Albertan named CTA chairman

CALGARY, Alta.With the current oil slump creating a ripple effect across the Canada-wide economy, Gene Orlick, who was recently promoted to the position of chairman with the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), believes the time is ripe for the trucking industry to strive for new heights of success.

“We’ve got all the movers and shakers in the industry under this umbrella in the CTA and they’re all very influential in their own right,” Orlick said. “The intellect, energy, ability to lead, push and lobby government to help get what we need has never been better, so let’s maximize that effort and get it to work.”

The Orlick name is a popular one in the trucking world. Gene’s father, Max, and uncle, Tom, started Orlick Transport in 1965, with Gene carrying on the family name in the trucking business with Orlicks Inc., located in Calgary, Alta.

Gene is the first Albertan to sit in the CTA’s chairman seat since 2008, when Bruno Muller of Caron Transportation out of Sherwood Park assumed the title. It seems, at least in recent history, that those from Wild Rose country get their crack at the CTA chairmanship during rough economic times in the energy-rich province. But with a slew of issues he’s eager to tackle, Gene told Truck West that he is ready to get his hands dirty and lead the CTA to the next level.

“I’m really a facilitator to get everybody talking and moving in the right direction and not stumbling on negative issues,” he said. “I’m inheriting an awesome association. It’s done very well. It’s financially sound, it’s staffed very well…there’s an incredible group of people there that know what they’re doing.”

Gene, who also moved into the role of chairman of the Alberta Motor Transport Association much sooner than he expected, said that when it came to the CTA, there were a good 20 issues he would like to address during his two-year tenure.

One of the immediate challenges will be finding a replacement for David Bradley, who will be retiring from his position as CEO of the CTA in 2017. Gene said a selection committee with representatives from each of the seven trucking associations across the country would be tasked with finding someone to fill the role.

“We believe that he broke the mould when he was born,” Orlick said of Bradley, “so we’re not ‘replacing’ David Bradley. Fortunately, he’ll be around.”

Gene said several other key matters must be addressed by the CTA.

Truck safety: Electronic logging devices, stability controls and onboard recorders are all becoming regulatory compliance technologies that Orlick said is forcing people in the industry to pay more for their trucks.

“All these things cost money,” he said, “but they’re going to be legislated technology probably by 2025.”

Carbon pricing: Orlick said some provinces, like B.C. and Quebec, already apply carbon taxes to their fuel, but one of the complaints he has heard is that many drivers purchase their fuel outside of those provinces and drive through in an effort to avoid paying the additional fees.

He said that this is simply a reality of what will happen when one province charges a carbon tax and a neighbouring province does not, and it is an issue that needs to be examined further.

Road pricing: There are several bridges and road infrastructure across Canada that needs to be upgraded and maintained, but who should pay what portion of the costs?

“(Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau has made a lot of promises about infrastructure spending,” Orlick said, “but they’re still looking at the carriers to pay road tolls.”

Autonomous trucks: Orlick pointed out that these driverless trucks should be called semi-autonomous, as he believes that in the Canadian climate there will never be a truck motoring down the road with no diver behind the wheel.

Orlick added that although he has trouble with the idea of driverless trucks, some private carriers could see value in what they could offer to their business.

Driver shortage: “We don’t really have a driver shortage today,” Gene said, “but it’s an ongoing issue because in the future you have around 500,000 drivers short in the US in the next 10 years or so.”

Orlick said the main reason the industry is facing a driver shortage is not due to a lack of drivers, but because there is not enough financial incentive for them to pursue a career behind the wheel.

Sleep apnea: Speaking from personal experience, Orlick said sleep apnea, which he suffers from himself, is a major issue in the truck driving profession. He said many carriers are starting to install sleep apnea devices, called CPAP machines, in trucks for drivers who are dealing with the issue.

“When you have sleep apnea, you don’t ever go into REM sleep,” he said. “You need that. It’s a big issue because of fatigue management. It’s getting to the point where in the US they’re talking about that if you have sleep apnea you can’t drive a truck.”

