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Harmonize trucking regs in Atlantic Canada: APTA

DIEPPE, N.B. - One of Atlantic Canada's biggest problems in trucking is a lack of harmonization, especially when it comes to regulations, says Ralph Boyd, president of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking...

DIEPPE, N.B. – One of Atlantic Canada’s biggest problems in trucking is a lack of harmonization, especially when it comes to regulations, says Ralph Boyd, president of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.

Boyd is part of a major push to get New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador working together, instead of as four separate jurisdictions, when it comes to trucking regulations.

“As a representative of the business community, I am a great proponent of leveling the playing field,” Boyd said. “There is too much red tape to cut through when dealing with four different governments. We need similarity in regulation throughout the region.

“Sure, there is reluctance if government loses its autonomy. But truck transportation is extremely important to the economy of Atlantic Canada and the economy of each of its four provinces. We are a very substantial industry. We’re not like the fishing, farming or forestry industry which garners a great deal of respect from government. We are the glue that keeps everything together. We are the driver of the economy. If our trucks aren’t moving, there’s nothing happening in the economy.

“For that, we have to look at things through one window, not four different windows. That only makes good sense from a business standpoint.”

Atlantic Canada accounts for nearly 10 per cent of the Canadian trucking industry. Trucking itself is estimated to be worth close to $4 billion to the four Atlantic Provinces and accounts for approximately 25,000 jobs in the region.

About 1,600 trucks a day cross the New Brunswick-Maine border. The main arterial highways in Atlantic Canada see more than 1,000 truck trips a day. And, according to 1999 statistics, an average of five trucks was involved in a traffic accident per day.

Numbers like those, Boyd said, put a greater importance on harmonized regulations, policies and procedures.

“There are an awful lot of areas that could be looked at to level the playing field: standardized driver training and standardized testing, for example, would be uniform,” Boyd said. “We could also see one permitting system granted for the region. So if a permit was granted in Prince Edward Island, for example, and the load was going from P.E.I. to New Brunswick, you wouldn’t have to apply for a permit in New Brunswick because the P.E.I. permit would be recognized on a universal basis.

“We have to look at the free movement of goods and the best utilization of manpower and equipment and the best way to attract business to an industry that has been suffering from staffing shortages.”

In June 2002, the APTA, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Transport Canada, and representatives from the four departments of transportation in Atlantic Canada commissioned a study on developing a harmonized trucking strategy for the region.

Over 75 professionals involved in the trucking industry in Atlantic Canada and throughout North America, including Boyd, contributed to the report.

The study was hailed as an important step in implementing a key aspect of a joint action plan which called for the development and deployment of a harmonized trucking strategy. It examined areas such as the economic role of trucking in the region’s transportation industry, the region’s growing economic relationship with the United States, in particular border crossings, improving fleet management to support the export of Atlantic Canadian products, the use of e-business technologies and the integration of systems, like motor vehicle registration.

The report provided 19 recommendations for harmonizing the industry in Atlantic Canada, to make it more self-reliant, to help it capitalize on economic opportunities and reduce unnecessary duplication and red tape.

Don Cafferty, senior policy analyst for ACOA, said there has been progress towards harmonization since the study was released and that the provinces continue to work together on issues raised in the study.

“Simply put, the study was strategic,” Cafferty said from his office in Moncton, N.B.

“The aim was to review all of the rules and regulations governing the trucking industry with the hopes of harmonizing many of those rules and regulations.

“Work is proceeding on harmonization of procedures for the movement of oversize and overweight loads, and on common enforcement practices within the region.

“Streamlining the rules and, ideally, reducing four sets of rules with one set would allow trucking industry members to operate as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible. Cost effectiveness and efficiency continue to be important parameters and can not be ignored in a globally competitive marketplace. Atlantic Canada is dependent on selling its products and services to export markets.”

To that end, Cafferty said harmonizing regulations, policies or procedures wasn’t discussed to put more federal dollars in the province’s coffers or push for a change in tax rates.

“Efficient and cost-effective truck transport is a significant factor in Atlantic Canada’s relationship with U.S. and Canadian trading partners, and therefore, has to be an important element of any economic development strategy for the region,” Cafferty said. About $4 billion worth of New Brunswick exports and about $3 billion worth of goods from the other Atlantic Provinces travel by truck on New Brunswick highways to our trading partners in Quebec, Ontario and the United States.

While many view a harmonized trucking strategy for Atlantic Canada as a desirable policy, there are exceptions.

Some government officials have expressed concern about the need to harmonize everything. They point to high costs in marrying large existing systems with, perhaps, little resulting benefit.

Large interprovincial and international motor carriers may be in favour of harmonization, but carriers in Labrador and northern New Brunswick are more concerned with issues between their region and Quebec than harmonization within Atlantic Canada.

Local carriers, such as dump truck operators, who work within one province, may view harmonization with some suspicion if it means changing their regulations and policies.

But harmonization has become a slow process, said Boyd.

“If you look at streamlining enforcement, I must say, up to this point, there has been very little activity in some areas,” Boyd said.

“In other areas, there’s been work conducted although there’s been some erosion from that work, like weights and dimensions.

“There are other areas where basically the governments, as individual provinces, have not either tasked the proper people to do the job or gave them the latitude to try to level the playing field in Atlantic Canada.

“But, on the other hand, we are closer to complete harmonization than we’ve ever been.”

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