I look forward to the OTA convention every November, seeing old friends, industry shakers and hangers-on, and fellow journalists at this annual event. But this year I was surprised to find that the venue has been moved off the Dixon Rd. airport strip to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in downtown Toronto. For me, and probably many others, the Dixon Road conventions were extremely convenient—easy to access from the highways–I could attend a seminar or two in the morning and still work an afternoon shift. But driving or subwaying downtown is a daunting affair and I’m not up for it.
Tough to find parking downtown and when you do, you pay through the nose. I talked to one safety manager who is skipping this year because of the difficult new location. No doubt there are others who feel this way. Trucking has long since moved out of the downtown core and everyone will have to make their way down the Gardiner Expressway. Even those flying in are looking at a $50 cab ride and a premium-priced hotel room.
The convention at the Ritz is a stark contrast to the one day “austerity” event held a few years ago. Perhaps the five star convention is an indication that things are going much better in the trucking world. But more likely the OTA is trying to change with the times and offer the younger participants something interesting to do. Evidently the younger guys and gals are going to head off to a “hot bar” to take in some of the local colour. A poker tournament has been added to the list of activities (proceeds going to the OTA education fund).
The OTA is struggling with a new paradigm of sorts; its family-owned businesses are undergoing a changing of the guard as a new generation is taking over the reins. The executive has to find a way to engage and attract these younger members and perhaps a poker tournament and a visit to a hipster bar is the way to go. They’ve been leaning this way for a while; entertainers at the gala for the last few years have included the recycled Guess Who with Cummings and Bachman, the remnants of the rock band Lighthouse, and Michael Buble.
The OTA has to find common ground with a diverse membership, and of course some of the traditional events will still be an important part. This year there will be a scotch tasting before the head table gets piped in. Of course what’s really important is the information that can be exchanged and the contacts that can be made. The OTA is Canada’s biggest trucking organization and its membership includes out-of-province companies as well. There’s no reason to think that the important work can’t be done downtown as it could in the suburbs. Let me know how it goes.
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. All posts by Harry Rudolfs