The federal Liberal election platform, A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class, sets out where the Trudeau government wants to go over the next four years. Like any successful lobby group, CTA will try – to the extent possible and where it makes sense to do so – to frame its “asks” within the context of a government’s agenda. Here are some thoughts on what I mean.
Youth job creation is a key plank in the Trudeau government’s platform including a commitment of up to $10 million per year to help young Canadians gain the skills they need to enter high-demand trades. Unfortunately, under the National Occupational Classification, the truck driving occupation is deemed to be “unskilled,” which raises doubts that student truck drivers would qualify for such support. Currently, there is little to help young, underemployed Canadians and others seeking a career change to defray the costs of training to become a truck driver. The next opportunity to change the NOC does not occur until 2020. This situation needs to be addressed.
The government will run deficits (how large and for how long is becoming less clear than the plan proposed) to fund a major infrastructure investment program. The aim is to stimulate economic growth. Much of the focus is on cities, where congestion is a serious problem, and getting people out of their cars and onto transit. But the problem is more complex than that. Just because they build it doesn’t mean people will come. And, what about urban goods movement? It essentially occurs on roads, which continue to be short-changed. Our cities have been designed, developed and grown – their buildings constructed – with nary a thought to how trucks are supposed to make their pick-ups and deliveries. That needs to change.
Most economists agree the proposed infrastructure program could provide a much-needed economic injection, which could also have some long-term benefits. However, it does not replace the need for a long-term, sustainable program of strategic infrastructure spending, particularly as it pertains to highways and bridges. The recent problems at the Nipigon River Bridge in Ontario underscore the need for continued support for roads and bridges and for a greater federal role with regards to the Trans-Canada Highway, particularly in remote regions.
Over the years, many groups, including CTA, have identified revenues from federal fuel taxes as the appropriate funding source for a permanent transportation investment program. The federal excise tax on diesel fuel currently serves no policy purpose; the revenues simply flow into general revenue.
It is clear the Trudeau government will take a much more proactive, aggressive and Pan-Canadian approach to climate change. It has already commenced discussions with the provinces to work together towards national GHG reduction targets and carbon pricing systems.
The Trudeau plan earmarks $2 billion for a new Low Carbon Economy Trust to fund projects that materially reduce carbon emissions. Transportation is identified as a significant contributor to Canada’s carbon output. Regardless of the carbon pricing mechanisms employed, the trucking industry will – directly (carbon tax) or indirectly (cap-and-trade) – pay more for fuel. This will create revenue for governments, which if they are serious about carbon reduction as opposed to using the money to clean up their own fiscal imbalances, must be reinvested in our sector to accelerate the penetration of currently available, reliable and proven GHG-reducing technologies/devices and alternative fuels into the marketplace. The New Plan calls for $200 million more per year to support innovation and the use of clean technologies in the natural resource sectors. Why not trucking?
The government’s plan includes a commitment to make Canada the world’s most competitive tax jurisdiction for investments in the research, development and manufacturing of clean technology. That’s a good thing. But as above, why not use the tax system – ie., accelerated CCA rates for carbon-reducing heavy truck technology – to get more people deploying what is already available?
The New Plan states that Canada’s economic success relies on strong trade relationships with our closest neighbours – particularly the US. A cabinet committee is being created to oversee this. We would also suggest the special group within the Privy Council Office that has worked towards more efficient borders and regulatory cooperation and coordinated the efforts of the line departments and agencies in recent years be maintained. The Beyond the Border (BTB) Agreement did not achieve all of its objectives. But some sort of formal bilateral process is still needed.
The government’s plan identifies the need to promote a steadier flow of goods and business travellers by modernizing border infrastructure and streamlining cargo inspections. That’s important. There is still a lot to be done to automate the border. Construction on the Gordie Howe Bridge needs to start. Truckers make up a huge cohort of business travellers. Yet the rules governing driver movement – take the repositioning of foreign empty trailers – are out of date with modern logistics practices.
The New Plan calls for properly negotiated and implemented free trade agreements. Who doesn’t want that? But, why not also take a look at some of the existing agreements and protocols ? Take the US APHIS fees. They are clearly inconsistent with the US’s obligations under GATT and NAFTA. What are we doing about that? The issue grabbing a lot of headlines – legalizing marijuana consumption and incidental possession – could also have implications for Canada-US trade that need to be accounted for. Not to mention the need for clarity on the obligations and rights of employees in safety-sensitive positions and their employers, on-road enforcement protocols, etc. It’s going to be a busy four years.
David Bradley is CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the Ontario Trucking Association.