Truck driver roles more visible during Covid-19, former GG says

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought plenty of hardship, but former Governor General of Canada Michaelle Jean recognizes one positive change for the trucking industry.

“The pandemic lifted the cloak and revealed the most important work of all – caring for human lives, and delivering the goods that we all depend on. Vital labor that remains underappreciated and mostly underpaid,” she said in a presentation for Trucking HR Canada’s Women with Drive symposium.

“The world is suddenly realizing the vital importance of people who make it go ‘round. Essential workers are now being hailed as heroes … We should keep the invisible visible for a little while longer.”

Prior to the pandemic, online merchants began to push the illusion of free shipping, Jean observed, noting that such messages continue. “You and I know there’s no such thing as free shipping.”

A central theme to her presentation was that the economic crisis has had a predominantly non-white, female face.

Trucking HR Canada CEO Angela Splinter (left) introduces former Governor General Michaelle Jean, during an online presentation for the annual Women with Drive symposium. (Screen capture)

Jean described many of the personal barriers she had to overcome during her life, such as being told during a union meeting that she had only been hired by CBC Radio Canada because she was black and looked good on screen. When she was sworn in as Governor General, she and her daughter were the only two black people at Rideau Hall. The other two worked as housekeepers.

She also recognized the success of Andra Rush, an Indigenous trucking and logistics entrepreneur who built a three-vehicle air freight business into the Rush Group of Companies that was worth $500 million in 2019.

Rush recently sold her transportation-related assets, however, citing the pandemic and a years-long driver shortage.

Labor shortages are a “clear and present danger”, Jean said, noting that just 3% of Canada’s truck drivers are women.

And the former governor general suggested the trucking industry would be well served by more women. She referred to discussions with one industry manager who said women were the best truck drivers and equipment operators because they were more respectful of their equipment. That led to longer equipment life, enhanced productivity, and greater economic benefits.

She encouraged trucking industry representatives to showcase the colors of diversity that do exist, so future candidates could see themselves reflected in the material.

“If you can’t see it,” she said, “you can’t be it.”