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Temur Durrani

Multi-Platform Writer


Politicization of vaccine mandates at the Canada-U.S. border will likely only cause further injury to consumers and retailers instead of resolving key issues related to fragile supply chains, say experts.

“Right now, we have a completely toxic situation happening from both the Liberals and Conservatives,” said David Clement, North American affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center, in an interview on Tuesday.

“You have one side with the Conservatives making people panic with fake photos of empty shelves, and another side with the Liberals acting like there is nothing wrong and there is no reason to be concerned whatsoever. Both of those approaches are callous and unreasonable for the people they claim to be helping.”

As of Jan. 22, the U.S. mirrored Canadian rules, allowing only vaccinated individuals to enter either country without being subject to quarantine or testing requirements. 

Convoys of people against those mandates have been demonstrating at border crossings for the last few days; and at least one group plans to make a cross-country trip to protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

On Tuesday, the federal government doubled down on its reasons for the vaccine mandate in a joint statement issued by the ministers in charge of transport, labour and employment.

The statement, also co-signed by the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said vaccines are “the most effective tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for Canadians, and to protect public health.” The trucking alliance had previously estimated roughly 10 per cent of Canadian truckers would be impacted by the vaccine mandate.

“There has to be a middle ground here that looks at how there is potential for these rules to impact low-income Canadians,” Clement said. “Without scaring people into panicking, we need to discuss how consumers are going to bear the brunt of this.”

Data suggests the new rules are starting to impact consumer shopping behaviours, especially since it coincides with prior driver shortages in the trucking industry. Ontario-based tech management firm SOTI Inc. found 56 per cent of Canadian consumers are now less likely to order an item that requires shipping than they were a year ago.

“This is not only going to impact consumers. Eventually, it’ll start impacting retailers in a bigger way because they can’t deliver things on time and it’s all chipping away at their brand image,” said SOTI Vice President Shash Anand in an interview, citing how 57 per cent consumers haven’t been able to buy items they want because of shortages and are now opting for any available alternatives.

“I do want to make clear though that the data is showing us how trucker shortages, because of the vaccine mandates or otherwise, are not the only reason for delays,” Anand said Tuesday. “There are many inefficiencies in the supply chain that could be made better. And I think that’s perhaps what should be looked at with what we have happening now.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, along with other Conservative politicians, posted pictures of empty shelves in grocery stores and supermarkets on Monday, calling for a pause to vaccine mandates. Many of those photos were not actually taken in Canada or in the 2022 calendar year. 

“This is turning into a crisis,” Kenney wrote on Twitter, who has since claimed he’s working with U.S. officials to lobby U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “end the the policy that has taken thousands of trucks of the road (sic).”

Kenney and his office did not respond to BNN Bloomberg’s requests for comment or to provide clarification about his talks with government officials.

Sylvain Charlebois, a food management professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said “photos of empty shelves are weaponizing the vaccine issue.” He said he worries about the complications they could instigate. 

“What is frightful and concerning is that we might actually start getting people to go out and start panic-buying again — which, very honestly, Canadian stores absolutely cannot afford,” Charlebois said Tuesday. 

“We were in a very different situation when demand-induced shortages happened in 2020 and our food system is much more fragile now with Omicron already violently impacting it.”

Trudeau told reporters on Monday he “regrets that the Conservative Party and Conservative politicians are in the process of stoking Canadians’ fears about the supply chain.” He said Canada will “protect” the supply chain and that another wave of COVID-19 “would do more harm than any vaccine mandate could.”

“The reality is vaccination is how we’ll get through this,” Trudeau said.