Head of Atlantic Canada truckers association predicts growing supply chain disruptions in new year

“Before the pandemic, I’d say the situation was manageable but now it’s actually critical.”

When Jennifer Thomas of Sydney stopped to fill up at the Petro-Canada gas station on Grand Lake Rd. on Dec. 15, she discovered the station had run out of mid-grade and premium gasoline, leaving only regular.

The day before, she said, they only had regular and were out of the other two types.

She said she was told by an attendant that the gas shortage was the result of a lack of truck drivers to deliver the gas to the stations.

Other locations, including gas stations in Eskasoni and Membertou have also been experiencing gas shortages at the pumps. At the Petro-Canada in Eskasoni, one employee who declined to comment on the record confirmed it was a shortage of truck drivers causing the disruption in gas supply.

It is a scenario Jean-Marc Picard, executive director for the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association said consumers should expect to see more in the new year as new rules for cross-border truck drivers come into effect.

“Before the pandemic, I’d say the situation was manageable but now it’s actually critical,” he said.

“We’ve definitely lost some drivers already – it’s really been hard for the drivers with restaurants shutting down, rest stops, so it’s stressful. My guess is we will lose more in January and the supply chain is very fragile right now, so it’s going to have severe impacts if that happens.”

The federal government announced a stricter vaccine policy at the border in November that will require both Canadian and American truck drivers provide proof of double vaccination before being permitted to enter the country.

Currently, essential workers, including truck drivers, are exempt from vaccination requirements to cross the border.

In early December, the government said it also plans to extend the vaccine mandate to all federally-regulated workplaces in early 2022, which would include domestic truck drivers.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance opposes the vaccine mandate for truckers, saying in a Dec. 12 release that the industry is already 18,000 drivers short. A survey of its members found companies are expecting to lose 10 to 20 per cent of their drivers with the implementation of the cross-border mandate.

The organization estimates between 15,000 and 30,000 drivers will leave the industry once both mandates take effect.

Picard, whose association represents 95 per cent of trucking companies in Atlantic Canada, said the industry has been struggling to recruit new drivers for years, but things have gotten worse since 2020.

According to a report released by Trucking HR Canada last month, two-thirds of trucking companies surveyed said they were unable to fill all their driving positions, and their estimated vacancy rate was 7.5 per cent in 2021.

Vacancies are expected to reach 24,700 nationwide by 2025.

“Things have changed a lot – trucks are more sophisticated, so driving is not the same as it used to be. It’s very strategic, so there are a lot of different jobs in the industry and a lot of good opportunities, and we want young people to know that,” Picard said.

The industry, which has the highest average age of employees, has seen a high rate of retirement and turn-over, with over one-third of employers surveyed by Trucking HR Canada reporting increased retirement rates since the onset of the pandemic.

Picard said an increase in online shopping has put further pressure on the industry and all of these challenges result in higher prices and supply shortages for consumers.

“Freight rates are probably going to go up too, so prices will go up, and someone’s got to pay for that, so if the customers receiving the goods decide to pass it on to the consumer, that’s what’s going to happen.”