EASTERN ONTARIO — If the impact of the Trudeau government’s newly imposed vaccine mandate on border-crossing truckers isn’t controversial enough, imagine barring unvaxxed haulers from all federally regulated workplaces in Canada. This includes the feed mills, grain elevators and shipping ports that are not only federally regulated but key to the agricultural economy.
There is some worry in agribusiness circles that such restriction is coming soon, further tightening the supply of truckers able pick up or deliver everything from corn to fertilizer within Canada.
That’s in light of the December 2021 announcement by the federal Labour minister promising a vaccine mandate for federally regulated workplaces. Seamus O’Regan Jr. pledged the government would impose such a rule in “early 2022.”
When asked specifically if a vaccination requirement is in the works for truckers entering Canada’s federally regulated ports and grain elevators, the minister’s director of communications didn’t deny it.
“The government is working expeditiously to bring forward regulations that would require vaccination for the federally regulated private sector. Those have not been tabled yet. More details, including timelines, will be provided at that time,” Michelle Johnston said in an emailed reply to Farmers Forum on Jan. 25.
Michael Aubé at Rutters Elevators in Chesterville expressed concern at the prospect of a federally regulated workplace mandate being imposed at the Seaway ports where much of his stored grain is ultimately trucked for export.
“Some of our end users have started looking into using the vaccine passport,” said Aube, whose firm operates a fleet of 13 trucks that haul crops into such facilities as the ports in Montreal and Johnstown as well as the Ingredion corn-processing and Greenfield ethanol plants.
“The worst is yet to come, if you asked me,” said Aube of the related supply-chain challenges. “Everything moves by truck, you know?”
“Let’s say maybe the port of Montreal begins implementing a vaccine passport, and that’s really a subject we’re going to have to address here, and it’s one I’m not prepared for,” he admitted, also acknowledging he doesn’t know if any of his drivers are unvaccinated. “It’s none of my business until it becomes my concern.”
Though he wasn’t notified of any deadline date, a vaccine policy at the ports would “create chaos,” Aube predicted. “To get things exported in time to keep cash flow rolling and everything else. If the vessel is there to be filled, we have to get our product in there during those condensed hours even without the hiccups of everything else (such as a vaccine mandate),”
Aube also noted the potential “devastating” impact on crucial fertilizer shipments that are trucked out of the ports and into Eastern Ontario farm country. It would be bad enough if, say, 30% of drivers suddenly had to stay out of the ports, he observed, also wondering out loud what would happen if other truckers bowed out in support of their unvaccinated brethren.
At the Port of Johnstown, operations manager Kevin Saunders said a federal vaccine mandate appeared to be on the way for truckers accessing that facility though “nothing’s been made official yet.”
“The feds are leaning toward having a vaccine mandate in place for any federally regulated business. That would include the Port, that would include feed mills. I don’t think it’s been made official, but that is the direction they’re going.”
“It’s like any other political thing, sometimes intent and action are sometimes two different things,” Saunders also cautioned.
He admitted the Port “hasn’t really thought that far ahead” as to the impact of requiring incoming truckers to be vaccinated. “We’ll wait and see if it comes into place,” Saunders said, adding the Port is working to ensure all of its own employees are vaccinated in the meantime. “I think we’ve only got four gentlemen waiting for their second shots.”
Compelling truckers to vaccinate is a red hot topic after the Trudeau government kiboshed the quarantine exemption for unvaccinated truckers returning to Canada from the U.S., cutting an already scarce pool of labour moving critical supplies across the border. That Jan. 15 policy change preceded recent reports of dwindling inventory on grocery store shelves and further increases in shipping costs. The move also sparked a major convoy of thousands of protesting truckers on their way to Parliament Hill in the final weekend of January.
The prime minister has dismissed trucker concern over the mandate by pointing out that 90% of them are vaccinated anyway. But critics point out that there’s already too few truckers to be forcing any of them out of their jobs.