Watch Now

Canadian freight ‘falling off a cliff’; can 75% wage subsidy help?

“A lot of carriers could go into bankruptcy without help,” Energy Transportation Group CEO says. But a 75% wage subsidy from the Canadian government offers hope for vulnerable trucking companies and freight demand hit by COVID-19.

A straight truck of Canadian carrier Erb in Toronto on Thursday. Erb specializes in temperature-controlled freight – which remains in high demand. (Image: Nate Tabak/FreightWaves)

Staring down an implosion in large parts of Canada’s freight market, trucking executives cautiously praised an aggressive move by the federal government to offer a wage subsidy of up to 75% for small and medium-size businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s amazing,” Shawn Girard, CEO of Quebec-based cross-border trucking and logistics company Energy Transportation Group, told FreightWaves. “It looks like this solves a major problem right now.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the subsidy Friday as unemployment claims appeared set to surge past 1 million in a country with fewer than 38 million people. He disclosed few details about the subsidy but said it is intended to keep people on payrolls and preserve businesses.

Trudeau did not detail which businesses will qualify for the wage subsidy. But it could potentially help keep thousands of trucking companies in business, particularly small carriers that work exclusively with automakers and other manufacturers that have halted operations.

“We’ve been fortunate because we move a lot of essential goods, but a lot of carriers could go into bankruptcy without help,” said Girard, whose company employs about 190 people in Canada.

The subsidy may also help sustain demand for essentials — such as food and toilet paper — and protect the businesses of shippers that otherwise might not survive the extended shutdowns related to COVID-19.

“Freight is falling off a cliff in the next two weeks. Will this help people keep food on the table? Yes,” Bison Transport CEO Rob Penner told FreightWaves.

The Outbound Tender Volume Index – Canada on FreightWaves SONAR platform is nearly 12% off its recent high.

Trucking freight volumes had been surging in Canada as the spread of COVID-19 — and efforts to contain it — intensified. But a key measure of freight demand, the Outbound Tender Volume Index – Canada (OTVI.CAN) on FreightWaves’ SONAR platform, was down nearly 12% from its March 19 high as of Friday as businesses from Bombardier to local barbershops put their operations on pause.

An early preview of those headwinds came a week ago when Mullen Group, one of Canada’s largest trucking and logistics companies, announced temporary layoffs as it braced for the slowdown across the economy.

Bison is also among the country’s trucking giants, with about 2,900 employees and more than 1,700 power units in Canada and the U.S. Penner said the company is well positioned for the fallout.

“I’m confident we’ve built a resilient model,” Penner said.

But many small fleets that make up more than 90% of Canada’s nearly 50,000 registered trucking companies are more vulnerable.

Penner supported the notion of the government — ultimately Canadian taxpayers — helping the good actors in the sector. But he was wary of the scope of the wage subsidy and other support, saying he feared that unscrupulous trucking companies might take advantage of it.

“As Canadians, we need to look after the ones who need our help. I just want to make sure the help is getting to those who truly need it,” he said.

Will the government support carriers that — for now — are still moving freight?

But even for carriers that still have plenty of freight to move, the COVID-19 pandemic is stretching margins and operations. More drivers are calling in sick, while freight flows themselves are increasingly unbalanced, and customers are asking for more time to pay invoices.

Transport DSquare, a small, intermodal trucking company based in Montreal, is doing stronger business than it did a year ago on the strength of goods like food and alcohol.

DSquare Director Corey Darbyson welcomed the wage subsidy, but he also wondered whether companies like his would get support, particularly if more drivers opt to stay home.

“I hope transportation companies qualify so we can continue to do this essential service,” Darbyson told FreightWaves.

The impact of COVID-19 has also been complicated for carriers with uneven surges of demand in essential lanes and rapid drops in others.

Ontario-based Sharp Transportation Systems was operating at full capacity on Friday — but there was a catch. Nearly every truck was moving loads of pharmaceuticals or other medical products.

“Our dry van business basically disappeared,” Sharp President Shawn Baird told FreightWaves.

Baird anticipates his 86 drivers will remain busy as COVID-19 adds to the existing demand for pharmaceutical transport. But ultimately he wants a quick return to a regular mix of freight.

Baird welcomed the wage subsidy, though he hopes Sharp won’t need to use it.

“It’s a good idea,” he said. “Without this kind of intervention, Canada will spend years trying to dig out of this disaster.”

