Truck blockade grips Maritimes for two days

by John G. Smith

FORT LAWRENCE, N.B. – Hundreds of truckers started their equipment for the first time in two days on Feb. 22, ending a blockade that had paralyzed commercial traffic trying to cross the border of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

And it all started with a simple cup of coffee at the local Irving Big Stop.

Dana Delong was complaining about fuel prices when he suggested to Barry Cohoon that they should simply close Hwy. 104 in protest. Cohoon, an owner/operator with Brookville Transport, had heard such ideas before, but he was game. And he was confident that it would lead to something bigger.

“I told him, you realize if we close down a 100-series highway, there’s going to be serious ramifications,” Cohoon told Truck News. “This is just going to be the spark that lit the firecracker.”

That Sunday evening, they began approaching fellow truckers throughout the parking lot, asking for support. And by 10 p.m., their trucks had parked in the middle of traffic lanes. By the next morning, as many as 500 trucks were parked, blocking commercial traffic in both directions.

And there they sat, demanding relief from tolls on Hwy. 104, high diesel prices and low rates.

“We (had) to get these trucks moving,” says Ralph Boyd, president of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association. The route usually sees between 1,500 and 2,000 trucks per day, so it’s obvious that carriers were avoiding the area. The goods simply weren’t moving. Only trucks laden with livestock or medical supplies were allowed to pass.

“We’re the innocent bystanders. We didn’t choose to be there,” Boyd said of his carriers. “We didn’t organize this protest, but we’ve been affected by it.”

Protesters only agreed to end their blockade after securing a meeting with New Brunswick Economic Development Minister Peter Mesheau, who agreed to deliver concerns to the provincial Cabinet. That contrasted with the government of Nova Scotia, which refused to negotiate and actually obtained a court injunction on Feb. 21 to clear the highway.

Still, police didn’t move in – except in cases in which tempers appeared ready to flare.

While about 25 trucks left by 4 p.m. on Feb. 22, after some intense arguments, others left after the meeting with Mesheau.

“I think our meeting with the economic development minister went very well,” said Cohoon. “That was our agenda, to get to the government … We wanted to send a very strong message, that there is a restructuring that needs to be done at all levels, government and big business.

“People have to realize that the key chain controls the food chain.”

“I saw businesspeople around that table,” said Mesheau of his impression of protesters. But he added that the owner/operators are still largely disorganized, and would do well to form an association – acting with the strength of a fist, rather than a finger.

“Our approach was to work closely with the RCMP and let events unfold,” he said of the New Brunswick government. “I think they (truckers) came to a conclusion that they made their statement.”

For now, Cohoon is waiting to see how businesses and governments respond. And he hopes other truckers across the country will pick up the cause. (Some did. Blockades shifted to Woodstock, N.B. and Newfoundland roads once the border was cleared.)

“They at least finally got somebody to listen to them,” said Bill Dowe, a local aggregate hauler who had been running errands for the shut-down truckers. “It sent a wake-up call to the whole country.

“Some of their concerns (such as high fuel prices) are some of my concerns.”

But some of the concerns are also falling on deaf ears.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien emerged from a Cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill, noting that truckers who were protesting there should simply pass on their costs.

“The truckers are like any other business,” he told reporters. “When you have added costs, you transfer it to the people you are working for.” n

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