MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – The legalization of marijuana, the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, and the possible reworking of NAFTA were three of the biggest issues facing the Canadian transport industry, according to panelists at the Surface Transportation Summit Oct. 11.
Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and Ontario Trucking Association, said Canada has dropped the ball when it comes to protecting employers when marijuana becomes legalized next July.
“The decision was made to legalize marijuana. That’s fine, we’re moving on. But the issue here is, the government must have the fortitude to stand up beside employers and say that in safety-sensitive positions we’re going to allow drug and alcohol testing,” contended Laskowski.
Employers will have difficulty determining whether or not their employees are high on the job, as there is currently no test available that determines impairment.
“This was rushed from the beginning,” Laskowski said. “It’s a complicated issue.”
The rail industry is equally concerned, according to Gerald Gauthier, vice-president of public and corporate affairs with the Rail Carriers Association of Canada.
“Our concern is the impact of marijuana on safety-sensitive positions,” he said. “It’s a drug. It has an impact on your concentration.”
Gauthier shared Laskowski’s concern that employers won’t be able to easily determine when employees are using the drug on the job.
“It’s not always apparent the person is under the influence and we currently have no means to test it,” he said. “There is no legal impairment level set by the government and no technology that is ready to use.”
The Canadian version of the U.S. ELD mandate should soon be posted in the Canada Gazette, Laskowski said.
“It’s not going to change the hours-of-service rules, but it’s going to change how it’s reported, and that’s a big change,” he explained. He said shippers will need to work with carriers to better manage the supply chain.
Bob Ballantyne, president of the Freight Management Association of Canada, said his members are eager to do so.
“There’s going to have to be a lot of cooperation,” he acknowledged.
Laskowski said it’s estimated only 30-40% of carriers are currently using ELDs. Implementing them, he said, can require a 12- to 18-month transition period.
Asked if drivers and owner-operators will exit the business rather than adopt ELDs, Laskowski said most fleets report drivers come to like them.
“Time is money,” he said. “Drivers no longer have to fill out paperwork. It’s easier to audit. There are a lot of other time savings that equal money at the end of the day.”
The renegotiation of NAFTA was another concern listed by the panel. Ballantyne said three quarters of Canadian exports go to the U.S., and half our imports originate from there.
“So, in terms of trade, it’s the most important relationship we have,” he said. “We had big trade with the U.S. before NAFTA existed and we will continue to have trade, regardless of what happens. But there could be disruptions and that would be bad.”
But Laskowski said the ongoing NAFTA talks at least provide an opportunity to get trucking issues back on the table with government. He noted the CTA made submissions to government on more than 13 areas that could be improved with regards to border operations.
“Getting the attention of government on some of our micro issues in transportation is difficult,” he said. “Here is an opportunity…we have a wonderful opportunity to modernize NAFTA. There are a number of issues we’d like to work on as the trucking industry, and hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to discuss them.”
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