The staggering debt, he reasoned, was a much better option.

Much depends on what happens in the U.S.

Regardless of the Canadian government’s efforts to control COVID-19 and its economic fallout, much will depend on what happens in the United States — beyond the recent proposal by the Trump administration to send troops to the border. 

“It’s not just that we want Americans to do well because they’re our neighbors. We depend on them,” Barry Prentice, a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba, told FreightWaves. “They’re essentially the 11th province.”

The U.S. is Canada’s largest trading partner. The Canadian trucking industry also plays the leading role in moving freight between the intertwined economies of the two countries.

Still, Prentice expressed hope that Canada’s trucking industry will ride out the COVID-19 pandemic and the presumed recession comparatively well. 

“If trucking is in trouble, we’re in trouble as a society,” he said.

F3: Future of Freight Festival


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.


  1. Noble1

    The clown says : “Hygiene is the prevention”


    If I were to take anyone that is healthy but dirty like a pig and put them on a deserted island , would “hygiene” prevent them from catching the coronavirus or the deserted island ?

    If you were infected but extremely clean and then kissed your extremely clean significant other , would the fact that your significant other being extremely clean prevent them from being infected ?

    LOL !

    If acidity and decreased oxygen is a fertile environment for a bacteria or virus to survive , would it make a difference to a bacteria or virus if one was clean or not , if their internal environment was alkaline with a higher level of oxygen ?

    LOL !

    Here’s another brain tickler .

    Homeopathy(alternative medicine) is considered to be pseudoscience which is incompatible with the scientific method . However, vaccines derive from homeopathy .

    LOL !

    For whatever it’s worth , I think injecting viral genes in an organism in an attempt to immunize it against a virus is insanity . Whether it be by using diseased materials like diseased tissues or nosodes , most will simply accept having this injected into them without fully understanding what it really is or can do , except for what they are lead to believe it will do .

    You may like to read :
    Vaccination and Homeopathy, Similarities and Differences
    “Have we traded mumps and measles for cancer and leukemia?” -Dr. Robert Mendelsohn

    As far as I’m concerned , they can put their vaccines where the sun don’t shine !

    I have never been vaccinated for the flu and haven’t “caught” the flu since 2004 .That’s 16 years without the flu ! While I know of some who have been vaccinated for the flu and still catch the flu , LOL ! That’s aside from much worse that these “vaccines” can do .

    In my humble opinion …………

    1. My Own Boss!

      LOL, like I said many times. You are a sport. A wind up imbecile.
      I feel like I am doing the world a favor. Take a 30 second jab at your stupid rants and occupy your thoughtless ramblings for hours. Hilarious you are.
      I theorize you haven’t caught the flu in 16 years as you haven’t gotten out of your padded cell.
      Your reference to all of us Drivers as filthy pigs is interesting. I guarantee you wouldn’t have the balls to say that out in the open you cowardly little man. You stay safe behind your little keyboard and dream up more ways to be an arrogant, condescending drain on society.
      Now back to your maniacal ramblings, Dr Shit For Brains.

      1. Noble1

        I said most , not all . Quote myself ” Most truck drivers are among those who lack in hygiene the most ”

        LOL ! The truth hurts ? The only reason you would get so upset over such a comment is because the hat fits . Don’t get your panties in a knot , you’ll blow an artery . Wouldn’t want that to happen while you’re on the road and cause an accident . Keep that blood pressure in check . Just wash yourself . LOL !

        Now who’s pushing who’s buttons ? LOL ! You’re no match . You just lost control of yourself ROTFLMAO @ YOU ! Told you your mind was weak .

        Now you want to “theorize” too ? ROTFLMAO ! I don’t theorize , I’m factual (wink)

        Here are a couple of misspellings to keep your little mind occupied and rant about . Stoopid , imotional cretin trucker threatening me behind his computer on a public thread and name calling like a little child while theorizing nonsense , ROTFLMAO !

        Check that blood pressure , LOL !

        One shouldn’t throw stones if they live in a glass house . You lost chump ! Next time before attacking someone on a thread , think and act a little more civilized . If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen .

        Told you , you bore me . Each time you attempt to attack me you keep getting a whooping , LOL !
        And you keep on coming back for more ya masochist , LOL !

        Apparently you like pain . You’re the one who isn’t normal .

        Thanks for the cheap entertainment but it’s getting long in the tooth . You’re boring .

        Keep us safe and self isolate , LOL !

