Foot in Mouth

by Ingrid Phaneuf

TORONTO, Ont. – New Democrat Party leader Jack Layton’s anti-truck comments on the May 26 CTV broadcast of Canada AM provoked no little response from the trucking industry.

During the live national TV interview Layton, a former Toronto city councillor, said the NDP would like to “get someof those big rigs and trucks off the road that are destroying the roads by investing in rail again.”

“It never fails to amaze me how the so-called workers party can be so insensitive and condescending to 400,000 workers from the trucking industry in this country. It’s the typical Cabbagetown, intellectual socialism so in vogue with the sweatered, smarmy set,” said Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley.

After hearing the remarks, Bradley fired off a letter to Layton’s office in Ottawa, Bradley’s letter read as follows:

“Dear Mr. Layton:

I am writing in response to your comment made this morning on Canada AM, wherein you suggested we should ‘get those big rigs and trucks off the road that are destroying the roads, by investing in rail again.’

“This is a rather uninformed and thoughtless comment for someone who supposedly wants to form a government that represents all Canadians; who wants to promote cleaner air; and, end subsidies to big corporations.

“Had you taken the time to find out a few things about our industry, you might have chosen your words a little more carefully:

“For starters, the Canadian trucking industry directly employs over 400,000 Canadians. More than 280,000 of those are truck drivers. According to the Census of Canada, this makes being a truck driver the top occupation for males in the country.

“With regard to the environment, the trucking industry is the only mode of freight transportation whose engines and fuels are regulated to reduce and minimize harmful emissions that cause smog.

“Current regulations set limits on the sulphur content of truck diesel fuel and emissions of NOx and PM – two major precursors of smog – from truck engines.

“And, by the fall of 2006, BY LAW, the emissions of NOx and PM will be virtually eliminated from heavy trucks.

“The emissions from railway locomotive engines and rail diesel are not regulated (in Canada – although they are in the U.S.).

“While that sector makes much of the fact that its new engines are more powerful and fuel-efficient than the previous generation of locomotives – it is a fact that they are emitting MORE pollutants into the atmosphere.

“There is a significant amount of independent research that verifies this should you wish to check the facts.

“It is also a convenient urban myth that trucks are, to use your words, destroying the roads.

“On what do you base that belief?

“Scientific and engineering research suggest that most damage to highways is a result of our freeze-thaw cycles.

“If you are talking about damage to rural roads in Western Canada, for example, the damage that trucks inflict on those roads are the result of: (a) the railways abandoning certain lines because they no longer generate sufficient profit; and (b) the fact that those roads were not built to a standard that could handle the level of truck traffic now imposed on them as shippers turn to trucks having been left high and dry by the railways.

“Would you rather that the trucking industry should also abandon those communities?

“It may also interest you to know that while proponents of the railways consistently speak of the supposed benefits of intermodalism, the railways themselves have recently begun abandoning significant amounts of the intermodal business they and truckers had already entered into. Did you know for example that CP Rail recently abandoned most of its trailer-on-flatcar business?

“I find it odd that you don’t see a contradiction in arguing on the one hand for an end to corporate hand-outs and subsidies (incidentally I don’t disagree with you), while at the same time promoting investment in privately-held rail lines owned by profitable companies.

“And, for the record, when the diesel fuel taxes and vehicle licence fees paid by trucks are added up, the trucking industry pays more than its fair share for the use of the roads and highways.

“Did you know, for example, that in your home province the trucking industry single-handedly pays 85 per cent of the provincial highway management budget?

“Federally, while the government of Canada doesn’t mind taxing diesel fuel, Canada is the only G-7 country NOT to have a national highway policy.

“And we wonder why our infrastructure is deteriorating.

“Much of this information would have been at your disposal during the examination you participated in as a member of Toronto City Council when deliberating over how best to transport Toronto’s trash to Michigan.

“Perhaps it has just slipped your mind.

“The trucking industry is clean, safe and people-based. Our people provide the lifeblood of the Canadian economy and are the lifeline for many communities. They would appreciate it if you would be more thoughtful and sensitive when wading in on freight transportation issues in the future.

“Best of luck during the remainder of your election campaign.


David Bradley, CTA Chief Executive Officer”

OBAC appalled

Bradley’s letter was swiftly followed by reaction from other industry association heads: both Joanne Ritchie of the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada and Bruce Richards, head of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada.

OBAC’s executive director Ritchie, responded to Layton’s remarks by fax: “Trucks are here to stay because trucking is the shipper’s mode of choice. Get over it,” Ritchie wrote.

Ritchie said she was offended when she heard Layton’s remark on the CTV news program.

