despite a previous statement from the Canada Border Services Agency that said Canadian truck drivers would be exempt.
The move concerns some in the auto industry.
“I think the real issue for the entire auto industry and other industries will be the ramifications of the enforcement at the border and the chaos that could ensue if truckers are turned away at the border both from a traffic logistics perspective and a time sensitive cargo perspective,” Global Automakers of Canada President David Adams told Automotive News Canada.
He and his organization represent the Canadian interests of automakers that aren’t headquartered in North America.
“The auto industry broadly is not at full production capacity, however when capacity does ramp up — not only in our industry and others — these challenges will all be magnified and will be compounded by the fact that the [Canadian Trucking Alliance] has suggested that the mandate will take 10-15 per cent of the workforce out of the system that is already over 20,000 drivers short.”
In a release Thursday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos along with the transport and public safety ministers said the CBSA statement from Wednesday evening was "provided in error," and that Canadian truckers must be vaccinated if they want to avoid quarantine and a pre-arrival molecular test, starting this weekend.
"This has not changed," the cabinet ministers said. "Our teams have been in touch with industry representatives to ensure they have the correct information."
Unvaccinated American big-riggers will be turned back at the border beginning Jan. 15, the ministers said, with the U.S. preparing to impose similar restrictions on Canadian truckers on Jan. 22.
Government representatives offered no explanation for the incorrect information emailed to media more than 20 hours earlier.
Brian Kingston is the president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, which lobbies for the Detroit Three in Canada. He declined to comment other than to say “we are still trying to understand the reversal.”
Flavio Volpe of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association said the mandate would cause bigger headaches if the auto industry was running at full capacity, which it isn’t, due to the ongoing global shortage of semiconductors.
“We have so many problems, this one gets blunted,” he said. “What will happen here is, if we’re down 20 per cent of truckers, industries like ours will have to up-bid our access to available truckers.
“We’re going to be forced to outbid, say, the pork producers. And that’s not good for anybody. We’re going to have increased costs we can’t pass on to our automaker customers.”
Up to 26,000 of the 160,000 drivers who make regular cross-border trips will be sidelined as a result of the mandate, adding further bottlenecks and potential price hikes to the flow of goods ranging from produce to auto parts and medical devices, say the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the American Trucking Associations.
The federal Conservatives as well as trade groups representing oil, manufacturing and export companies called on Ottawa this week to postpone the impending deadline, which was announced on Nov. 19.
"Today's reversal by the Trudeau government will only make Canada's cost of living crisis worse by driving the price of basic essentials like groceries up," Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman said in a statement.
"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 policy decisions."
Bison Transport CEO Rob Penner says the new rule will hamstring long-haulers, who carry the bulk of the roughly $24 billion in food products imported to Canada annually from the U.S., according to the United States Trade Representative.
"I don't know if it's grocery shelves empty, or just significantly more expensive meals," said Penner, whose Winnipeg-based fleet of 1,000 tractor-trailers carries retail goods and food and beverages into Canada.
Some 30,000 trucks roll across the border each day hauling nearly $850 million in freight, according to 2020 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Teamsters Canada, which represents 15,000 truckers in Canada, says the logistics chain is already missing tens of thousands of drivers due to poor working conditions.
"Blaming professional drivers is not the answer," spokesman Stephane Lacroix said in an email, referring to possible cost increases or stock shortages.
"It is the labour shortage that is primarily responsible, not the pandemic and its impact."
Government officials met virtually with union and corporate representatives on Wednesday, where the latter were told that the trucking industry's exemption from the vaccine mandate would end Saturday as planned, according to Canadian Trucking Alliance president Stephen Laskowski.
Canadian truckers who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated will need to undergo a 14-day quarantine. They will also need to meet requirements for "pre-entry, arrival and Day 8 testing," the ministers said Thursday.
The ArriveCan app or web portal remains the only way to submit vaccination information, including for American truckers starting Saturday, the border services agency said in an email Tuesday.
Further proof of vaccination may be required at the border, CBSA spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy wrote.
The Canadian Press and Greg Layson of Automotive News Canada contributed to this report.