Conservative MPs fiercely opposed to the federal government's new vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers have slammed what they call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "vaccine vendetta," saying that the policy will disrupt the country's supply chains.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, the party's finance critic, claimed the government's vaccine policy is "emptying grocery shelves and ballooning food prices," leaving some Canadians to "go hungry."
Garnett Genuis, a Conservative MP from Alberta, said he stands with unvaccinated truckers who plan on protesting the mandate. "Time to end Justin Trudeau's nonsensical vaccine vendetta," he said in a recent social media post.
The party's transport critic, MP Melissa Lantsman, urged supporters to sign a petition opposing new vaccine requirements. She claimed the policy would result in the loss of thousands of jobs and "empty shelves in Canadian retail sectors."
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, who has opposed vaccine mandates for federal public servants and the travelling public, said today that Trudeau is intent on "dividing Canadians" by pushing shots on truckers.
He said the government could instead administer rapid tests at the border for unvaccinated drivers to avoid disrupting the flow of goods at a time of high inflation.
"Let's be crystal clear. We can advocate for vaccines but also advocate for people to not lose their ... home or their livelihood," he said, calling for what he called "practical" alternatives to a vaccine mandate.
O'Toole said that — with the exception of some doctors who regularly appear on television promoting public health measures — he has "encouraged vaccination more than any Canadian."
WATCH: O'Toole discusses truckers protesting vaccine mandates
O'Toole also called on the government to either scrap or pause a planned increase in Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions. He said Canadians can't afford to take a hit to their paycheques with inflation now at its highest level in decades.
The vaccine policy stems from a Jan. 13 decision by the federal government to extend most of the border policies that already apply to the general public to essential workers — including truckers, who up to now have been freely crossing the Canada-U.S. border.
While the policy was announced initially in November, the government appeared to backtrack earlier this month when a spokesperson told journalists the policy would not come into force as planned. That statement was sent "in error," Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos later said.
As of last week, all Canadian truckers must show they've had two doses of an mRNA vaccine — or one dose of a Johnson & Johnson shot — if they want to avoid stringent testing requirements and a lengthy quarantine period.
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated foreign nationals are not allowed into Canada. Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials will deny entry to anyone who shows up at the Canada-U.S. crossing without appropriate proof of vaccination, the government said in announcing the policy earlier this month.
The U.S. has imposed a similar vaccine mandate. As of this month, all essential foreign travellers, including truck drivers, must show proof of vaccination to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at a port of entry.
Industry groups estimate roughly 26,000 of the 160,000 Canadian and American drivers who regularly travel across the border could be sidelined by the new vaccine policy.
WATCH | Transport minister says Ottawa has given truckers enough time to get vaccinated
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, the federation that represents the country's truckers, said the "vast majority" of drivers are vaccinated. It warned, however, that Ottawa's mandate could result in a loss of 12,000 to 16,000 Canadian cross-border commercial drivers — roughly to 10 to 15 per cent of the trucks regularly crossing the Canada-U.S. boundary.
Truckers raise $3M for convoy protest
To protest the new vaccine requirement, hundreds of truckers from across the country are planning to descend on Ottawa this weekend to stage a demonstration on Parliament Hill. The effort, dubbed the "freedom convoy" by participants, is being organized by Canada Unity, an anti-public-health-mandate group. According to the group's website, the convoy should arrive in the nation's capital by Jan. 29.
A GoFundMe fundraising campaign already has raised more than $3 million to help truckers and their allies make the cross-country trek.
The CTA said in a media statement that it "strongly disapproves" of protests on public roads, highways and bridges.
Protests that interfere with public safety are not an appropriate way to express disagreement with government policies, the CTA said.
"The government of Canada and the United States have now made being vaccinated a requirement to cross the border. This regulation is not changing so, as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate," CTA president Stephen Laskowski said in the statement.
"The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated."
Pressed by reporters to state whether he supports the convoy, O'Toole was non-committal.
"It's not for the leader of the opposition or a political party to attend a protest on the Hill or a convoy. It's up to politicians to advocate for solutions in a cost of living crisis in a way that's responsible and respectful of the public health crisis we are in," he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the policy today, saying a wave of COVID-19 infections is doing more to disrupt Canada's supply chains than any vaccine mandate could. He said enforcing this policy is the best way to keep new travel-related infections under control.
"We know that about 90 per cent of truckers are vaccinated across this country. We're going to continue to do everything we can to ensure COVID does not become a scourge and therefore we need to encourage everyone to get vaccinated," he said.
He said the Conservative Party is "fear-mongering" to convince Canadians that store shelves will be bare if this vaccine mandate is enforced.
"The reality is vaccination is how we're going to get through this, but this is not something the Conservative Party is ready to support," he said.
As the political brawl over vaccine mandates and the state of supply chains ramped up, Canadians took to social media over the weekend to post photos of their local grocery stores. Some images showed empty shelves while others showed abundance.