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and now for some good news


I wrote the following a few years ago in a story called Go West, Older Driver: “And what happens if oil prices drop to $30-40 per barrel? It seems unthinkable now, but when this balloon bursts, and historically it always does, that mobile home you just bought for tens of thousands is going to be worth peanuts once again.”
At the time oil was $70 per barrel and moving up. I was cautioning truckers who were moving to Alberta in droves, particularly Ft. McMurray, and were thinking about buying a house. Anybody who reads this will think I’m daft, I thought at the time. How could oil prices crash to $30 per barrel, and why would real estate prices collapse in Alberta?
Now I’m wondering whether the legion of truckers, in particular the large number from Newfoundland, who pulled up stakes and moved lock, stock an barrel to northern Alberta, have migrated back again.
But I promised good news and I’ve noticed a few bright spots. Generally, in Canada, we’ve avoided the “casino mentality” of our US cousins when it comes to real estate investments. Prices have come down across Canada but they’re still solid in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. My youngest son is a project coordinator for a large tile installation company in Vancouver and he tells me they’ve got a couple of years work in the can, as long as the developers stay solvent. Things are a little slower, he admits, but if anything the economic downturn has eased the skilled trade market. They no longer have to import tradespeople from Albania or eastern Europe.
My oldest son, after kamikazi-ing out of grad school twice, went out and got his DZ licence (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!), and landed a job driving a bucket truck for the city of Toronto forestry department. He’s making great coin and is happier than a puppy with a frisbee. Specialty trucking will always be in demand. And although things look a little bleak right now, trucks will always need to be driven. Adding a specialized skill to your repertoire can only improve employment prospects. During the recession of the early 90s I went and got a student loan and hid out in university myself, while still working for Canadian Tire on weekends banging cans around their Brampton facilities. If your job has dried up recently, this might be the time to consider a new direction. If you’re interested, McMaster and University of Windsor both offer degree programs in transportation studies.
A couple of weeks ago I talked to a man in Montreal who had just started a business hauling used cars between dealers, auction houses and a 200 mile radius of the Swamp. He uses a 53 foot trailer float trailer pulled by a F350 pick up with a fifth wheel. The used vehicle business is hot at this time and he’s adding another truck and trailer and looking for another driver. It’s a small operation but he’s already grown 100% in a few short months.
Tracey Raimondo, vp of logistics for Normandin Transit inc., of Napierville, Que., told me they hired 15 drivers in February and have recently added 20 tractors, 55 reefers and 25 dry box trailers to their fleet. Besides LTL loads to the States, pharmaceuticals is one growth area where the company is looking to expand.
And it looks like there is some openings for drivers in the food service industry, either as delivery drivers or working for brokers hauling loads for the big supermarket chains. I’ve even seen Schneider National (Canadian division I hope) pulling groceries around Ontario–anything to keep their drivers active.
Once again the film industry is expanding in Toronto and will no doubt lead to spin offs in other Canadian locations. The entertainment sector does all right during recessions, and the low Canadian dollar is seducing producers to come north. This means some good paying driving jobs are opening up, although they’re not for everybody. IATSE has the monopoly on labour in Toronto while I think the Teamsters call the shots in Vancouver. A film shoot requires lots of equipment shuttled between locations, although a lot of the work involves sitting around. A driver might be on call for outrageous numbers of hours with not much to do except collect overtime and eat the great food supplied by the craft wagons. Drivers with extra skills like generator operators, make even more cabbage without having to do a lot of anything.
Lastly, team drivers are making out better during these austere times than their single counterparts. But even they’ve slowed down a bit. A team driver for Arnold Bros. told me last night that they used to do the triangle between Montreal, Winnipeg and southern US in four and a half to five days. Now, they have to wait a little longer for loads and it takes them, on average, another day to do the same triangle. But they’ve got work and that’s what counts


Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio. With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.
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3 Comments » for and now for some good news
  1. You’re making me want to get a “trucker license” (sorry I don’t know the exact terminology) and go make cabbage while eating good food on the film sets!
    I don’t think it’s all so bad for those that moved to Northern Alberta. The economy just slowed down it hasn’t ground to a halt. Partially due to incredibly increasing costs and of course the mess in the U.S. Anyway oil won’t stay $30 for long because it’s true value is higher.
    “The next 20 years will not look like the past 20 years in terms of growth,” “Don’t get trapped into where we are now, but look forward to the key drivers of trade,” “There will be recovery and the response from trade will come quickly.” Chris Holling, executive managing director, global trade and transportation advisory services, IHS Global Insight.

  2. Harry Rudolfs says:

    Danielle, unfortunately you’re right about the $30-40 per barrel oil–it won’t last long. I heard one Houston oil consultant predict it will go to $350 per barrel when the 500 maxed-out off shore oil platforms start drying up in the next 5-7 years. And, supposedly, the Saudis have grossly overstated or overestimated the amount they have in the ground.
    Also, I checked and real estate prices haven’t collapsed in Fort McMurray. One agent told me that that the prices are down only 10% across the board and %20 on the high value properties. It’s apparently still quite expensive to buy a mobile home there on a piece of land: “you’ll be lucky to find anything under $200 K,” she said. And, she told me, Syncrude is hiring, as is Albion.

  3. Harry Rudolfs says:

    Just to qualify the above source who predicts $300-400 per barrel oil prices on the horizon. The expert is Matthew Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert (2005). He was interviewed by Steve Paikin on TVO’s The Agenda on March 17 and here’s a brief summary of what he had to say. 3,000 land rigs and 500 offshore rigs are seriously aging. 95% of the offshore structures are “far too old and rusting away.” Simmons suggests we have to “exponentially” increase the production. Simmons says “we need ten times more drilling rigs and crews…and we just don’t have that right now” (let alone the investment $$ to make it happen.
    Simmons says we will have to get by with 1/3 less oil than we use today “and that’s going to be brutal” What about peak oil? asked Paikin. “We were there in 2005,” replied Simmons. According to him the top flow rates have already passed. Prudhoe Bay in Alaska was producing 1.2 millon barrels/day in 1981 and in 2005 it was down to 400,000. The Saudi super-fields are are in decline as suggested by some recent estimate and Saudi obfuscation, and the Cantarell oilfields of Mexico are “declining 30% per year…in 18 months Mexico won’t be able to keep up.”
    By most accounts Simmons is a credible analyst “whose basic points are right on target (Business Week, 2005″, and is an analyst of unimpeachable authority (New Statesman UK, 2005).” Lastly Paikin asked Simmons what he thought about his predictions.
    “I’m sad,” he replied. “I hope I’m wrong.”

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