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Transport trucks cross paths on the Peace Bridge at the Canada U.S. border, in Buffalo, N.Y., on Jan. 10, 2018.HYUNGWON KANG/Reuters

TFI International Inc. TFII-T is virtually untouched by the recent vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, said the head of the Canada’s largest trucking conglomerate.

“Vaccination at TFI is not an issue at all,” chairman and CEO Alain Bedard said Tuesday.

“We have a few drivers that still say no, but what we do with them is we just keep them in Canada.”

The vast majority of TFI’s Canadian drivers are inoculated against COVID-19, he said, adding that an eventual end to the exemption for cross-border truckers had been predictable.

He said last month looked like “the best January ever for the company” following 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 freight business previously known as UPS Freight that TFI bought from United Parcel Service for US$800-million last year – Bedard said.

On Jan. 15, 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 past 10 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 in the capital.

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.

The next week marked a 2.2 per cent decrease of 2,409 truck drivers to 106,270 from the week of Jan. 10-16.

The decline, which averages out to 6.3 per cent in the two weeks following 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.

Amid heightened demand for goods and materials during the COVID-19 pandemic, TFI reported that 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 the 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.

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.

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