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Where’s the boldness?


Boldness is a prerequisite for success, whether in life or in business. And it’s the one word that Charles McMillan, a former advisor to prime minister Brian Mulroney and one of the architects of the Free Trade Agreement, believes summarizes what Canada needs to be succeed in a future dominated by global competition.
I listened to what the entertaining Maritimer had to say while waiting my turn to speak at the 21st Annual Transportation Innovation and Cost Savings Conference held earlier this Fall in Toronto. McMillan explained that “incremental thinking” and a “silo mentality” just won’t cut it in a world bent on “going big”.
As I sat there listening, I was also thinking “hey, I couldn’t agree more.”
Being a trading nation, transportation — this may come as a surprise to much of the public and many of our politicians — plays a huge role in driving our competitiveness. As Kelly Winters, general manager of Alliance Shippers, also pointed out at the conference, transportation and logistics are the “strategic glue that binds all functions in a company together.”
Unfortunately, we don’t get to make the rules of the game. Even in a deregulated market, the direction of transportation practices are dictated to a great degree by government legislation. And after almost 20 years of covering transportation issues in Canada, I must admit to being completely fed up with transportation legislation that is rife with the same incremental thinking and silo mentality that McMillan warned against.
The way Ottawa and the provinces allowed our infrastructure to crumble for a good 20 years is testament to that, although to their credit many polticians are finally waking up to their negligence. All the petty provincial disagreements over sizes and weights and load securement legislation are more good examples.
Ottawa’s handling of greenhouse gas reductions, one of the most significant issues Canada and the transportation industry will face, is the latest example of government negligence in the place of leadership.
Global concern about the impact of global warming will make for a carbon-constrained future. The countries, industries and companies that understand and react to that reality best, will prove the most resilient to the changes it will bring. Canada is a definite laggard in this regard:
We currently produce about 14 tonnes of CO2 per capita. In comparison, Sweden produces just 5 tonnes of CO2 per capita while China, often fingered as a major polluter due to its fast industrial growth, actually is responsible for only 2 tonnes of CO2 per capita.
Despite two national emission reduction “plans” – “wishful thinking” would be a more appropriate word considering all the effort that went into them – dating all the way back to Jean Chretien’s Liberal government and Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government, all we’ve done over the past 20 years is watch our GHG emissions climb relentlessly.
Transportation activities by the way generate more than one quarter of Canada’s GHG emissions and have accounted for 28% of the growth in total GHG emissions from 1990 to 2004.
Overall, we are on track to be about 30% above the Kyoto Protocol target for 2010. Yes, our booming economy is part of the reason why, but the other reason why is Ottawa’s failure to lead.
What’s the response of Stephen Harper’s “new” Conservative government? Declare the Kyoto Protocol and its emissions targets dead in the recent Throne Speech.
They have a new plan of course. Aside from the message that sends to the world about Canada’s willingness to stick to global treaties, I wouldn’t have a problem with this approach were it not for the fact that the Conservative “plan” to reduce total GHG emissions 60-70% by 2050, with a 20% reduction by 2020, had already been panned by the government’s own advisory group as badly flawed. The advisory body actually accused the government of “cooking the numbers” for the reductions by overestimating and double counting.
Global corporations already understand that in a carbon-constrained future, low carbon producing countries and companies will outperform high carbon producing countries and countries. But they need a policy environment that encourages innovation and investment in green practices and technology.
Why isn’t the Conservative government in Ottawa showing the leadership needed to deliver such policy?
Where’s the boldness?


Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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