        In my humble opinion ……….

  2. Noble1


    “Trudeau did not detail which businesses will qualify for the wage subsidy.”

    It’s all those affected by the COVID-19 as well as labourers and the self employed . More in depth details are supposed to be released on Monday March 30 2020 .

    Montreal just declared a state of emergency recently . I will assume that Montreal is very close to being fully locked down . However , the Quebec prime minister is talking out of both sides of his mouth and in contradiction with the Canadian Federal measures concerning the arrival of those who come back from abroad to isolate for 14 days . Legault says he “recommends” that they isolate but that if they really want to go outside to take a walk , then they can as long as they respect social distancing measures . Wow ! He ignorantly doesn’t even realize that he can’t override The Federal Government’s Emergency measure which obligates those coming back from abroad to Canada MUST go straight home and isolate for a mandatory 14 day period without the right to even go out and shop themselves for essentials .

    Then people wonder why Montreal recently became a “Hot Zone” due to the coronavirus spreading within the community like wild fire , LOL !

    Told you before , it’s due to government mismanagement , PERIOD !

    The least you can do due to their negligence is NOT VOTE for them a second time !

    In my humble opinion ………

    1. Noble1

      BTW , lots of transportation between Montreal and Toronto/Ontario and vice versa . Drivers deciding to exercise their right to self isolate are to be commended ! Look at the rising infected cases among these two provinces and cities . Why increase your risk to get infected for peanut wages ???

      Nice to see some drivers are being responsible and reasonable .

      In my humble opinion …………….

      1. Noble1

        Found this ,

        Coronavirus: Police boost patrols as Montreal declares state of emergency

        Quebec’s chief public health officer, Horacio Arruda, suggested on Friday that the coronavirus started circulating in Montreal after the end of the March break, when some people returned from flights abroad. Rosenberg also blamed returning snowbirds.

        “Some of the snowbirds who are coming back are not isolating themselves, and that’s a real problem,” Rosenberg said. “We see them walking around the community.”
        End quote.

        Ok let’s look at this logically .

        They’re blaming “snowbirds” and travellers coming back from across the boarder . However, the Prime Minister is allowing them to out for walks . But the main point I want to make is about Truck drivers crossing the Canadian/American boarders that are exempt from isolating for 14 days due to essential needs .

        Does this make sense ? While you blame those that are not isolating themselves when arriving from across the boarder , you allow and exempt “some” from doing so due to them contributing to essential needs ?

        The coronavirus couldn’t careless if you’re exempt or not ! If you’re infected and don’t show or feel any symptoms you can still infect another , and another , and another etc.

        So while attempting to exempt a few due essential exemption without obligating them to increase their protection by following very strict preventive measures , everyone is at risk including themselves .

        Furthermore, it’s being reported that the province of Quebec has begun isolating regions that are affected less . Quebec law enforcement are also stopping all “snowbirds” that are crossing the US/Canadian boarder on Quebec soil to question them regarding their health and inform them that they must go directly to their homes and respect mandatory isolation for 14 days .

        Those “snowbirds” that are going back to their Quebec homes are reporting that the American population around where they were visiting are not taking the COVID-19 outbreak seriously and are not exercising social distancing . That would be an element that would indicate why the USA is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 .

        If the general population doesn’t discipline themselves , measures will keep on getting stricter and infected cases will keep on rising .

        Unfortunately we are far from being out of the woods on this one .

        I’ve always stated that all you need to do to get an idea of the general population’s mentality is to observe how they drive , and that includes truckers .

        I read lately that some truckers think this COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax . That just keeps on confirming that some people are still a great risk to themselves and others . Unfortunately some of these ignorant people are exempt from isolating themselves due to the essential service they are providing . Though some of them keep crossing the boarders back and forth ! If they believe it’s a hoax , do you think that they are taking precautions ?

        Be vigilant & be safe ! Self isolate !

        In my humble opinion ………………

        1. My Own Boss!

          Dear Noble1… Quote “They’re blaming “snowbirds” and travellers coming back from across the boarder . However, the Prime Minister is allowing them to out for walks . But the main point I want to make is about Truck drivers crossing the Canadian/American boarders that are exempt from isolating for 14 days due to essential needs .”

