Our harmony hopes return

Truck News

TORONTO, Ont. – With hopes for a national deal on weights and dimensions long since stale, word is beginning to emerge about a potential harmonizing deal between Ontario and Quebec. And talks are set to begin in the new year for a deal that would encompass Canada’s Maritime provinces.

“It’s fair to say that we’re a lot closer than we were,” says Rod Taylor of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, referring to discussions concerning an Ontario-Quebec deal.

Ontario Transportation Minister David Turnbull went so far as to foresee a deal by the end of the year, when speaking in late November to the Ontario Trucking Association’s annual convention. (“I’m pretty confident in it,” he added.)

Hopes for harmonizing the weights and dimensions across Canada had met with a political roadblock in 1997 when Ontario failed to sign a proposed deal until it studied the potential impacts on the infrastructure and the economy. The reports have long been completed, but the deal died in the meantime.

“We’re still working to that as a deadline,” Taylor adds of Turnbull’s end-of-year prediction for a two-province deal. “I don’t think there’s a week going by that we’re not physically meeting with Quebec or talking on the phone.”

Added another official close to the negotiations, “It won’t be a piecemeal agreement.”

But there is a broad range of issues to be addressed between the two provinces. Quebec, for example, has long balked at a four-axle configuration on a trailer longer than the 50-foot-10-inch Quebec quad. Weights allowed on tri-axles with wide spreads are also an issue. (Quebec wants lighter weights in this case.) And Ontario has not been ready to allow Quebec’s tridem weights on anything other than a tractor semi-trailer. Neither has it been accepting of 26,000 kg on a tridem.

“The issues that remain are largely around how we deal with existing vehicles. I think we’re generally agreed with where we want to go … it’s how do you bridge from now to where you want to be, recognizing that people don’t buy their equipment at one time.”

Specifically, the new deal is expected to schedule the end of the use of lift axles, in favor of newer self-steering designs.

Early in 2000, four Atlantic provinces will again sit down in an effort to agree on a common set of weights and dimensions for trucking throughout the region.

According to Ralph Boyd, president of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA), Nova Scotia Transport Minister Gordon Balser assured him that talks are set to resume early in 2000, to try and hammer out a harmonized set of weights and dimensions for Eastern Canada.

“Most of the work (towards regional harmonization) had been shelved with the hopes of a national standard,” says Boyd. But given the trends in Ontario and points further west, national harmonization may be at least five to 10 years away, he says.

Boyd is optimistic the four jurisdictions will be able to piece a consensus together if everyone is willing to compromise.

“I know things can be very different from one government to another,” he says. “But, they should all have a good understanding of where each other are coming from.”

And Boyd says his for the sake of his members fleets, he hopes harmonization can happen relatively soon.

“We’re talking about a region with 2.4 million people spread over four provinces,” he says, explaining this scenario translates into a great deal of intra-provincial trucking. “We need common corridors.”

The issues Boyd imagines will top the agenda include Newfoundland’s drive and tandem weights (which are 1,000 lb. less than the Maritime provinces) and the so-called “U.S. spread” on tandems (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick allow the 10-foot tandem spread but P.E.I. requires a $100 permit).

“There has to be some logic put into the regulations… if government is truly interested in protecting the infrastructure,” he says. “It’s not like we’re really asking for more weight.”

But Boyd says there should also be an effort made to follow Quebec’s lead to enact some form of shipper/receiver liability.

“We’re providing a service trying to do better every day, trying to go further on a gallon of fuel every day,” complains Boyd.

He says the shippers and receivers are the ones who pressure fleets to push the edge of the envelope and when they push too far, they ought to be held accountable. n

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