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Industry Issues: Modern truck policy forum long overdue

The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) does not serve as an effective forum for developing and implementing truck policy. It never has in my view. If the trucking industry is t...

David Bradley

David Bradley

The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) does not serve as an effective forum for developing and implementing truck policy. It never has in my view. If the trucking industry is to play the role demanded of it in terms of safety, the environment and yes, lest we forget, the economy, then a new truck policy forum for the 21st century is required.

A hallmark of the trucking industry has been its ability to be proactive, to sense opportunities or impediments in the marketplace and to take action, or to respond quickly to market changes. The trucking industry continues to reinvent itself, to adapt to changing circumstances.

Truck policy and regulation has not kept pace. Although when regulations do change the industry is expected to adapt quickly. Governments talk about innovation, about productivity, about the competitiveness of Canada in the international supply chain, about lowering GHG emissions and about improving highway safety. But, where do we go to discuss these matters in a broad-based, coordinated way? Where are the people responsible for economic, environmental and trade policy? Not at CCMTA, which maintains a quite narrow focus, even though just about every issue that comes up for discussion there has impacts in these other areas.

All organizations must stand on their record, and while CCMTA is not without accomplishment, overall its performance has been dismal. We will soon mark the 20th anniversary of the so-called National Safety Code, hailed as the made-in-Canada antidote to any deterioration in safety that might have occurred following economic deregulation.

Yet, in spite of the fanfare, it is now two decades later and not one of the NSC standards has been uniformly adopted or enforced in all jurisdictions. As I have said ad nauseum, the NSC is neither national, nor is it a code. Examples include the hodge-podge of safety ratings systems, where depending on which province a carrier is from, it could have a different safety rating.

One need look no further than the recent (and ongoing) debacle over implementation of the new federal Hours-of-Service regulations, which themselves were over a dozen years in the making and are still not in place across the country; this despite repeated assurances to the industry that coming-into-force dates and educational enforcement periods would be uniform from one jurisdiction to the next, and for all carriers whether federally- or provincially-regulated.

With a couple of exceptions, governments’ inertia on key emerging issues like truck speed limiters and electronic on-board recorders means that Canada could be left in the dust as regulation is shaped by technology, while the US government at least puts out regulatory proposals for public comment.

This is not to say that the people from government who really make up the CCMTA are incompetent or do not want to do the right thing. Part of the problem is that this is Canada, and the decentralized way that trucking is regulated makes agreement on the smallest item tantamount to a constitutional accord.

There are also the political masters who all but ignore the advice of their CCMTA representatives on occasion. But this also reflects one of the key problems: CCMTA is made up principally of safety administrators, many at a relatively low level of their department’s organizational chart. They have little or no power in determining policy or decision-making. Some of the provincial representatives to CCMTA come from departments that do not have line responsibility for many of the issues being discussed. Many tend to have a very restricted view of trucking and truck safety, principally focused on enforcement.

Another weakness of CCMTA is that despite statements to the contrary, I believe industry representation is at best tolerated and in many cases not welcome at all. This has been a constant source of frustration.

Not too long ago, CTA and almost all of the provincial trucking associations pulled out of CCMTA in protest. That touched off an internal review of CCMTA, which included a consultant’s report and several recommendations for change. Sadly, little has changed in the intervening period other than to invent the term “regulated stakeholder” for a group like the trucking associations.

But all too often, decisions are still taken by regulators behind closed doors and we are consulted after the fact. We are not so naive as to think governments don’t or shouldn’t have in-camera discussions; we do the same thing and always will.

But before taking decisions that sometimes go to the very core of trucking operations, the regulators need to make sure that the industry is given a chance to be in on the debate from the beginning – not just informed at the end.

As I said above, it will soon be 20 years since the NSC and economic deregulation were introduced. It has been more than 20 years since the RTAC standards were adopted. NAFTA is closing in on 15 years. Twenty years ago the environment was not the policy force it is today; the same with security. Technology in the trucking industry was pretty basic.

The world has changed and the trucking industry’s footprint on society has expanded into a host of policy arenas. Yet, our chief mechanism for ensuring that we have a modern policy perspective which results in timely, progressive and effective truck policy and regulation is stuck in a bygone era and serves no one well – not the public, not government and certainly not the industry. It’s time for a serious re-think and to put into place an energetic forum to develop forward looking trucking policy.

– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

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