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A truck crosses the Bluewater Bridge border crossing between Sarnia, Ont., and Port Huron, Mich., on Aug. 16, 2020.Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press

A day after the Canadian Border Services Agency said an incoming vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing from the United States would not be going into effect this week, the federal government said the reversal was all a mistake.

The CBSA’s comment to The Canadian Press, which created much confusion within the trucking industry, “was provided in error,” said a joint statement released late Thursday afternoon by three federal cabinet ministers.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino did not provide an explanation on how the mistake was made.

On Wednesday evening, the CBSA spokesperson said Canadian truck drivers would not have to quarantine if they are unvaccinated or had received only one dose.

But the ministers said beginning Saturday, Canadian truckers must be vaccinated if they want to avoid quarantine and molecular tests. Unvaccinated American big-riggers will be turned back at the border.

U.S.-Canada supply chain still may face disruptions due to vaccine mandates

Ottawa drops vaccine mandate for its truckers after pressure from industry

The United States is preparing to impose similar restrictions on Canadian truckers, expected to take effect on Jan. 22.

“Our teams have been in touch with industry representatives to ensure they have the correct information,” the ministers’ statement said.

Business groups have spent months vocalizing concerns about the vaccine requirement for truck drivers, noting it could slow down cross-border trade and drive up the cost of goods.

Canadian Trucking Alliance president Stephen Laskowski said in an interview that the alliance was made aware Wednesday of the CBSA’s comments, which created confusion because the position was a “fundamental deviation” from what the alliance had been told previously.

The alliance has warned of a significant driver shortage, with a survey it conducted suggesting that 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the 120,000 Canadian drivers crossing the border could leave the industry when the vaccine mandate is introduced.

Mr. Laskowski said the alliance has not been opposed to a vaccine mandate, but he said it was a question of timing and the need to allow for a smooth transition. There is not a sector of the economy that does not rely on trucking for cross-border trade, he added.

“At this point in time, we need more drivers, not less,” he said.

The trucking industry has long struggled with labour shortages, and the problem has worsened during the pandemic. Statistics Canada reported there were 17,210 unfilled trucking jobs in the third quarter of 2021, the highest since it started collecting data in 2015. The CTA said the number of vacancies has since risen to 22,900.

Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman said Thursday that the new rules will raise the cost of living for Canadians, pushing up the price of essential goods, including groceries.

“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,” she said Thursday. She also asked Ottawa to consider rapid testing as an alternative.

Dennis Darby, president and chief executive officer of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said driver shortages could compound existing supply chain problems related to COVID-19 and various natural disasters.

“Even if it’s 10 or 15 per cent of drivers, that means there’s going to be some delay in the system. And what that means is companies having to either slow down production or shut down production lines, like they did during the shortage of integrated circuits,” Mr. Darby said.

Officials are encouraging truck drivers to use the government’s ArriveCAN app to store their vaccine passports. Drivers will be allowed to use paper documentation at the border, but only “for a limited amount of time,” the CTA said Wednesday, after meeting with officials.

Unvaccinated Canadian and U.S. drivers with medical exemptions will still be allowed to cross the border.

The United States is also requiring full vaccination for foreigners entering the country, “whether for essential or non-essential reasons.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in October that the rule would come into force in January, although it did not specify the date.

The U.S. proposal has drawn criticism from business associations and politicians. In December, 14 Republican senators wrote to President Joe Biden objecting to the cross-border vaccine mandate.

“Despite the good intentions underpinning this action, we fear that the imposition of vaccination mandates as a requirement to cross the land border will exacerbate the existing challenges facing our freight networks and supply chain, and could further fuel inflation and rising prices on top of what Americans are already seeing,” the senators wrote.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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