Join the Lunchbag Letdown Campaign

by James Menzies

OTTAWA, Ont. – The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), Owner-Operators’ Business Association of Canada (OBAC) and Teamsters union have set aside their political differences in an attempt to lobby Ottawa to restore the meal deduction limit for truckers to 80%. But they need your help.

In 1994, the newly-elected Liberals followed in the footsteps of their US counterparts, reducing the meal tax deduction limit from 80% to 50%.

It was a move aimed at reducing the tax benefits for suits who would wine and dine key customers at lavish restaurants. Unfortunately truckers, many of whom have little choice but to eat out regularly while on the road, suffered the most.

While the US recognized its mistake and has since begun gradually restoring the meal tax deduction limit for American truckers (it stands at 75% now and will return to 80% in 2008), the Canadian feds have yet to reverse the 1994 rollback.

Now, with a new government in Ottawa preparing its first federal budget, the time was right to re-open the debate, members of the CTA, OBAC and Teamsters agreed.

“It’s time for the government of Canada to do the right thing and stop eating our drivers’ lunch,” said OBAC executive director, Joanne Ritchie.

“When a US and Canadian truck driver sit down side-by-side in the same truck stop, eating the same breakfast, it’s very hard to stomach the fact that one of them is getting an 80% write-off while the other gets only 50%,” added Phil Benson, a Teamsters lobbyist.

Many cross-border truckers have been forced to eat out while on the road more frequently than ever, with US Customs agents regularly seizing food products at the border.

As part of the Lunchbag Letdown Campaign, the three lobby groups are distributing postcards at truck stops, through driver pay packages and at industry events. Drivers are encouraged to fill out the postcards and mail them to Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty.

There’s no cost to mail the postcards when sending them from within Canada. A postcard can be found inserted at pg. 37 of this month’s Truck News.

A paper version can also be downloaded from (Under the Knowledge Centres section on the right-hand side of our home page). It can be printed out, placed in an envelope and mailed (no postage necessary) to Parliament Hill.

The effort is reminiscent of a previous mail-in campaign organized by Truck News when the decision was first announced in 1994. Truck News collected and delivered more than 3,500 letters to Parliament Hill, but the collective voice of the trucking industry fell on deaf ears.

This time, organizers are more optimistic, since they’re dealing with a new government.

“We are not talking about lavish meals with $100 bottles of wine here; this is about subsistence, pure and simple,” pointed out CTA chief, David Bradley.

Truckers have good reason to get behind the Lunchbag Letdown Campaign. Increasing the deduction limit from 50% to 80% of $51 (the current federal limit) will save the average truck driver $1,343 per year (or up to $1,468 in Quebec where the taxes are higher than the national average).

That’s based on a driver who finds himself on the road five days per week, 50 weeks per year earning about $50,000 per year. (See chart for a more detailed breakdown).

Scott Taylor, vice-president of TFS Group, a Waterloo, Ont., company that provides accounting, fuel tax reporting, permitting and licensing, and other business services for trucking companies and owner/operators, confirmed to Truck News that truckers stand to benefit substantially from the proposed change.

“Thirteen-hundred dollars in a lump sum payment to a driver every year puts a lot of cash in someone’s hand to help their family pay for braces or pay for a pizza day at their children’s school,” Taylor said. “Imagine if someone had put that into their RRSP year after year – wouldn’t that be something?”

Taylor recalled how the industry was broadsided by the 1994 rollback.

“At that time, we didn’t see it coming,” he said. “Everyone was very upset at the time once they realized how much the reduction was going to mean.”

Taylor said he’s cautiously optimistic the latest meal tax deduction campaign will meet with more success than previous attempts.

The federal government quietly increased the flat rate truckers can use to calculate meal expense deductions from $15 to $17 per meal in October.

“I took that as a good sign the government hasn’t forgotten about the trucking industry,” said Taylor.

However, in order to be successful, truckers will have to get on the ball immediately.

The federal budget could be announced as early as February, leaving little time to influence Flaherty.

Still, even if the campaign does not reach its intended goal in time for the budget, with an election looming, there’s still a chance to make the meal tax deduction limit a key election issue.

“We may be a little bit late, with all the things they’re going to be considering in this budget,” Ritchie told Truck News. “But this will be an ongoing campaign. If it doesn’t show up in this budget, I think we’re prepared to make this an election issue, along with some of the other issues.”

Taylor added the government could also change the deduction limit at a later date, and make it retroactive.

The importance of sending in a postcard cannot be understated, Ritchie stressed. She said government bodies have suggested that every piece of mail they receive represents the opinion of about 1,000 voters.

“They take this stuff pretty seriously,” she said. “For every person that goes to the trouble of mailing something back, there are probably another 1,000 out there that agree with them and just haven’t done it.”

“When a US and Canadian truck driver sit down side-by-side in the same truck stop, eating the same breakfast, it’s very hard to stomach the fact that one of them is getting an 80% write-off while the other gets only 50%.” – Phil Benson, Teamsters

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