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Future Uncertain

OTTAWA, Ont. - Don't expect it to be business as usual when dealing with Ottawa, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) is warning the industry following the return of a minority Liberal government to power.


OTTAWA, Ont. – Don’t expect it to be business as usual when dealing with Ottawa, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) is warning the industry following the return of a minority Liberal government to power.

“Issues like the changes to the hours of service regulations, proclamation of the MVTA, funding for infrastructure (particularly in Windsor), environmental legislation and Kyoto, as well as taxation of our industry, will all be subject to political wheeling and dealing as prime minister Paul Martin tries to hold his minority government together with the help of the NDP and the Bloc,” the CTA says.

Martin’s Liberals took 135 seats and the NDP won 19, which left the centre-left parties one shy of the 155 required for a majority in the 308-seat House of Commons.

That means Martin will have to entice votes from either the Bloc (54 seats) or the Conservatives (99 seats), or independent Chuck Cadman, a former Conservative to stay in power.

In the past, minority governments have rarely held their power for a full term.

The last minority government, headed by Progressive Conservative Joe Clark, fell on a budget vote after nine months.

Historically, however, minority governments in federal and provincial legislatures have tumbled because of political maneuvering – the opposition saw a chance to win the election – rather than squabbles over policy direction.

Shortly after the election, Prime Minister Martin said there would be no talks toward a formal coalition with the NDP or other opposition parties, insisting he has a “stable” minority government and can move forward on his Liberal agenda.

“Lookit, I’m very realistic. This is not a majority government. This is what I believe to be a very stable, but nonetheless minority, government and we will work within that context.

“There have been no discussions, nor are we talking about coalitions or those kinds of agreements,” he said during a news conference.

The Liberals are also pointing out that many Canadians favour a minority government setup and any party perceived as not making this situation work would pay a price with the public.

“I think it will be a foolish opposition party that in any cavalier way would decide to bring down a government, and I think the expectation of Canadians is you get into Parliament and you work together on the issues that matter to us,” Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said.

But Martin’s advisers do acknowledge that discussions with the opposition parties will have to take place in the weeks and months ahead to get a sense of how much support exists for the government’s platform and prevent a vote of confidence that would topple the government.

A new Cabinet was expected to be announced by mid-July and the CTA immediately went to work determining who the new key political figures in Ottawa would be and what to expect from the unstable political situation.

The main initial concern for the trucking industry lies with the status of former Transport Minister Tony Valeri.

Although transportation did not figure in the Liberals main election platform of health care, child care and a new deal for cities, Valeri did receive early accolades from many sectors of the transportation industry prior to the election call for his seeming willingness to place priority on transportation issues.

For example, during speeches in April Valeri readily acknowledged that the importance of transportation to Canada’s economic viability – it’s the country’s third largest economic sector and charged with moving more than $1 trillion worth of goods annually – has at times been overlooked by Ottawa.

He also said that the multimodal infrastructure strategy Ottawa wants to pursue must ensure a “consistent, nation-wide approach to funding for transportation infrastructure, in particular our national highway system,” which addresses a major beef for truckers across Canada.

And in perhaps his most surprising statement during his short pre-election stint as transport minister, Valeri acknowledged that “Canada is the only G7 country without an ongoing national highway program,” echoing what the Canadian Trucking Alliance has been trying to point out to the federal government for years.

Valeri was busy stressing Ottawa’s new commitment to transportation before the election but during the election he nearly became a victim of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek’s love-in with former MP Sheila Copps.

Many of her long-time supporters opted to vote for the NDP rather than for Valeri, but he managed to hang onto his seat with a victory of less than 1,000 votes.

Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) president Ralph Boyd says his association and other provincial associations have already made in-roads in developing a good relationship with Valeri and some stability within the Cabinet would be welcomed.

“Our biggest concern out here is that we’ve been working with Tony Valeri in his capacity of transport minister and now we’ll hopefully find out if he’ll remain in that post or whether a new minister is appointed…He seems to have a willingness to hear the industry’s side of things which is always extremely important,” Boyd, who met with Valeri to discuss issues in the weeks leading up to the election, said.

“We’ve had some issues out here with Marine Atlantic and we’d really like to garner the minister’s support and have a complete analysis of Marine Atlantic and whether it’s going to be here in the future and what form it is going to bear,” Boyd added.

He also emphasized the Eastern provinces would like to see a continuation of the expansion of four-lane highways and he hopes a Liberal minority will be keen on listening to the people.

Predictably, there was disappointment in much of Western Canada, and Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) executive director Kim Royal was no exception.

“Alberta has a slightly different viewpoint than the rest of Canada does but obviously it was the wish of the majority to do what they did,” Royal told Truck News following the election.

“This is a fairly strong minority so I don’t think you’ll see us go back to the polls within six months like we might have done with a minority Conservative government but I think the Liberals, with the minority they have, will manage to govern for 18 months, maybe 24 months, before we go back to the polls. We will be back (to the polls) within two years.”

Royal said he has a number of concerns about the new government in relation to transportation issues.

“We’re not likely to get any strong changes in policy and transportation has not been a plank of the other parties the Liberals are likely to align with,” he says.

“Our concern is that transportation does not get the attention it deserves.”

Prime Minister Martin won his LaSalle-Emard riding quite handily, despite a strong showing by the Bloc Quebecois in that province.

Predictably, the Conservatives dominated the West, particularly Alberta where they won all but two seats.

Deputy Prime Minister McLellan squeaked out a Liberal win in the riding of Edmonton Centre and was one of only two Liberals to achieve victory in Alberta.

Nicknamed “Landslide Annie” because of her tendency to win elections by the slimmest of margins, McLellan didn’t disappoint this time either, winning by only a handful of votes.

After the election, Prime Minister Martin promised his government would do better, and have “a deep respect for taxpayers’ dollars.”

“Canadians expected, and expect, more from us and as a party and as a government we must do better, and we will – I pledge that to you tonight,” he told supporters following the election.

For his part, Conservative leader Stephen Harper appeared to take the election loss in stride despite predictions by some observers that he would be prime minister when the sun came up on June 29.

“Our party, in a very short time, has made historic strides across this country,” he told his supporters, who had gathered in Calgary to watch the results filter in.

“I will admit I feel some disappointment tonight, but you should feel none.”

Harper then surprised many when he
made an off-handed remark on a flight to Ottawa that implied he might step down as leader of the Conservative party. Since the comment, Harper has sidestepped any questions about his future with the party.

So when does all the political wrangling begin in earnest? Martin said only that he will recall the Commons “in due course.”

His aides hinted at a Sept. 20 date for a Speech from the Throne.


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