Growing concerns

by Frank Condron

WHITBY, Ont. – Although the passion that marked its early days seems to have subsided, the fledgling National Truckers Association (NTA) took a few more steps last month toward its dream of becoming a strong voice for owner/operators in the trucking industry.

The idea for the association was hatched in a coffee shop in early February by a handful of Oshawa-area truckers who were angry about the high cost of fuel. A series of boisterous, standing-room-only meetings followed, culminating in a Feb. 23 parking-lot rally in Pickering, Ont. that featured about 500 truckers and massive media coverage. With the endorsement and financial backing of the crowd at the rally, the NTA officially registered a few days later as a trade organization. Since then, though, fuel prices have dropped, and the association has fallen right off the 6 o’clock news.

But while the noisy protests may be gone, the individuals behind the NTA have continued to work to solidify the organization’s long-term viability. The group held its first general meeting at a recreation centre in Whitby, Ont. on April 8 to elect its first board of directors. Although NTA membership numbers were sketchy going into the meeting, the turnout fell far below the group that endorsed the association at the Feb. 23 rally. With a nasty snow storm blowing outside, only about 30 people were on hand at the meeting’s scheduled 2 p.m. start time, and that number grew slowly to about 200 by the time votes were cast at 6 p.m.

“Obviously, we were hoping for more; we have 316 official members,” said NTA interim president Jonn Faustino. “But some of our members had to work, and others are situated very far to the north and west of the province, so they were looking at a very long drive just to vote. But that’s not a detrimental thing. In federal elections, some people don’t vote when it’s two blocks away.”

A field of 19 candidates stood for 11 seats on the board of directors, and 160 ballots were counted. The NTA board of directors as elected by the members present is as follows: Bill Wellman, Dalvir Singh Nijjer, Jonn Faustino, Harvinder Pal Dhaliwal, Les Thomas, Doug Whyte, Dominik Kononowic, Dennis Cleary, Jerry Parslow, Valdi Kosecki and Richard Poplawski.

Noticeable by their absence from the field of candidates for the board were trucker Joe Laroque, one of the more vocal leaders of the association in its early days, and Patty Bowman-Kingsley, a local school board trustee and the wife of one of the NTA’s founding members. A polished speaker with a political experience, Bowman-Kingsley took control of a raucous meeting on Feb. 19 and basically led the Feb. 23 rally. While Laroque seems to have simply drifted away from the association, Bowman-Kingsley’s departure was less cordial, according to NTA communications director Heather Whyte.

“It’s a long story,” Whyte said. “We originally elected to pay her, but we can’t afford to pay her anymore.”

Everyone currently involved with the NTA volunteers their time, she added.

One week following the general meeting, the new board met again to elect three officers from among its number to lead the association in its first year of operations. Bill Wellman emerged as the first official president of the association, with Dalvir Singh Nijjer as vice-president and Doug Whyte as secretary/treasurer. Faustino will continue to serve as association spokesman and chairman of the board.

Now that the NTA has its officers and board in place, the association can concentrate on solidifying and raising its profile as a voice for owner/operators on issues such as high fuel prices and low rates. The association has been able to present its case to the provincial government, the petroleum companies and an association of shippers, but Faustino acknowledges that those were little more than “courtesy” meetings. If the NTA is ever going to have the power to affect change, he said, the key will be growing the membership.

“Lots of drivers think we have disappeared, and some want to join but they just haven’t had an opportunity to get to a meeting. We have to reach them,” Faustino said. “We are going to try to do that via the CB and word of mouth. Eventually, we want to do an aggressive membership drive at truck stops across the country.”

And membership could have its privileges. In spite of its modest numbers now, the NTA has still managed to secure a number of “deals” for its members already, and they were revealed at the general meeting. Premier Peterbilt of Whitby has pledged to offer association members fleet discounts on minimum five- to 10-truck orders, and $1,000 off single orders. Also, Attersley Tire has offered NTA members special pricing on Firestone, Bridgestone and Yokohama tires and Bandag retreading at its 10 locations across Ontario. Other representatives were present at the meeting, offering group discounted rates on insurance and prepaid legal services.

“This is where it starts. It is only through the NTA that we can talk to these companies,” Wellman told the crowd at the general meeting. “Ten people ain’t gonna do. A hundred they might listen to. Ten thousand they will definitely listen to.” n

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