          Border, it’s a fucking border. So smart, yet not. Truck drivers, unlike you who appears to spend 100% of your day spewing ignorance, are as isolated a workforce as there is in NA. Mandating they stop for 14 days every time they cross a “boundary” (trying to be helpful as apparently you don’t know the difference between a carpenter and a state or federal line) would be certain to create pandemonium when grocery stores and pharmacies are empty and people resort to desperate measures. Driving doesn’t cause the virus, nor does crossing a “boundary” (me still trying to help you) ensure it spreads. Hygiene is the prevention… Wake up you imbecile…

          1. Noble1

            ROTFLMAO ! You again ??? LOL !

            Buddy you’re an idiot ! There’s no other way to put it .

            There are many ways to bypass truck drivers from crossing boarders in order to obtain essential goods in countries .

            You’re a clown and soon to be replaced , you expendable piece of dust , LOL !

            You’re so stupid that you’ve been lead to believe and do believe that the economy revolves around you , ROTFLMAO !

            But I’m the one you’re calling an “imbecile” ??? Now that is truly hilarious ! ROTFLMAO !

            Keep on trucking for peanuts during the pandemic you fool !

            Just don’t fucking contaminate anyone you ignorant pathetic excuse for a human being .

            In my humble opinion …………….

          2. Noble1

            Anyone of you reading the “My Own Boss” cretin’s drivel attempting to CONvince you that , quote:

            “Truck drivers are as isolated a workforce as there is in NA.”

            Be extra cautious ! Most truck drivers are among those who lack in hygiene the most . Just look at most of them . Dirty , smelly , loaded with germs galore and who knows what else . This clown attempting to CONvince you that they are “immune” to the COVID-19 due to being isolated in their trucks is an isult to your intelligence and a danger to your health !

            Especially now that truck stops are mostly closed and don’t offer them a shower or running water, keep your distance .

            This clown speaks/writes as if they don’t defecate etc, nor touch anything out of their trucks ! This guy’s ignorance and negligence can be the difference between you remaining healthy or catching a bacteria or virus potentially leading to extreme hardship or worse , your death .

            I’ve trucked , I’ve been around many and I can assure you that most truckers in the industry are pigs and lack hygiene . They’ll try to CONvince you that it’s part of the job , LOL !

            Just be extra cautious around these people year round and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic .

            In my humble opinion ………..

          3. Noble1

            My Own Boss , LOL ! Keep on bringing it and I’ll just keep on revealing the truth .

            Haven’t you noticed yet , you’re your own poison , LOL !

            Told you before , I dance around little minds like yours .

            The general public knows very little about the general trucker pig style life on the road . Though some of us don’t put up with the BS and took/take showers and kept clean on a daily basis or fucking quit if our runs didn’t allow us to be treated with respect and have self respect !

            Most of you bend over and lack self respect . That’s why this industry has become a disgrace and most feel used and abused and are paid peanuts . You brainiacs compete against one another and cut your own throats in the process , LOL !

            The reason why the general public doesn’t respect you is due to the most of you being unrespectable . You drive like you own the freaking road , and lack hygiene galore !

            Then you dare complain about those who are the reason you even have a job ??? It’s due to the general public’s demand for goods that your services are required , you ignoramus ! Perhaps the lack of demand during this COVID-19 pandemic will serve as a wake up call . You ain’t no king but simply demand’s slave .

            But soon the need for your services will be diminished and replaced with a machine(autonomous trucks) while the general public will still be designing , creating , and manufacturing goods for their needs . Your narcissism is soon going to experience a rude awakening , LOL !

            While you sit there and enjoy correcting my grammar , you’re my slave delivering my needs for pennies while wasting your life away on the road rather than enjoying it with your family . You typically work two jobs while being paid for one . Then you want to show us how smart you are ? ROTFLMAO !

            Then people like me play your hard earned money through the markets like a yoyo . Then when the market crashes you’re left holding the fucking bag like an idiot !

            Then when hard times reverse you pay for it yet again even more through inflation .

            You slave and slave and keep on getting ripped off in the process , LOL ! Though you boast and think you’re wise cause you can spell ??? ROTFLMAO !

            Stick in your cage ya monkey and deliver our goods ! Just don’t contaminate anyone !

            NEXT !

            In my humble opinion …………..

    2. Stephen Webster

      I have been camped out at queens park and living in the Toronto shelters. The C 19 has been in shelters for the past 20 days. These truck drivers are staying out of fear of the C 19 . We need to be very careful about giving large amounts of money to these companies without a full review of past complaints of truck drivers who worked for these companies.

Comments are closed.

Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected].