Canada’s trucking industry should be proud

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“The big American companies are going to eat us all up!”

I heard this a lot in the mid-90s. Schneider was moving into Canada at the time. JB Hunt seemed poised to enter. Roadway bought up Reimer and Celadon bought out Yanke and Hyndman.

There was a lot of doom and gloom among drivers. American carriers were allowed to run point to point in Canada, stealing our freight while we couldn’t to the same in the U.S. We felt like we were going to lose our identity.

It’s hard to compete with carriers that talk about trucks in the thousands while we talk about hundreds. The buying power differential is huge. We have a hard time getting manufacturers to listen to what we need up north, because our market is so small.

Remember when diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) first came out? The highways were littered with disabled trucks and the truck stops are still full of plastic jugs when the weather gets cold.

An amazing thing has been happening, though. Rather than the Canadian companies sinking, we are competing. TFI International – Canada’s largest carrier – has bought UPS Freight. Mullen Group is buying south of the border. Bison continues to expand its U.S. presence. Celadon went bankrupt after bleeding money from the Canadian operations. YRC Reimer has never been much of a player in Canada. The landscape certainly has shifted.

Does this mean that we have no worries? Am I just drinking the Kool-Aid, pretending we are stronger than we are? I don’t think we’re perfect, by any means. I’m just glad to see Canadians doing well enough to use our weaker dollar and still be able to compete.

The next question in my mind is: how have we done this? We’ve gone from thinking we’re sunk to buying major U.S. carriers.

I have asked some others about this and no one seems to have an answer.

Not surprisingly, I have a theory. It’s tough to truck in Canada. Our roads are long past their best before date, including the recently built roads. Most Canadian paving companies would never get a job in the U.S. Our horrible roads have nothing to do with our climate, simply poor design and workmanship.

(Photo: Supplied)

Our fuel is expensive, despite having large oil reserves to produce our own. The regulations for weight make 80,000-lb. rigs uneconomical.

If you’re not watching out for the wildlife, the tourists stopped on the road to take pictures will catch your attention – and front bumper – real fast. We have our own rate-cutters who desperately hurtle toward their own demise.

Our urban sprawl is as not well planned. There’s a lesson I’ve learned over the years. Start, or grow a business, in tough times. Keep those lessons you’ve learned when times are good.

That’s Canadian trucking. It’s tough. If you can succeed up here, you can succeed down south barring any unforeseen events. Why do Canadian fleets regularly win North America-wide safety competitions?

At the Walcott Jamboree this July, guess where this year’s featured truck was from? West Coast Transportation’s Ken Worth Jr., steered and geared by our very own ‘Driverette’ Eva Knelsen from London, Ont. She also took home first place in the Company Working Truck Combo category. That’s three years in a row in which she has gotten major hardware at that show. First Canadian to be selected as a featured truck. First female as well.

Dennis Durand from Jade Transport out of Winnipeg also got a couple of awards in the interior and lighting classes. Three Canadian trucks in a field of over 70, and two got big awards. I’d say that is pretty good.

We may not be huge. Our conditions are often a little less than pleasurable, but we’re still here. Still snatching loads from the big bad southern competitors, or at least taking what they don’t want or can’t do as well as us.

An American I know, who is building his own fleet has a saying: “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

Good advice.

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David Henry is a longhaul driver, Bell Let's Talk representative and creator/cohost of the Crazy Canuck Truckin podcast. His passion is mental health and presenting a better image for trucking to the public.

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  • The rates on Canada in point to point in Canada are about 20 percent lower than the U S and truck drivers wages are also lower. Our gov allowed large numbers of cheap foreign people to drive truck. Some who are cheaply trained and can only drive automatic. A better solution 15 years ago would have been minimum wage rates per hour instead of spead limiters .