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Labour, weather, vaccine issues add to supply shortages

Local shop owner feels impact of supply chain backups; trucking industry members chime in

3 min read
caption Kate Pepler owns The Tare Shop in Dartmouth.
Carolina Andrade

Backups in the supply chain are increasing amid bad weather and trucker shortages.

Photos of empty grocery store shelves on social media and dire warnings of labour shortages are common in every news cycle lately, and local businesses are feeling the impact.

In the Business Outlook Survey published Monday by the Bank of Canada, reports of supply chain bottlenecks and labour shortages remain elevated.

“The combination of strong demand and bottlenecks in supply is expected to put upward pressure on prices over the next year,” the survey says.

The survey also reports that four in ten firms see labour shortages as holding back their sales. Three main factors are behind this, according to the survey. They include the demand on labourers, an aging population and technological changes requiring additional skills, and increasing worker preferences for flexible working hours and working from home.

The trucking industry, under relentless pressure from these forces, was thrown for a loop last week by the federal government’s changing stance on vaccine requirements. On Friday, Ottawa clarified the matter by insisting that truckers crossing the border into Canada must be fully vaccinated.

The U.S. plans a similar mandate going into effect Jan. 22 for truckers entering the United States.

The Canadian trucking industry is warning that will make the shortage of drivers worse.

In an interview, Jean-Marc Picard, the executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA), said about 90 per cent of truck drivers are vaccinated.

Even with most drivers vaccinated, he says, “it’s going to be impacting our industry, it’s going to impact the entire supply chain and everyone’s lives because essentially, there’s a truck that crosses the border every five seconds.”

Local business owners are already feeling the impact. Kate Pepler owns The Tare Shop, Nova Scotia’s first package-free store and café. She sells coffee, baked goods, and organic bulk items, and says she’s seeing the ripple effect first-hand.

“It’s been harder to predict lead times and harder to know what we’re able to get in. When we place an order, we’re not able to get everything on that order,” she says.

She says one of the main reasons for shortages is suppliers facing labour shortages.

“One of our orders took four weeks to get to us when it would normally take a week, just because they didn’t have enough staff,” Pepler says.

According to Picard, the Atlantic provinces are in dire need of truckers.

But Mark Goudge disagrees. He is a trucker from Westville, Pictou County working for Eassons Transport. Goudge said “it’s driver retention, not shortage,” that’s leading to the problems.

He says that new drivers need time to train for the job and for most trucking companies, the pay rate is low.

Goudge enjoys the company he is working for and said Eassons prioritizes his safety. But he hears truckers working for other companies often saying that the mileage rate just isn’t matching the cost of living.

Goudge is fully vaccinated and agrees with the mandate, but understands the impact. “It’s very tenuous now and any loss of any driver will be felt.”

Picard says the mandate should be broadened to other sectors. “There are other industries that are a key part of the supply chain, not just trucking.”

Weather is another reason for shortages. Goudge says there was a grocery shortage during storms earlier this month.

“With climate change, we’re going to see more and more extreme weather,” Pepler says, which means more shortages in her store.

In the meantime, she is handling shortages through transparency and consistent messaging to her staff and customers.

“Most customers totally get it, they understand the global issues and how they impact everyone and every business,” she says.

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    Yikes! It’s neat to see a take on the shortage from a small business perspective. Lots of images circulating the web of big grocery stores with empty shelves, but we have to consider our local mom and pop shops, and be patient and aware of their struggle.
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