The Trouble with Puro

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So the Harper government wants an explanation from Canada Post as to why it granted a five-year, $100 million plus air cargo contract to Purolator without going to tender (Globe and Mail, June 3/09). The answer should be obvious—can you say “monopoly” Mr. Harper?
The reason Canada Post owns 92% of Purolator is because the crown corporation wanted a foothold into parcel delivery company that could fight off competition from US courier companies that were threatening to usurp its supremacy. I’m old enough to remember the early days before deregulation when UPS was making overtures into the Canadian market. As they didn’t have operating authorities, UPS initially started with Checker cars towing U-haul trailers as it grew its Canadian operations. As a counterbalance, Canada Post acquired ownership of Purolator Courier in 1987.
The Globe story goes on to say that junior transport minister Rob Merrifield is waiting for answers from the chair of Canada Post as to why a tendering process was not initiated. According to a Canada Post spokesperson, the crown corporation was forced to act quickly when Air Canada cancelled the air cargo contract because the Post Office refused to pay the fuel surcharge. Hence the hastily-enacted sweetheart deal with its sister corporation.
But other air cargo airlines like FedEx and Cargojet would have loved a crack at the postal contract. And the deal smells bad because the contract involves a partnership with Kelowna Flightcraft which owns the planes operated by Purolator, and the fact that Kelowna Flightcraft’s president, Barry Lapointe, owns 7 per cent of Purolator through Barry Lapointe Holdings Ltd., and sits on Purolator’s board of directors.
As a journalist and a working truck driver, I feel stifled and awkward when writing about Puro. The company hired me 4 ½ years ago as a linehaul driver, and this fit with my criteria finding something close to home that paid well. For the most part, my expectations have been met. Overall it’s a great job, well-remunerated with well-maintained equipment.
And although Purolator has to pay attention to the bottom line (and does so religiously), the same stresses that exist for smaller, regional, and family-owned trucking companies are less prevalent for this industry giant. I.e., when they were growing their logistics LTL business, from my perspective, there seemed to be no problem throwing equipment and personnel into the battle—something a privately-owned company could not, and would not be able to do with a bank looking over its shoulder.
Recently, there have been some economic indicators that the worst part of this recession is over: people are buying homes and the prices are holding, for one thing. But categorically, the same is not true for the trucking industry. There’s still a lot of gloom out there and freight volumes are not improving much, if at all. So while revenues are down 10-20% (my estimate), I’m not fretting about my job, although I’m sure many middle managers at Puro are not as comfortable. It’s been a rough go for the trucking industry and drivers alike, so there’s no smugness in my comments, especially when it comes to the plight of my fellow transport drivers and workers.
Having said that, I noticed Puro has been granted two permits to operated Long Combination Vehicles in Ontario starting in October. The announcement created mixed emotions in me. No doubt, some of the Montreal-Toronto linehauls will go to LCVs, and some work will be lost. On the other hand, I enjoyed my time operating B-trains and I’ll probably sign up for training (if they’ll have me). If this profession has taught me anything, it’s that one shouldn’t be afraid of change and improving one’s skill set.
But I’m still waiting to see some improvement in the highway infrastructure if the MTO wants these LCVs to coexist on the 400 series roads, especially when it comes to rest area parking. The Ontario government dropped the ball on the service centre closures and I frankly don’t believe the promises they make in press releases.

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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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