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Heading the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association may be the toughest job in the industry - four different provincial governments, a distant federal government and a local economy that can be challe...

Heading the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association may be the toughest job in the industry – four different provincial governments, a distant federal government and a local economy that can be challenging even during the best of times. But APTA president Ralph Boyd says that despite dropping freight volumes there are positive signs ahead for his carrier members.

MT: How do you manage to coordinate the various levels of government and political agendas that you face as an association working across four provinces?

Boyd: We are the only association in Canada that has four provinces to deal with, four provincial parties, three Conservative and one Liberal, plus the federal Liberals. On dealing with government, we have learned quickly that you can’t take the government at its word. You’ve got to get it in writing. Take for example, the situation with the Nova Scotia Conservative government’s plan to raise commercial-vehicle tolls by 25 per cent on Hwy. 104’s Cobequid Pass. We’re paying $3.50 an axle for transponders, and we are getting a 25 percent reduction for using them, while passenger vehicles are getting 50 percent. We had a gentleman’s agreement with the former government that if revenues and volumes were up there’d be no increase in tolls. And when you talk to the Deputy Minister’s office they openly tell you that revenues and volumes are up! What they fail to tell everyone is that within the original agreement (under the former Liberal government) there was opportunity for a windfall for the government. My carriers have dreaded hauling over that roadway, and paying for it too. But we all have our crosses to bear and this is one of them.

MT: On the harmonization front, and with respect to standard training, what’s the status on the initiatives to increase the six-week driver training program in New Brunswick to a 12-week system ?

Boyd: New Brunswick’s Minister of Training and Employment Development has given the nod to moving all driver training schools to a 12-week program over the coming months. So candidates will have a pre-screening, eight weeks of comprehensive training, a four-week internship under the carrier and supervised by a coach, after which they begin their career as a driver. The Ministry is implementing this program on a trial basis for 24 months. All the schools in New Brunswick have six months to become accredited to the “Earning Your Wheels” program from the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, otherwise their licence will be withdrawn. In Prince Edward Island, there is one school seeking accreditation. I’ll be sitting down with our board to discuss the next steps of implementation. My carriers operate throughout the region so they want to be able to pick up drivers with the same training and qualifications across all the provinces.

MT: Atlantic Canada is from all accounts on track to join IRP by April 1. Are there any major hurdles yet to be overcome in this harmonization initiative?

Boyd: P.E.I. will be the first province on line with data testing for IRP, and it looks like all of the other provinces are on line for April 1. Actually there’s no choice about the date. All the provinces are getting people trained through work sessions on new forms, settling registrations, doing calculations. It’s very important for us in this part of the country, with 2.4 million people, to have efficiencies and harmonization (in IRP, and weights and dimensions) across the various areas. Our carriers are a lot more transient too, moving to all parts of North America.

MT:Newfoundland and Labrador’s Independent Trucking Association has been successful at negotiating a voluntary surcharge schedule with carriers and shippers, although there is yet no legislation to back this agreement. As long as there is no actual legislation, in your opinion, does this hold the carrier to anything concrete?

Boyd: I think any smart carrier out there today knows that people are its most valuable resource for operating a business. If the carriers know how to stay around, they are collecting surcharges and sharing them with their drivers and O/Os.

MT: Do you anticipate Brian Tobin’s move from Premier of Newfoundland back to federal politics to benefit Atlantic Canada’s situation, and the local trucking industry?

Boyd: We’re always encouraged by the fact that an Atlantic Canadian gets elected to Ottawa. We hope he’ll remember from where he came and the importance of the trucking industry here. The government definitely needs to become more focused on industries.

MT: The Atlantic provinces are dependent on the shipping of many primary resources. Has there been any evidence there of falling freight volumes as we hear of a possible recession ?

Boyd: There’s been virtually no movement of potatoes (either the round or the processed) off P.E.I. to the potato market in the U.S. And it’s traditionally a tremendous revenue stream for the trucking industry. The lumber market has also fallen drastically, so we’re seeing a definite slowdown in the movement of lumber too. These items are usually looked at as loads to get us out of here to central Canada, where we get the ‘high quality’ goods to bring back.

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