Sat. May 21st, 2022

The federal government must take stronger and more decisive action to repair Canada’s supply chains and keep food on the shelves of grocery stores, Conservative lawmakers say.

MPs on Friday sent a letter to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra calling for action ahead of the government’s national supply chain summit, which is scheduled for 31 January.

“We are closely monitoring the crisis in the supply chain that Canada is in, with particular attention to the worsening effects your government’s policy has had on the crisis,” the letter said.

Conservative shadow shadow transport minister Melissa Lantsman was among the six Tory lawmakers behind the letter urging Ottawa to increase “resilience” in Canada’s supply chain.

The call for action comes days after the federal government’s vaccination mandate for truck drivers took effect on January 15.

Some early indications are that the mandate has exacerbated supply chain problems that are already plaguing Canada’s economy.

In recent days, the Conservatives have highlighted reports and images of sparsely stocked shelves at grocery stores, which some in the industry describe as a growing problem.

The meat department of a grocery store in Edmonton is one of several sections showing supply problems this week. (Natasha Riebe / CBC)

Giancarlo Trimarchi is president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers and president of Vince’s Market, a grocery chain in southern Ontario. He said merchants began noticing a reduced supply of certain goods “about a week or so ago.”

“We are experiencing product shortages in terms of cross-border shipments. It is already starting to increase,” he told CBC News.

Thousands of unvaccinated truck drivers forced off the roads

Trimarchi said he and other independent grocery operators have been told that Canada’s ongoing shortage of truck drivers and the new vaccine mandate are factors in the shortage, although it is still unclear whether the new mandate has contributed to the problem.

“There are a ton of different things here,” Trimarchi said.

According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, Canada faced a shortage of about 20,000 drivers before the vaccine mandate went into effect.

The CTA and its U.S. counterpart have estimated that 26,000 of the 160,000 drivers who regularly drive across borders would be taken off the road because of the mandate. Washington will introduce its own mandate for truck drivers crossing into the United States, from Saturday, January 22nd.

The Conservatives and some industry groups have lobbied aggressively for the federal government to loosen these vaccine rules, but Ottawa has not shaken itself.

“We have worked extensively with the trucking industry and we know that the vast majority of their workforce is vaccinated,” Alghabra’s office said in a statement.

“The biggest threat to supply chains is COVID – and our best tool is vaccines.”

The government said it was working to address supply chain issues but did not offer any specific new measures. The statement also described supply chain struggles as something “regions around the world are dealing with.”

Conservatives say politics will cause food insecurity

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have been quick to blame the Liberal government for exacerbating the situation.

“At a time when grocery stores are experiencing a shortage of staples like meat, fruits and vegetables, your government’s policies will undoubtedly cause unnecessary harm and food insecurity and have the potential to make empty shelves the norm in grocery stores across Canada,” the letter reads.

But Trimarchi said pictures of empty shelves are being hyped – and Canada’s food supply generally remains in good shape.

He said the current supply problems could result in some products, such as certain brands, becoming temporarily unavailable, but it is unlikely they will cause widespread shortages.

“I do not think Canadians need to be too worried that they will not have food supplies,” he said.

He agreed that Ottawa should reconsider its vaccine mandate for truck drivers given the supply problems that exist. Conservatives have also noted that hauliers working alone are unlikely to transmit coronavirus.

A change in policy could ease the pressure on the supply chain, Trimarchi said.

“Are we pointing as a member of the federal government and saying it’s your fault, what’s going on right now? Absolutely not,” he said.

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