N.B. blockades could cost millions

by Adam Ledlow

DIEPPE, N.B. – After a three-day protest where an angry group of independent truckers blocked sections of New Brunswick’s highways, members of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) have tallied their loses – and the results are staggering.

Shortly after the blockade was dismantled Sept. 8, the APTA sent a request to its members asking for the total losses they sustained during the protest. Only 20 carriers responded, but their combined losses totaled about $2.3 million, which includes revenue, claims and damages.

The remaining 95 per cent of the APTA’s approximate 400 carriers have yet to report their losses to the association, but if they were to experience a similar average of more than $100,000, the total amount lost could amount to almost $50 million.

The protest was initiated by a group who originally called themselves the New Drivers and Truckers Association of North America and later, the Northern New Brunswick Truckers Association. They were protesting the recent surge in fuel prices and lack of appropriate compensation.

The blockade stretched across sections of the Trans-Canada Highway and other regional highways and was only dismantled after the APTA sought a court injunction.

“The first injunction was for a week-long period, (but) as of Sept. 16, the injunction was extended indefinitely,” said Heather MacLean, project officer with the APTA. “For now we’re just moving, the highways are open and we hope to keep it that way.”

Media coverage of the APTA’s handling of the protest prompted former APTA president, Ralph Boyd, to write a letter to the editor to clear up any misconceptions and respond to criticism.

“While we sympathized with the participants of the protest in their quest to lower fuel prices, we did not support the action of blocking the Trans-Canada and other secondary highways,” Boyd wrote in a letter to the Moncton Times and Transcript.

Boyd also responded to the APTA’s alleged lack of support for the protesters by ultimately voting for a court injunction.

“It was no pleasure to have to take that action but as our offers to meet with the protestors were ignored, and the stores ran out of goods and the costs to our members sitting in that line-up grew…we felt we had no choice but to take this legal action,” he wrote.

In light of the increased costs which the truckers were protesting, Boyd called on those in the industry to accept the implementation of fuel surcharges and work together for survival.

“Everyone in the trucking industry struggles with high fuel costs,” he said. “Members of the APTA have felt both helpless and frustrated as fuel prices continued to rise over the past few years. They have responded by doing the only thing they have the power to do – dealing directly with their customers by charging appropriately for their increased operating costs. They do this by charging a fuel surcharge on top of their normal freight rates. Implementing fuel surcharges was, and continues to be a struggle but they have recognized the necessity of working together as an industry to demand compensation from their customers in order to survive in this business.”

Boyd also extended an invitation to those involved in the blockade to come forward and speak with the association to help find better ways to solve their problems, but he was never taken up on the offer.

Shortly thereafter, Boyd parted ways with the APTA. While little information about his departure was released, the APTA said his dismissal was not related to the blockade.

Like many of the trucking associations in Eastern Canada, the Prince Edward Island Truckers Association (PEITA) chose to distance itself from involvement with the protesters.

Donnie Corrigan, the PEITA’s executive director, said they were approached to join the group, but opted not to get involved.

“We didn’t have anything to do with that and we wouldn’t want to now either,” he said.

The PEITA has had its own issues to worry about over the past few weeks. The association, which represents about 170 independent truckers, has been lobbying with the provincial government to get an increase in rates in light of continuing surges in fuel prices. Corrigan says they now appear to be close to reaching an agreement.

“We haven’t gotten anything saying, ‘This is what your rates are going to be as of Dec. 1,’ but I have a fair idea of what it’s going to be,” he said.

According to Corrigan, a four per cent rate increase now seems assured. Though it’s not as high as the group had originally hoped, at this stage, the group appears ready to take it.

“It’s four per cent more than when we started,” he said.

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