With CPAP machines costing somewhere around $1,800 each, Orlick said the problem if this was ever to become a government regulated matter would be who would pay for the machines?

Mandatory entry-level training: Orlick believes it’s not safe for someone to simply go to a school, fork over their $4,000 and ‘they’re a truck driver tomorrow.’

“You can illustrate that by counting the accidents in B.C. between Golden and Revelstoke,” he said. “There are so many rookies who are tipping trucks on that highway. These guys are just going too fast and don’t understand the physics.”

Orlick said there must be some kind of upgrading for entry-level drivers, and that he doesn’t like how rookie drivers are ‘just given a chance.’

National Occupational Classification (NOC): As it presently stands, the Government of Canada does not view truck driving as a skilled profession.

“They feel that because we can train them, that it’s unskilled,” said Orlick. “Whoever is making those rules, put them behind the wheel of a truck and trailer and say, ‘Go 10 feet down the road.’ Can they get it started first of all and would they ever figure it out?”

Orlick said due to truck driving being classified as non-skilled labour, the country is attracting a lot of unskilled personnel that he wouldn’t put in a truck.

“Why can’t we bring over somebody who wants to be here and has a skill?”

Sixty-foot trailers: Orlick said 60-foot trailers do operate in Alberta and Ontario for Canadian Tire, Loblaws and Wal-Mart, but he remains leery about the notion.

“Sixty-foot trailers aren’t really engineered to deliver to most docks,” he said, adding that they are designed more for warehouse-to-warehouse shipments. “A lot of docks have trouble with 53s, especially in the centre of cities. It confuses me, because you have to use an LCV (long combination vehicle) driver for that one trailer, or you could use two 53-footers for that LCV driver.”

Wide-base single tires: Wide-base, single tires are said to be more fuel efficient than their dual-tire comparison, but carriers are only permitted to carry an 80% payload if they choose to use them.

Orlick said many Alberta carrier have purchased wide-based, single tires anticipating they will soon get to utilize them with a 100% payload.

Some of the other matters Orlick said he would like to confront as chairman of the CTA were food safety rules, platooning (where a lead truck is followed closely by another truck) and helping the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s cargo theft initiative.

“They need more support from the carrier to give them data,” he said.

The current value of the Canadian dollar is another challenge that Orlick said is costing Canadian trucking companies a lot of added expense.

“I think the trucking industry is going to be strong,” he said, “but we certainly have a lot of costs to evaluate with the (US) exchange and wondering what happens when a new (US) president is elected in November and how that impacts Canada.”

Orlick said he hopes Canadian companies would again soon be able to get their trucks for $150,000 instead of the $200,000 price tag many are currently faced with paying.

He said companies are not at this point seeing an incremental surge in their revenues to offset the increased cost of trucks due to the present-day exchange rate.

Notwithstanding these hurdles, Orlick said he is ready to lead the CTA in its efforts to keep all the associations in tune and networking together to develop a unified policy moving forward.

“What I said during my acceptance speak as chairman was that we were at the top of our game, but that doesn’t mean we settle on it. That’s our starting point to go further up,” said Orlick.

The process of becoming chairman of the CTA is not unexpected, where someone is secretly nominated and surprised if elected; it is a step-by-step progression, with a member acting as secretary, treasurer, second vice-chairman and first vice-chairman, all for two-year terms before becoming chairman.

“I’m looking at this as an opportunity for me to grow, learn and to get better,” Orlick said. “I’ve been in it for 38 years now, and I still learn something every day. That’s the fun part of it. To be recognized as a leader in the industry is wonderful, but now where do we take it from here?”

Armed with what he said is the strongest board of directors it has ever had, Orlick said being chairman of the CTA is much like running Orlicks Inc.

“I have certain skills, but I don’t have all the skills,” he said, “so I surround myself with great people…it’s the same thing with the CTA. I’m very proud and honoured to be selected chairman. It is a very intelligent group of membership that I’m working with.”

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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