LANGLEY, B.C. -The British Columbia Trucking Association is looking for a new leader.
Paul Landry, president and CEO of the organization for nearly 17 years, announced in September that he’d be stepping down from his position no later than the end of June, 2011. His departure leaves the organization with a large set of shoes to fill.
Not that his feet are excessively large, of course, but his accomplishments prompted BCTA chairman Murray Scadeng to report that “Paul’s contribution to the ongoing success of BCTA is well-known to all of our members.”
Landry’s mandate upon being hired was not only to broaden the organization’s base of carriers and give leadership on a broad range of policy issues, but also to establish the association as a credible and respected advocate for the trucking industry with governments, media and the public. As if that weren’t enough, he was also tasked with securing the BCTA’s financial future.
And it appears that Landry rose to the challenge.
“In every way, he’s delivered,” says Scadeng.
Landry brought years of government and transportation industry experience to the BCTA when he joined in May of 1994. “It’s all been transportation- related,” he says, “except for about six months with the Bureau of Intellectual Property in 1973.”
The Ottawa-raised Landry snagged his first government gig with the Canadian Transport Commission in 1968, sandwiching his new duties as a messenger between high school and university.
“I filled the water jugs in the Commissioners’ board room,” he says, “and made sure they had sharp pencils and clean pads of paper -literally.”
Landry’s duties at the Bureau of Intellectual Property -better known as the patent office -were in the Research Division, looking at the relationship between patent laws and investments in pharmaceuticals.
“The argument at the time was that if we have strong patent laws,” he says, “then companies would feel confident that their investments wouldn’t be washed away through knock-offs and generic drugs.”
He eventually joined the flow of easterners heading west, spending many years in Saskatchewan as either a regulator for the Highway Traffic Board or working for the Ministry of Highways. He also ran Saskatchewan Government Insurance’s Traffic Safety Services department before the BCTA recruited him and he moved to the Lower Mainland of B.C.
Not surprisingly, Landry has seen a lot of challenges during his tenure with the BCTA, one of the biggest of which he says was helping extricate the industry from excessive economic regulation.
“B. C. was one of the last provinces to withdraw from entry and rate controls,” he says, “and I was very fortunate that there was really the will within the industry to move away from such an antiquated system.”
Back then, Landry says, the government controlled not only who was involved in truck transportation, but how big a particular fleet could be.
“If you had 10 trucks and your customers needed you to have 12,” he remembers, “you had to go and apply for permission to bring on two more trucks. That application would be published and anyone who disagreed with the application or with your intentions would have full opportunity to oppose and if government felt that there was a substantial issue there, they could actually hold a public hearing.”
Carriers also had to file their rates, which became a matter of public record, and Landry says “you had to adhere to those rates, so you couldn’t discount -and if fuel went up you’d have to request permission from the government to apply a fuel surcharge.” He says that, in the context of thousands and thousands of carriers, “I can’t think of a greater waste of both industry’s and government’s time.”
The system had been in place for decades when Landry showed up and he credits the NDP government of the time for making the changes necessary.
“I think it would have happened inevitably,” he admits, however. “You can’t be the last jurisdiction in North America operating like that.”
Once the BCTA had helped nudge the government into lightening up on the business of regulating, the next challenge was to get rid of the special plates.
“Every carrier in British Columbia was paying $100 every year for every truck,” Landry says. “So we pointed out that they shouldn’t continue charging for a plate that was used in conjunction with a regulatory system that no longer existed.”
It took another year and a half or so to get rid of the plates, he notes, but “It was about a $10 million win for our industry.”
There have been other battles, of course.
“There’ve been so many policy initiatives,” Landry says. “I should probably walk around with a list.”
He says that hardly a year goes by that the organization doesn’t prevent something not-so-good from happening to the industry or “we make something good happen to the industry.” Landry estimates that at any given point in time the BCTA has some 20 or 30 files being pursued actively -some of which end up having influence far beyond the borders of British Columbia.
This year, for example, “We had the US federal government drop a requirement for Canadian insurance companies to align themselves with American insurance companies” he says, “in order to allow Canadian carriers to operate into the US.”
Calling it a totally unnecessary expense, Landry says it meant Canadian insurers had to pay an American insurance company to basically be a front for them, despite the fact that “ICBC’s financial wherewithal and soundness was much greater than the company they were paying.”
The US government was, in effect, saying it didn’t trust the Canadian insurers to pay the bills if there was a claim in the Land of the Free, “a silly proposition when it comes to an organization like ICBC,” he says. “Of course they’re going to fulfill their requirements.”
