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Fear of Food Shortages Grip Canada as Vaccine Mandates Deepen Crisis

Published: January 21, 2022
In an aerial view, truck trailers sit idle at a rail yard on Nov. 20, 2021 in Surrey, British Columbia. The Canadian province of British Columbia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday following record rainfall earlier this week that has resulted in widespread flooding of farms, landslides and road washouts that have halted railway access to the Port of Vancouver, Canada’s largest maritime hub. The rains have also cut off major transport routes between British Columbia's lower mainland and the province’s interior. Shortages of consumer goods and possible gasoline shortages could impact the region. (Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Canadians are waking up to a deepening crisis as consumers across Canada report near empty shelves in grocery stores driven by extreme weather events, and a recently implemented vaccine mandate for cross border truckers.

On Jan. 15, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, after flip flopping on the policy, forged ahead and implemented restrictions on unvaccinated truck drivers attempting to enter the country.

The mandate requires Canadian truckers to quarantine if unvaccinated when crossing the border into Canada. Unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated non-Canadian truckers are being turned away from the Canadian border if they are unable to show proof of vaccination or a valid medical exemption.

The mandate was implemented as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19 however, it’s having disastrous effects on the supply chain with experts doubtful the measure will have any noticeable effect on vaccine uptake.

Retail expert, Bruce Winder, told CTV News, “I think you probably won’t see that movement … that the government’s looking for,” when asked if the measures would encourage truckers to get vaccinated. 

The American Trucker Association is arguing that the mandate is fueling a surge in driver turnover and attrition, estimating that fleets are losing as much as 37 percent of their current workforce. 

“I know what the government’s trying to do with managing the hospital capacity, but they could find themselves with a very tough situation if Canadians rise up with inflation and food insecurity, or major manufacturers slow down, lay off people,” Winder told CTV News, adding that the mandate is throwing a “major wrench” into the Canadian and North American supply chain. 

Winder continued, “I really hope that we’re not at the stage where you see food insecurity, where you’re actually going to grocery stores and there’s nothing on the shelf.” 

The Canadian Trucking Alliance says that there are 120,000 Canadians and 40,000 licensed drivers in the U.S. who operate cross border who move an estimated 70 percent of all trade between the two countries.  

Empty shelves

Hardest hit appears to be the Canadian province of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. Reports of empty shelves are coming in from across the province including in the country’s capital, Ottawa. 

The Ottawa Citizen, a local Post Media print and online media outlet, is warning consumers to expect more empty shelves citing the vaccine mandate, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, snowstorms and food recalls as four factors affecting the supply chain. 

“Staffing shortages resulting from a surge in Omicron cases and the recent winter storm that hit Southern Ontario earlier this week have compounded concerns over the availability of food supplies,” the news outlet reported.

According to Sylvain Charlebois, director of Agrifood Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, food will be a challenge to obtain this winter.

“I am concerned about our nation’s food security. Consumers should adjust expectations when they walk into a grocery store. They should expect more empty shelves [and] delays,” she told the Ottawa Citizen. 

Speaking to the Trudeau government’s vaccine mandate Charlebois explained that the mandate has effectively removed “eight thousand to 16,000 truckers from the system,” resulting in supply chain bottlenecks, preventing goods from arriving on store shelves. 

Extreme weather

Exacerbating the situation are a series of extreme weather events that have hit multiple Canadian provinces over the recent weeks and months. 

In November last year, multiple atmospheric weather events in the Province of British Columbia caused heavy flooding, severely damaging key transportation routes in and out of the province that is home to Canada’s busiest maritime shipping port. The extreme weather has become a logistics nightmare with officials saying that it could take months to restore regular movement of goods through the province.

In Ontario, a recent major snow storm which dumped 36 centimetres (14.1 inches) of snow on the greater Toronto area prompted Toronto Mayor, John Tory, to declare a “major snowstorm condition.” 

The storm trapped numerous truck drivers on Ontario’s major highways for as long as eight hours delaying truckers from delivering their goods.