“I hope his comments are not in keeping with NDP transportation policy. If they are, they demonstrate an appalling lack of understanding of trucking’s role in Canada’s economy,” she said.

In her letter to Layton, Ritchie explained that trucking is the dominant mode of transport in Canada for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the efficiency it offers in a Just-In-Time economy.

“Shippers want and need reliable, time-sensitive and cost-effective transportation, and trucking delivers,” she wrote to Layton. “Trucking is a service industry: we do not create demand, we accommodate it. Canada is producing and shipping more than ever before; more trucks are required to meet record demand. The only way to get trucks off the highway is to slow down the economy.”

Ritchie also suggested that if the NDP was committed to a prosperous Canada, a more positive approach would be to make the highways more truck-friendly.

“We need better, safer highways with more places to rest. We need better border crossing facilities, and we need more cooperation on security and cross-border trade issues with the U.S. We don’t need more truck vs. rail rhetoric,” Ritchie wrote.

PMTC reacts

PMTC head Bruce Richards was also critical of Layton’s anti-truck comments.

“I hope that the NDP has thought through their election platform a little better than that,” said Richards.

“Those ill-informed comments seem all too personal to be representative of the party’s views.”

Richards went on to say that the weight that trucks are allowed to carry is carefully determined by engineers within the responsible ministries of transportation, and on-road inspectors carefully monitor the activities of carriers.

“Anyone with even a basic knowledge of truck regulation would be familiar with that,” said Richards.

And as for the idea of shifting the freight to rail, Richards pointed out: “We live in an era where consumers expect everything from groceries to fresh produce, to department store goods to be available on demand. It is an efficient trucking system that makes that happen and anyone who has given the matter a little thought would realize that.”

Layton responds

Layton was slow to respond to industry criticism, but finally issued a letter explaining his Canada AM remarks to Bradley June 4. Layton said his remarks were misunderstood and taken out of context (
see sidebar this page).

Bradley, for his part, fired back the following:

“I appreciate that Mr. Layton had the courtesy of responding promptly. And, he clearly put some thought into his response and his explanation of what he means by “some trucks” is helpful. His desire to want to work with the industry to transition as soon as possible to vehicles that are easier on the environment is something we would agree with.

“However, he does not acknowledge the enormous improvements made in reducing smog emissions from truck engines and truck diesel fuel. Moreover, he clearly described trucks as “destroying the roads,” in the Canada AM interview. In addition, he ducks any explanation for his comments on investing in rail.”


Layton responds:

Dear Mr. Bradley,

Thank you for your recent letter expressing your concerns about comments I made on the CTV program Canada AM regarding the trucking industry.

I believe there is a misunderstanding about what I said, possibly due to a misquotation of the interview.

I have reviewed the transcript and I would like to address the issues you raise.

First, I was referring to my experience talking to rural residents, specifically: “a lot of them would be very happy if we could get some of those big rigs and trucks off the roads…”

The word “some” is critical here, as it in no means was meant as an attack on your industry, and I believe careful observers would concur. Transportation is vital to Canada’s economy, which is dependent on a reliable and sustainable system. Certainly I am keenly aware that Canada is an exporting nation, with about 40 per cent of our GDP resulting from exports.

However, my comments were reflective of what I am hearing from many rural residents – and Canadians from all regions and walks of life – and I agree with them that for our families and for future generations we need a much more aggressive approach on fuel efficiency and harmful emissions. This is a particular problem with many older vehicles. These are “some of those big rigs” I was referring to.

I am certain most members of the trucking industry also care about the environment and would not want your comments to be interpreted as positioning the industry against reduction of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. These emission levels have actually increased in this country, whereas they have decreased in the U.S. We will need to do a lot better as a country to even meet the modest targets outlined in the Kyoto protocol that the Canadian government has signed on to. (But unfortunately has no concrete plan for implementation.)

I would advocate working with the industry to transition as soon as possible to newer vehicles that are easier on the environment. I hope you agree with this point.

Second, apart from missing the word “some,” you quote me as describing trucks as “destroying the roads.” These words do not appear in the transcript that I have obtained of the interview. More to the point, I would like to take this opportunity to note that as the former head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I along with my colleagues on the FCM’s national board of directors, pressed provinces and the federal government for a long-term National Highway Program – another symbol of 11 years of Liberal neglect on key infrastructure issues.

I would also like to point out that we are the only federal party in this campaign talking concretely about investing heavily into community infrastructure, to the tune of $2.25 billion per year over the next four years (a total of $9 billion), including roads in rural areas.

I hope this helps alleviate any confusion on this issue. Please feel free to contact me at any time in the future on this or other matters.


Jack Layton

Leader, Canada’s NDP

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