Landry says the BCTA approached ICBC a few years ago with a request that something be done about the situ ation, and eventually ended up working with the Canadian Transportation Agency and the Canadian embassy in Washington.
“And low and behold, four or five years later, it’s done,” he says. “And it helps carriers who were paying $500 per fleet per year just to put the rubber on the road in the US -apply that to maybe 5,000 or 10,000 carriers crossing the border and that’s a lot of money.”
The new regimen affects all of Canada, Landry says, but “BCTA identified the problem, identified the solution and basically were really persistent in terms of getting the job done.”
The last few years have been particularly challenging for the industry, and Landry thinks that even though there are signs of recovery it is still in a fragile state.
“We continue to lose smaller carriers as a result of the current rate situation,” he says, noting that “business is still down.”
He contends we’ve seen the bottom, however, and that things are starting to recover.
“I’m confident that we’re on the rebound. Rates are starting to firm up a little bit and I wouldn’t be surprised if in a year or a year-and-a-half we have a capacity problem in the sense that there won’t be enough trucks to handle it.”
That will bring other challenges, such as with human resources and carriers’ abilities to find qualified drivers.
“As other sectors in our economy recover,” he says, “the demand for qualified labour will increase and we’ll be back to where we were four or five years ago where you just couldn’t find good drivers.” He says the challenge of finding qualified drivers will be made worse by demographic issues as the driving population gets increasingly close to retirement.
“Those old-timers, the silverbacks in the industry,” Landry says, “are really what keep the wheels turning and we’re really going to miss them and have to find a way to replace them fairly quickly.”
Landry says he’s told anyone who’ll listen that the BCTA is the best job he’s ever had and wishes most other people could have the same kind of w
orking experience. He recalls the most satisfying thing about his years with the BCTA as working with “a really fantastic board and executive committee. And the staff I’ve had the pleasure of working with are very qualified, very committed.”
He also cites the members themselves, though he admits to wishing there were a lot more of them.
“I can’t tell you how many members have been with the BCTA for 30, 40, 50 years,” he says. “It’s incredible. They’re there when times are good, they’re there when times are not so good. Often, they don’t ask for very much, but they’re very, very supportive.”
Regrets? There’ve been a few. Landry says his biggest disappointment is that, instead of the BCTA representing thousands of fleets, it represents only about 800 currently.
“It’s not for want of trying, but we’ve just never gotten there,” he says. “It’s kind of the flipside of what I described in the type of support we have from our members. There are so many companies that don’t get involved with their provincial association -this isn’t just a B.C. thing -or with the Canadian Trucking Alliance.”
Landry says the BCTA and other organizations “punch well above our weight” in getting the job done, but “so many companies are completely oblivious to the work we do, why it is that things happen that benefit them. And, of course, they wouldn’t know about the things that never hurt them because we stopped them before they got out of hand -bad regulations, bad taxes.”
Trucking associations, he says, are very effective, but their resources are limited because so many companies are just staying away, enjoying the benefits without making a contribution. He gets the impression that some carriers think the BCTA is just sniffing around for money, which isn’t the case.
“They have no idea,” he says. “It’s about being there to help us with decision-making, policy-making. We need to know what they feel about issues. We need to hear from them.”
Landry says he’s persuaded that “we could be one of the biggest single effective lobby groups in Canada if we had the full weight of the industry behind us.”
Looking ahead, Landry says he would like to see more shippers work in partnership with trucking companies.
“We need to find a way for shippers to respect and understand the investments that are being made and the kind of rates that support that.” There are many good shippers, he says, but getting commitments to partnerships with their carriers is an ongoing challenge.
While he may be on the verge of retiring from the BCTA, Landry has no plans to fade away. He’s interested in pursuing transportation policy, trucking safety and the environment and hopes to work mostly with governments, crown corporations and the like.
“My sense is that there are a lot of public organizations that have an impact on trucking,” he says, “and that are honestly trying to do a good job but which sometimes just don’t fully understand the trucking industry. Maybe I can be a bridge of sorts.”
His vision of rubbing shoulders with politicians doesn’t mean Landry’s ready to pull up stakes and move to Victoria from Langley.
“Oh, Heavens no! I like where I live; it’s a great spot.” One reason is the reasonable proximity to his daughter, two sons and grandchild-and-a-half.
If Landry’s future unfolds as he envisions, and he claims to have a few irons in the fire already, the BCTA will be the last “job” he has. “I’m looking forward to part-time, less demanding -not necessarily less challenging in an intellectual sense, but less demanding in a temporal sense -opportunities.”
Basically, Landry says, he’s planning a return to the public service he left so many years ago, his goal being to help make the world a better place.