Society, and our industry, have been thrown many curve balls and suffered many consequences as a result of Covid-19. While governments, in most cases, have been proactive, reactive when necessary, and worked with industry and the public to strike a fine balance between public health and our economy, sometimes decisions get made that fail to take this into account. A concern the PMTC has been raising for quite sometime, continues to fall on deaf ears, mainly south of the border it appears, caught up in politics at a higher level. We first raised the concern on the pause of New FAST Card Applications back in August of 2020. We understand why some things have had to shut down, including in person interviews in order to protect everyone’s health and safety. At the same time, however, we have, as a society and as regulators, determined that some things are essential to ensure that our economy and the needs of people are addressed, and as such essential services have continued, even in the face of a pandemic. One of the essential services that has been allowed to continue is transportation, as well as cross border trade and commerce. While the land border between Canada and the U.S. has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21st of 2020, truck drivers involved in trade have been declared essential and accordingly have been allowed to continue to cross borders uninterrupted, which evidences how critical they are to our well being and economy.
The Free and Secure Trade Program, and the FAST cards are fundamental programs used by commercial drivers and importers/exporters to allow for free and uninterrupted movement at the border to ensure trade continues to flow.
The commercial driver workforce has been hit hard by this pandemic, and in order to try and protect their health and safety, COVID has caused many drivers to either retire early or change routes and stay in their home countries. The average age of a long-haul commercial driver is over the age of 50 now and prior to the pandemic, a shortage of roughly 24,000 drivers existed in Canada, and significantly higher in the U.S. As the economies are trying to recover despite the pressures of Covid continuing, the need for transportation has returned to pre pandemic levels. This has led to the driver shortage resurfacing, and carriers scrambling to replace drivers who have retired or left the industry with new hires to their organisation. Many of these drivers do not have FAST Cards, resulting in a major problem as set out below. While we appreciate the action CBSA and CBP took to extend current FAST Cards for at least 18 months, this has not addressed the drivers who did not have FAST Cards prior to the pandemic. With the FAST enrollment centers being closed for over 13 months now, this has left a considerable gap where a large number of drivers are waiting in que for their applications to be approved. We understand why this had to be done at the start of the pandemic, however, almost 14 months in this situation needs to be resolved as soon as possible. We believe safe methods to conduct these interviews can, and should be found. While vaccines are rolling out in both countries, case counts are still increasing again as a result of variants, and we still cannot be sure when border and travel restrictions will be relaxed. Many sectors of the industry and trade have been impacted by the pause in FAST approvals, with the automotive and tank industry being hit the hardest.
Unfortunately, we are now getting to a point where health and safety will potentially be affected. Canadian drivers who transport Dangerous Goods in the U.S., must have a FAST Card to haul the Dangerous Goods. With carriers having to hire new drivers, many of whom are not FAST approved, it means that they cannot transport Dangerous Goods in the U.S. We have member carriers who distribute critical medical gases, including liquid oxygen to health care facilities in the U.S. Conversely, medical grade oxygen is imported from U.S. production facilities to supply Canadian hospitals and Healthcare facilities. As a result, this issue can potentially have a negative impact on both sides of the border. The lack of FAST approved drivers is on the verge of having serious repercussions, and in a truly short period of time, may in fact lead to these loads not being delivered. We know that this is not something any of us want to see.
We are hopeful a resolution to the current situation of approving new FAST Card applications and continuous cross border travel can be reached in a timely manner so as to ensure the health and safety of our economies and our collective health and safety. The PMTC has recently wrote border, transportation, and government leaders on both sides of the boarder. If this is an issue you would like to add your voice to, please reach back to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can share the communication and contacts with you.