Vaccine mandate 'not an issue at all' for Canada's largest trucking company, TFI

TFI, Canada's largest trucking company, says it has been virtually untouched by the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border.

Company managing to maintain service amid booming demand and vaccine mandate brouhaha

A protester moves a sign Sunday at RCGT Baseball Park’s lot in Ottawa, as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates continues into its second week. TFI, Canada's largest trucking company, says managing unvaccinated drivers has not been a problem thus far. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Canada's largest trucking company is virtually untouched by the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, says TFI International Inc. chairman and CEO Alain Bedard.

"Vaccination at TFI is not an issue at all," he told analysts on a conference call Tuesday.

"We have a few drivers that still say no, but what we do with them is we just keep them in Canada," he said. It's a strategy adopted by several large transport outfits but less available to smaller ones.

The vast majority of TFI's Canadian drivers are inoculated against COVID-19, Bedard said, adding that an eventual end to the exemption for cross-border truckers had been predictable. It was announced by the federal government on Nov. 19 and took effect Jan. 15.

He said last month looked like "the best January ever for the company," coming after a fourth quarter that saw profits jump by more than two-thirds and revenue leap by 91 per cent.

Staff getting sick a bigger problem

"The biggest issue for us really in January is sick people in the U.S. with COVID," Bedard said, particularly at TForce Freight, the massive transporter of smaller packages and cargo previously known as UPS Freight that TFI bought from United Parcel Service for $800 million US last year.

Last month, the federal government required non-essential Canadian workers including truck drivers to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14-day quarantine upon re-entry from the United States — a rule the Canadian Trucking Alliance asked to be delayed but has now accepted.

The United States imposed the same rule on American drivers a week later on Jan. 22, with Canadians who are not fully vaccinated barred from entry to the U.S. and vice versa.

The past 10 days have seen truckers bear down on Ottawa for a protest against the vaccine mandate and other pandemic restrictions, snowballing into an entrenched demonstration downtown encompassing a grab bag of grievances that has jammed streets and sparked confrontations and 60 criminal investigations.

Protests continue at border crossings

Meanwhile, cars were moving again at border crossings in Coutts, Alta., and the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit on Tuesday morning after anti-vaccine mandate demonstrations blocked traffic on Monday night.

WATCH | Protesters in Windsor block traffic on Ambassador Bridge: 

Protesters block Canada-bound traffic on Ambassador Bridge

2 years ago
Duration 1:18
Featured VideoTruckers and other protesters started blocking Canada-bound traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, which links Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, and calling for an end to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Coutts protest had temporarily resumed after trucks and other vehicles began to gather there late last month in a show of support for rallies against pandemic measures in Ottawa and elsewhere.

The number of truckers crossing into Canada fell by 11,358 or 10.5 per cent to 97,321 the week of Jan. 17-23 compared with the week before, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. The next week marked a 2.2 per cent decrease of 2,409 truck drivers to 106,274 from the week of Jan. 10-16.

The decline, which averages out to 6.3 per cent in the two weeks after the trucker vaccine deadline, marks a steeper drop than in preceding years. But 2019 saw cross-border big-rig figures fall 5.4 per cent in the two weeks after mid-January compared with the preceding week, and 2021 also saw a slight drop in the final two weeks of the month.

"Data proves that (the) vaccine mandate has had no measurable impact on the number of truckers crossing our border," Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a Twitter post last week.

"Thanks to Canadian truckers who are working around the clock, safely, to ensure that Canadians receive their essential goods."

A supporter holding a sign that claims he is fully vaccinated but against mandates lines the road in support of a truck convoy in Rigaud, Que., on Jan. 28, 2022. TFI says dealing with large numbers of people in the U.S. who are sick with COVID-19 has been a much bigger problem than the vaccine mandates. (Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg)

Not everyone agrees.

"The trucker vaccine mandate adds to supply chain pressures and costs for small business owners," Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said in a Twitter post.

Kelly is calling for an end to the vaccine mandate as well as any border blockade, which he said "makes the problem even worse."

WATCH | Border closure could impact trade, jobs, Windsor MP says:

Border closure has major impact on commercial trade, says Liberal MP

2 years ago
Duration 0:52
Featured VideoWindsor-Tecumseh Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk said the Ambassador Bridge border closure will impact people's jobs and livelihoods.

Revenue and profits up sharply

Amid heightened demand for goods and materials during the COVID-19 pandemic, TFI reported that profits shot up to $144.1 million US in the quarter ended Dec. 31 from $86.3 million US a year earlier.

TFI, which reports in U.S. dollars, said revenue increased to $2.14 billion US in the fourth quarter from $1.12 billion during the same period in 2020. TForce Freight, whose purchase closed in April, accounted for about 81 per cent of the boost in revenue before fuel charges.

On an adjusted basis, the company said diluted earnings per share increased 60 per cent to $1.57 from 98 cents.

The figure registered more than one-third above analyst expectations of $1.17 per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

The trucking sector continues to face hurdles including a dire labour shortage, but surging demand for consumer items, raw materials and manufacturing components has fuelled growth across the industry.