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OBAC gets ‘back to business’

WELLAND, Ont. - The Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada (OBAC) remains afloat and playing a wait-and-see game with the Ontario government over the rest of the funding it needs to truly get ...

WELLAND, Ont. – The Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada (OBAC) remains afloat and playing a wait-and-see game with the Ontario government over the rest of the funding it needs to truly get off the ground as a lasting national voice of owner/operators in this country.

“If they don’t want to do the funding, it makes it that much harder to make lift-off happen,” says Leo Van Tuyl, OBAC’s executive director.

OBAC received $20,000 in funding from the Ministry of Enterprise, Opportunity and Investment last spring, but the provincial government has been withholding another $80,000 in funding because of concerns it had about OBAC’s ability to meet the terms and conditions of its funding contract with the province.

In a letter dated last Oct. 7, the province outlined six areas of concern including OBAC’s ability to establish an Ontario chapter and recruit 1,000 members by Dec. 31. The government also was concerned about a proposed amendment to OBAC’s membership structure that allowed employee drivers to be full voting members in the association. The province felt that this would make OBAC more of a union than an association.

OBAC’s executive director, Leo Van Tuyl, says the association responded to the province’s letter of concern at the end of December, and he believes that OBAC has addressed most of the concerns the province had.

“We’ve met all the requirements except the membership number. We’ve done a lot of the things they asked us to do even though they haven’t funded it yet,” says Van Tuyl, noting that OBAC has started a contract advisory service and active promotional efforts.

He says OBAC simply told the province that the membership target wouldn’t be met because the group wasn’t going to start recruiting members until after regrouping and getting its house in order following the disappearance of its accountant, Tony Leckie. Leckie vanished along with a substantial amount of money shortly after OBAC’s launch last September. It’s still unknown what happened to him, Van Tuyl says.

Whether OBAC has satisfied the province’s concerns is still not known. Eric Shapiro, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, says the government is currently “reviewing that response” but couldn’t say how long this will take.

He reiterated that the release of further funds is “contingent” on whether the province is satisfied that the terms and conditions of its agreement with OBAC have been met.

“The government of Ontario has done everything possible to assist owner/operators in the province to create an organization that represents them in a reputable manner, and is committed to working with them to address any areas of concern they may have,” says Shapiro.

“The concept of helping owner/operators was a good one and I’m hoping they will continue to recognize that,” says Van Tuyl. “Nothing has changed in concept.”

But without the bulk of the Ontario government funding, memberships that were supposed to generate revenues – the association suspended recruiting efforts that would generate membership fees and revenue following the disappearance of its accountant, and since using up $176,000 in start-up funding from Industry Canada last fall, OBAC has stayed afloat with money coming out of the pockets of its directors.

“Directors have been digging into their own pockets to keep this thing going, and nobody gives them credit for that,” says Van Tuyl.

He says directors could have “abandoned ship three months ago” and let OBAC die, but they didn’t because the association is committed to being a viable voice for O/Os in Canada. “This is probably their best chance to have a national organization that represents their interests,” says Van Tuyl.

OBAC has distanced itself from the accountant mystery as well as a dispute with a founding member who verbally resigned from the board of directors last year, and is focusing on moving forward by concentrating on member recruitment now.

Van Tuyl concedes that there will be some O/Os who are skeptical about OBAC, but believes the association can overcome that obstacle. “There’s a lot of interest out there. Membership is starting to come every day,” he says.

Still, the organization is a long way from being strong and viable with a large membership. Van Tuyl estimates there are about 100 members in OBAC right now.

Jim Johnston, president of the Grain Valley, Mo.-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), says his group is willing to help a national Canadian association “any way we can,” but adds that it would have to have “broad-based support” from Canadian O/Os.

“We’re continuing to represent the owner/operator and we’re back in business and moving forward,” affirms Van Tuyl.

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