Truck News


Editorial Director’s Comment: It’s our fight

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) went to Ottawa recently to plead its case for the need to remove the current uncertainties at the border.With trucking controlling 70 per cent of the value of trad...

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) went to Ottawa recently to plead its case for the need to remove the current uncertainties at the border.

With trucking controlling 70 per cent of the value of trade between Canada and the U.S. and the growing importance of transborder hauls as a motor carrier source of revenue, I certainly understand the justification for CTA’s appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.

I just have strong doubts it will do much good.

The dismal performance of our Liberal government in properly managing relations with our largest trading partner in recent months leads me to believe we may be better off trying to directly influence U.S. decision making on our own than waiting for leadership from our federal government.

Associations such as Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters have already taken that route as did the CTA in working with the U.S. Advisory Committee on Commercial Relations in presenting alternatives to U.S. Customs’ ludicrous pre-notification proposals. It’s an approach worth continuing. Industry may not have ready access to all the diplomatic channels that our federal government does but I’m convinced we have a much better understanding of the issues and challenges involved.

And the challenges are considerable. Take the initial pre-notification strawman proposal put out by U.S. Customs (now called Customs Border Protection or CBP).

It’s hard to fathom how seasoned bureaucrats working on an issue as critical as this and, supposedly, mindful of their own government’s stated aim that public and economic security will be achieved together and not at each other’s expense, could come up with proposals as unworkable as those they initially presented to industry.

Now it might have been, as Jim Phillips, president of the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance, suggests in our cover story, a mildly clever ploy by U.S. Customs to shock the industry into paying immediate attention. Or it may have been the outcome of the bureaucratic chaos that is likely taking place right now as the U.S. attempts to pull off the largest federal reorganization since the creation of the Defense Department in 1947 – all in the midst of waging war in Iraq and in the face of a political opposition ready to pounce on any sign the U.S. government is lax on security.

The reorganization includes pulling the U.S. Customs Service out of the Treasury Department (and its obvious ties and understanding of commerce), to make it part of the new Department of Homeland Security. After 9-11 I can understand the wisdom behind wanting to combine 170,000 employees from 22 governmental agencies so that the main functions of U.S. security are under one roof. But I also know that the track record of even ordinary mergers between just two companies means that if this were a real corporate merger “Wall Street would be already discounting the share price,” as The Economist magazine aptly commented recently.

So in other words, the ability of U.S. Customs to remain focused on an effective and balanced approach to border issues has become compromised if not by placement under a more security-minded department, then by the upheaval caused by the merger.

Clearly neither Canada nor the trucking industry can allow our greatest economic asset – an open border to the world’s largest market – to turn into our greatest vulnerability. Unfortunately, the industry will have to carry the fight on its own.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached at 416-442-2922 or


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