Politics

Lack of action on supply chain will make 'empty shelves the norm,' say Conservatives

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

Grocers report worsening supply issues since vaccine mandate for truckers went into effect

Grocery stores may have a limited selection of certain products because of stress on Canada's supply chains. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The federal government must take stronger and more decisive action to repair Canada's supply chains and keep food on grocery store shelves, Conservative MPs say.

The MPs sent a letter to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra Friday urging action ahead of the government's National Supply Chain Summit, which is scheduled for January 31.

"We are closely monitoring the supply chain crisis that Canada finds itself in, with particular attention on the exacerbating effects your government's policies have had on the crisis," says the letter.

The Conservative shadow minister for transport, Melissa Lantsman, was among the six Tory MPs behind the letter urging Ottawa to increase the "resiliency" of Canada's supply chain.

The call for action comes just days after the federal government's vaccination mandate for truckers went into effect on January 15. 

Some early indications suggest the mandate has worsened supply chain issues already plaguing Canada's economy.

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

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

Giancarlo Trimarchi is chair of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers and president of Vince's Market, a southern Ontario grocery chain. He said grocers started noticing a reduced supply of certain items "about a week or so ago."

"We are experiencing product shortages with regard to cross-border shipments. It's already starting to ramp up," he told CBC News.

Thousands of unvaccinated truckers forced off the roads

Trimarchi said he and other independent grocery store operators have been told that Canada's ongoing trucker shortage and the new vaccine mandate are factors in the shortages, though it's still not clear if the new mandate has contributed to the problem.

"There's a multitude of different things here," Trimarchi said.

According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, Canada was facing a shortage of some 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 make cross-border trips would be taken off the road due to the mandate. Washington will introduce its own mandate for truckers crossing into the U.S. starting on Saturday, Jan. 22.

The Conservatives and some industry groups have lobbied aggressively for the federal government to loosen those vaccine rules but Ottawa has not budged.

"We have been working extensively with the trucking industry and we know that the vast majority of their workforce is vaccinated," said Alghabra's office in a statement.

"The biggest threat to supply chains is COVID — and our best tool is vaccines."

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

Conservatives say policy will cause food insecurity

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

"At a time when grocery stores are seeing shortages of basics like meats, fruits, and vegetables, your government's policy 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 images of empty shelves are being hyped — and Canada's food supply generally remains in good shape.

He said the current supply issues might result in some products, such as certain brands, becoming temporarily unavailable, but they're unlikely to cause widespread shortages.

"I do not think Canadians need to be overly concerned that they will not have food supply," he said.

He agreed that Ottawa should reconsider its vaccine mandate for truckers given the supply issues that do exist. The Conservatives also have noted that truckers working alone would be unlikely to transmit the coronavirus.

A change to the policy could relieve pressure on the supply chain, Trimarchi said.

"Do we as a membership point the finger at the federal government and say this is your fault, what's going on right now? Absolutely not," he said.

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