Calculating the incalcuable – Part II

In our house we eat a lot of bananas. They are cheap, nutritious, and easy to handle for young children. With the glaring exception of the potato chip aisle, we do our best to shop the outside of the grocery store. Fresh vegetables (bagged salad counts, people), fresh/frozen fruit and dairy products make up the bulk of our food purchases. At this time of year, fruits like strawberries join the bananas as foods that get to Listowel through a complicated supply chain spanning multiple countries. Each supply chain has idiosyncrasies specific to its own industry, but there is one constant that spans every single one – trucks and the people who drive them are vital to keeping us all fed.

According to the Government of Canada, there are over $1 billion worth of goods transported by truck across the U.S./Canada border every day. Our farm is one of the many Canadian businesses that depend on that trade route and play a role in generating that immense amount of economic activity.

On Jan. 15 it will become law that an unvaccinated driver cannot enter Canada from the U.S. and on Jan. 22 the same law will be enacted for drivers crossing the border in the opposite direction.  Consider this, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance the industry was already short 20,000 drivers prior to the onset of COVID-19 and these incoming changes will result in an additional 10 to 20 percent of drivers exiting the industry. Although Listowel is a few hours drive from a U.S. border crossing, this can have a very real impact on businesses in our own backyard.

Take our farm as one example – our long-time cross-border hauler has already advised us they can no longer guarantee trucks and drivers for our shipments as they are going to lose eight drivers, including the ones that regularly do our route. This single policy change endangers over 40 per cent of our revenue at our farm and has us forced to consider contraction.

For individual businesses like ours, losing access to cross-border transport will cause significant upheaval, but what does it mean at an aggregated level, say on our Gross Domestic Product (GDP)? There are a number of highly-integrated supply chains that involve repeated criss-crossing of the Canada/U.S. border throughout the transformation of raw goods into a finished product. For example, according to the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturing Association, an average car will cross a North American border eight times during the entire process. This integrated nature increases the multiplier effect of disruption and the costs associated with it.

The strong demand for local drivers, systemic pan-industry labour shortages, and the independent nature of many who chose long-haul driving are all factors that combine to make it unlikely that these incoming rules will make a meaningful impact on driver vaccination rates. If you are going to try and hit people with a hammer to make them change behaviour, you should make sure there is something hard to hit against. In this current environment, most will find a soft landing outside of cross-border transportation with a job that does not require a change to their vaccination status. Regardless of how you feel about vaccines, it is important to understand that there is going to be a real and damaging cost to this new policy. Even if we waved a magic wand to have 100 per cent full vaccination among Canadian-based trucker drivers, there is still 40 per cent of the U.S. driver fleet that is unvaccinated.

Anytime the supply of something is restricted (without a corresponding drop in demand), prices go up. That is why those bananas my family loves may start costing 79 cents a pound instead of the 59 cents we paid this week. This one change threatens double-digit food inflation in 2022 and it is intensified by the fact that it comes into effect in the middle of Canadian winter – the height of our food importing season. Who bears the brunt of food inflation? The same people that have borne the brunt of school closures, and the same people who have had their right to make a living taken away. It is just one more policy in the name of COVID that hurts the people in our midst who can afford it the least.

The dismissiveness demonstrated towards the people most impacted by such policies makes one question whether trust will be regained in public institutions. We are making the very things essential to survival more expensive, a slap in the face to the millions of Canadians living paycheque to paycheque. Perhaps the most demoralizing is that policy makers continually tout the benefit of their policies for our collective safety (remember ‘we’re all in this together’), while being blind when the corresponding cost weighs far heavier on the shoulders of those least equipped to be burdened with a heavier load.


Stewart Skinner is a local business owner, former political candidate, and has worked at Queen’s Park as a Policy Advisor to the Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. He can be reached at or on Twitter: @modernfarmer.


Stewart Skinner