Truck News


Call off the love fest

It's no big surprise that Stephen Harper's election promise to cut the four cent per litre federal excise tax on diesel fuel in half was warmly received in industry circles. Who would argue against a ...

It’s no big surprise that Stephen Harper’s election promise to cut the four cent per litre federal excise tax on diesel fuel in half was warmly received in industry circles. Who would argue against a cut in their taxes?

But before we get too enamoured about Harper, let’s call this announcement for what it is: a politically-motivated manoeuvre crafted and timed to curry favour as the country heads to the polls.

Of course it will give carriers a better chance of surviving the sky-high diesel prices they’ve had to endure the last couple of years. I’m not arguing that. But if Harper was truly sincere about helping out the trucking industry, why did he wait this long to suggest the tax cut? Where was he when diesel prices were at even higher levels? Action back then may have prevented a few bankruptcies and saved some jobs. As the Prime Minister, if he truly wanted to lead, he could have done so. Ah, but then that would not have been smart politics. Politicians – and the Liberals would have been no different – worry that people have short memories and may not remember a kindness offered too far in the past.

And in our jubilation over this promise let’s also not make it out be any more than it is. This is not, as some have suggested, an answer to our very real greenhouse gas emissions problem. I doubt the money saved would be used to invest in new green technologies by the majority of fleets. If anything, the lower cost of diesel, may serve the opposite purpose.

While I support the proposed tax cut, I also think it misleading to characterize it as the polar opposite of the Liberal plan to introduce a federal carbon tax. True, the Liberals still have important questions to answer about their plan. For example, how high does the levy have to be to truly change behaviour? The tax grab on cigarettes is damn high, yet I still see plenty of folks happily puffing away on their cancer sticks. If it doesn’t change behaviour, it’s just a tax grab.

But we’re doing ourselves no favours by quickly dismissing the carbon tax proposal as “economically punishing and crippling” just because it’s a tax.

A greener economy does not have to equal a weaker economy. There are many examples of forward-thinking corporations that have gone green and come out ahead. Manufacturer Johnson & Johnson reduced its greenhouse gas emis-sions by 7%, saving an average of about $40 million a year, while growing its business 300% in the past eight years.

Germany created more than 250,000 jobs in the green sector in the past five years, with incentives to lure foreign companies, including a $35 million grant for an Ontario solar cell producer, ARISE Technologies. Can a green economy go mainstream in Canada if governments don’t adopt both a carrot (incentives) and stick (price on carbon emissions) approach?

I don’t know. What I do know is that these are important issues for the long-term future of our industry and our country. And that we need to have a sophisticated debate about them during this election rather than just throwing our support behind the party most quick to throw bucks our way.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail

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