Don Slater has no plans to get a Covid-19 vaccine, and as of Jan. 15 that means the lifelong truck driver will face new restrictions when crossing the border into Canada.
Under the approaching federal vaccine mandate, Canadian truck drivers who are not fully vaccinated will have to quarantine for 14 days when returning to the country, a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) spokesperson confirmed in a written response to questions from trucknews.com. These drivers will also be screened for Covid-19 on Day 1 and 8 of the quarantines.
It will be the first time since the onset of the pandemic that truck drivers have faced such requirements in their roles as essential workers. But truck drivers will continue to be exempted from pre-arrival testing requirements.
American truck drivers who are not fully vaccinated will be returned to the U.S., the spokesperson added. The U.S., meanwhile, is widely expected to begin enforcing its version of the vaccine mandate for border-crossing truck drivers on Jan. 22.
“I’m just going to retire and sell my truck,” Slater said while on a layover in Texas, referring to concerns about the vaccine raised on conservative talk radio shows and Fox News. “It’ll be one less truck on the road.”
It’s precisely the situation that worries trucking associations and business groups, which have expressed concerns about a potential impact of an intense driver shortage on the supply chain. The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that as many as 12,000 to 16,000 cross-border truck drivers could be lost because of the vaccination status, based on current vaccination rates that vary by region.
About 120,000 Canadian truck drivers drive cross-border routes, while 40,000 U.S.-licensed truck drivers do the same, the CTA says.
Supply chain concerns
“Canadian businesses continue to support vaccinations as a critical tool in the fight against Covid. However, given current vaccination rates amongst truckers, the January 15th Canadian deadline for truckers to be vaccinated to cross the border poses serious risks for the resilience of our supply chain,” the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said in a statement signed by 34 business groups. “It will also seriously aggravate the existing truck driver shortage and lead to price increases that will hurt the Canadian economy and consumers.”
Reuters, citing an unnamed government source, reported this weekend that the government estimates 5% of truck drivers will be affected.
“The Canadian trucking industry is preparing or bracing for these mandates one way or another,” CTA president Stephen Laskowski said in a press release last week. Canada’s largest trucking association will be meeting with federal officials this week to discuss the mandate, he added in an email response to trucknews.com.
The alliance has argued that factors such as existing vaccination rates and the isolated nature of a driver’s job have helped to keep vaccination rates low within the industry. Plans for the U.S. version of the mandate – announced before the Canadian rules – have faced opposition from groups including 14 U.S. senators.
The fear right now is that truckers who work for federally regulated companies will leave for domestic work, says Jean-Claude Fortin, chairman of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and founder of the JE Fortin fleet in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. But that would only be a temporary change, as “it would only be a matter of time before the provinces also adopt mandatory vaccination regulations for truckers,” he told Transport Routier.
All 75 truck drivers who work for his fleet are double-vaccinated. “Without any pressure from us,” he added.
But Real Gagnon, CEO of Groupe Trans-West, estimates 6-8% of his drivers have found work elsewhere because of the vaccine mandate, and more may follow.
That workforce is not easily replaced, he said. “The competition isn’t just from transportation. Everyone is looking for labor. Someone who is not very resourceful is going to find work close to home. We’re facing quite a challenge as we head into 2022.”
Although a few of the departing truckers have already contacted his human resources department to rejoin the fleet, indicating that they’re willing be vaccinated after all. Any overall drop in cross-border truck drivers will also squeeze capacity and push rates higher, he said. “That will be good not only for us, but for the industry as a whole.”
Marc-Andre Hubert, general manager of CH Express, isn’t a fan of the mandate. “It’s another restriction that’s been added,” he said, noting one of 14 drivers who travel to the U.S. will need to be reassigned to domestic work. The fleet’s brokerage arm will also face new struggles to find qualified drivers.
“A number of them are going to be reassigned to regional transport. That’s going to unbalance a market that’s already short on drivers.”
Even vaccinated truck drivers may face some challenges next weekend.
“As the new measures are rolled out on Jan. 15th, truck drivers may experience delays at port of entry due to the modified public health measures,” the CBSA spokesperson said. “The CBSA will monitor volumes and wait times and be prepared to allocate resources and adjust staffing levels to minimize processing times and potential delays at our ports of entry.
“The CBSA will not compromise the health and safety of Canadians for the sake of border wait times.”
Truck drivers, like other border-crossing travelers, are expected to submit vaccine status into the ArriveCAN app or web portal up to 72 hours before arriving in Canada. This will generate a receipt that drivers may be required to show along with proof of vaccination.
Travelers should print or take a screenshot of the ArriveCAN receipt and carry it with them when they travel, the CBSA spokesperson said. Reusable receipts can also be created.
Late last year, the federal government also announced plans to apply a vaccine mandate to all federally regulated truck drivers, extending the rules to those that cross provincial borders. The trucking industry has to date been exempted from vaccine mandates that apply to other federally regulated transportation workers.
No details have been released about how that mandate would be enforced.
“They’re shoving this down our throats,” Slater said, adding that he has no interest in opting for domestic routes closer to his Ontario home after 46 years in the industry. “I worked for a long time to get these runs like this. To go back and screw around that Toronto traffic and go down to Montreal?”
He’d rather turn in the keys for good.