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Leadership from Ottawa, at last?

Dare we dream that Ottawa will finally give transportation - and in particular trucking - its due?



Dare we dream that Ottawa will finally give transportation – and in particular trucking – its due?

Our transportation system moves more than $1 trillion worth of goods annually, the lion’s share of it on truck. Transportation is a significant contributor to the final costs of goods so anything that impedes its efficiency and productivity inevitably shows up in the final cost of goods and undermines the competitiveness of our economy. Yet for much of the past decade and the start of this one, trucking and transportation in general have been treated as afterthoughts by the regime in Ottawa.

The government’s own blueprint for trucking and transportation, a document released by former Transport Minister David Collenette entitled Straight Ahead, has been widely criticized by carriers and shippers alike as providing no vision and no inspiration.

Put into proper historical context, Ottawa’s lacklustre strategy towards transportation over the past 10 years, albeit short sighted, is arguably understandable. The feds, with the support of most Canadians, have had their mind on debt reduction and were anything but keen on the infrastructure improvement projects the trucking industry was demanding.

But times have changed.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than the customary optimism that comes with any changing of the guard, but the new leadership in Ottawa’s transport ministry does seem to be a breath of fresh air.

Consider the ready acknowledgement about Ottawa’s treatment of the transport industry served up by transport ministry parliamentary secretary Jim Karygiannis: “Despite its importance, the investment and expertise it takes to move goods and people to the right place at the right time are sometimes forgotten,” Karygiannis told delegates attending the recent transportation outlook conference hosted by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the capital city.

It’s about time Ottawa fessed up to its negligence.

Then Karygiannis dropped a bombshell of an admission: “Canada is the only G7 country without an ongoing national highway program.” I couldn’t see the look on Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley’s face when Karygiannis dropped that gem of an admission (I was seated two tables behind him) but I wouldn’t be surprised if his jaw dropped to the floor. That’s exactly what Bradley has been pointing out at every public opportunity – and Bradley is a master at finding such opportunities – for years now.

Could it be that Ottawa is finally paying attention?

I’m too jaded from the sweet but inevitably fruitless talk of past transport ministers to firmly believe Ottawa is about to undertake a drastic change in direction in its transportation policy.

But I can’t help noticing that those admissions were made at a conference where the majority of the delegates were from Transport Canada and entrusted with helping draft legislation.

Nor can I help noticing that other industry stakeholders, such as Gary LeRoux, head of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities and a frequent critic of Ottawa’s transportation strategy, are also voicing newfound optimism.

Dare we dream that Ottawa has finally woken up to the importance of transportation? Neither we, nor Ottawa, have any other choice. n

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached at lsmyrlis@businessinformationgroup.ca or 416-442-2922.


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