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OBAC Studies Forming Quebec O/O Caucus

MONTREAL, Que. - September talks with owner/operators and Daniel Brulotte, the former president of Quebec's last O/O association, which closed its doors in February 2001, give hope to the possibility of forming a Quebec branch of the Owner-Operato...

MONTREAL, Que. – September talks with owner/operators and Daniel Brulotte, the former president of Quebec’s last O/O association, which closed its doors in February 2001, give hope to the possibility of forming a Quebec branch of the Owner-Operators’ Business Association of Canada (OBAC).

“We feel there is a real benefit in having a strong provincial caucus that can liaison with provincial governments,” said Joanne Ritchie, who became OBAC’s executive director last May.

She took over the position from Leo Van Tuyl, who had held the position on an interim basis since October 2002.

OBAC is a national organization founded in September 2002, to improve business dealings for O/Os through representation, advocacy and education.

Although national in structure, OBAC wants to form provincial caucuses, or branches, that can provide information and services on a local level, as well as properly represent O/Os on issues specific to each province.

“It (OBAC) is structured to work through a provincial network of caucuses and, where possible, alliances with existing groups,” explained Ritchie.

OBAC formed an alliance with the Newfoundland and Labrador Independent Truckers Association in May.

Newfoundland, according to Ritchie, is the only province since APCRIQ folded that has a provincial association with the mandate to represent O/Os.

The Montreal meeting included getting the lay of the land and sounding out the locals on the need for, and the possibility of forming a Quebec caucus, according to Ritchie.

“We knew that APCRIQ (the previous O/O association) was a fairly significant force in Quebec and felt that since it wound down, there was no alternative to the labour issues. We wanted to determine if our general feeling was right – whether there was a large enough contingent of O/Os in Quebec that would be interested in OBAC. I think we were able to determine that there are a lot of Quebec O/Os who would welcome an organization like OBAC,” she said.

A fair case can be made for belonging to an organization whose sole mandate is to provide information and advice to O/Os and knowledgeable representation to the government.

Quebec used to have two such associations: APCRIQ, formed in 1987 with a mandate to lobby the Quebec government, represent members and improve buying power.

Unfortunately, the organization was shut down for two reasons : It lost membership when rattled O/Os let their memberships lapse after unions pushed for a law to make union membership mandatory across the province, and second; APCRIQ signed its death warrant when it decided not to participate in the permanent Forum on Trucking, formed in 2000 as a way for truckers and industry to air their differences in the boardroom instead of on opposite sides of highway blockades.

The other O/O voice, the Association professionelle des chauffeurs de camion du Qubec, merged in 1999 with the United Steel Workers of America, known here as the Syndicat de mtallos. Today, only unions ostensibly represent O/Os, but their effectiveness is questionable.

As Brulotte once put it: “It is a sad thing for small businessmen involved in the transport industry that they don’t have anyone half-decent to represent them.”

The message Ritchie received was exactly that.

“There is a need for an organization with OBAC’s goals and objectives and there is a desire on the part of owner/operators. We confirmed at the meeting that (is the) kind of organization we are, and our objectives are in line with Daniel’s objectives,” Ritchie said.

“We don’t feel the concerns of owner/operators are adequately represented by the Forum, or that the Forum is effective. The Forum seems to be focused on arbitration, the standard contract. A lot of owner/operators’ concerns lie outside of the jurisdiction of a provincial government. We feel that we are in the business of a much broader service to owner/operators; for example, business programs, research and development of policy development, public relations and communication strategies. I don’t believe the Forum is doing that.”

The possibility of resurrecting APCRIQ came up but “We didn’t come to any conclusions,” said Ritchie. Brulotte is not prepared to take on that task. Since moving on after APCRIQ folded its tent, Brulotte has continued to work behind the scenes with Quebec O/Os, and he has no illusions about the difficulties in launching a new association.

“It is hard to attract these guys, but they do want something to start,” he said.

“The challenge is always one of resources,” said Ritchie.

“Recruiting a critical mass of members to form a caucus requires resources. The French language is a challenge; resources need to be provided in French. We rely on volunteers, and members are our only source of revenue.”

Still, Ritchie is optimistic and proactive about showing Quebec O/Os that OBAC can serve them. “We’ll continue to recruit members and roll out our policies and strategies in Quebec.

“Essential to doing our job is making our material and Web site in French. We are working to translate some of that material, bit by bit. We are getting the word out.”

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