Canada’s labour department complained about a “significant” labour shortage in the trucking industry days before the truckers’ Freedom Convoy protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandate broke out earlier this year.
A department briefing note, titled “Safety And Training In The Trucking Sector,” said “key sectors in the economy including the trucking sector continue to face significant workforce challenges,” according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
Trucking companies were “struggling to find workers,” the briefing note reads.
The note, dated Jan. 13, came days before a massive convoy of trucks and vehicles arrived in Ottawa’s downtown core on Jan. 28 to begin a three-weeks-long demonstration against the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions.
“The vacancy rate for this sector (eight percent) remained above national levels (five percent) indicating that trucking sector employers are in need of more skilled workers but are having a difficult time filling vacancies,” the note reads, adding that employers need “creative solutions” to resolve the labour shortage.
The briefing note made no mention of COVID-19 vaccination orders.
The Freedom Convoy protest ended after the Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 to give the police additional powers to clear the demonstrators at the national capital and several Canada-U.S. border crossings. Police engaged in escalated operations over the next few days, leading to the end of the protests.
A week after the protests ended, a cabinet proposal for truckers to show proof of vaccination when crossing interprovincial borders was dropped.
The Department of Transport first proposed a vaccine mandate for federally regulated private sector workers like cross-border truckers on Aug. 13, 2021. Then on Dec. 7, 2021, the labour department issued a Canada Labour Code notice stating that vaccine mandates “would come into force in early 2022.”
“Making vaccination mandatory across all federally regulated workplaces will protect workers,” Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said in a statement at the time. He dropped the proposal after the Freedom Convoy protest ended.
On March 2, O’Regan told reporters that “vaccine mandates are something we continue to listen to stakeholders very keenly with but things change. Public health changes, science changes. Lots of things are changing. It’s very much in flux.”
In response to a reporter who asked whether the vaccination mandate for interprovincial truckers are still going ahead, O’Regan replied, “Interprovincial? No, no.”
Rick Bergmann, chair of the industry group Canadian Pork Council, testified on Feb. 14 at the House of Commons agriculture committee, saying that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on interprovincial trucking “would be very devastating to our country.”
“The reality is we’re experiencing a significant shortage of trucks and trailers to haul hogs across Canada, and the situation is worse than publicly stated,” Bergmann said.
“We’ve talked with different drivers, different driving businesses, transport companies, and so on, and they are pulling their hair out. If this in fact happens, the problem has gotten much worse.”