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Prairie Provinces Play Nice

CALGARY, Alta. - A Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta has the potential to bring about smoother sailing on the two provinces' highways, adding efficiency a...

CALGARY, Alta. –A Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta has the potential to bring about smoother sailing on the two provinces’ highways, adding efficiency and perhaps even leading to lower consumer prices. The agreement, though more a letter of intent than a legally-binding document, points toward such improvements as harmonizing special permit conditions for turnpike doubles, oversize and overweight indivisible loads, and maximum gross vehicle weights for Btrains. It also sets out special permit conditions for moving manufactured homes, establishes the concept of an inter-provincial heavy haul/high clearance corridor and a joint research and pilot project “to address common concerns with wide-base super single tires.”

“We’ve been discussing the issues for quite a while,” says Saskatchewan Highways and Infrastructure Minister Jim Reiter, crediting his predecessor for much of the work. “It’s one of those things where, over a period of years, individual changes by governments to regulations sort of just got built up and up and up until it got to the point where there was such a deterrent to the cross-border movements of goods that the time had come to do something about it.”

Reiter says both provincial governments are committed to doing what they can to help their respective economies and “there is no time better than the present.”

For his part, Alberta Minister of Transportation Luke Ouellette says, “Transportation is fundamental to supporting Alberta’s economy and we are committed to seeing that regulations don’t impede the economic competitiveness of either province. This MoU supports highway safety and the reduction of barriers to inter- provincial transportation.”

Trucking associations in both provinces hail the MoU as a way to help their industry be more efficient immediately, while opening the door to further harmonization.

“We’re greatly encouraged,” says Al Rosseker, executive director of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association. “Anything that can be done to lessen regulatory entanglements is good news. If we can streamline things to the point where there’s some commonality, at least in the regions, we look at that as a positive outcome.”

Mayne Root, Rosseker’s counterpart with the Alberta Motor Transport Association, agrees. “We are supportive of anything that makes transportation across borders easier,” he says. “We’re pleased with the direction it’s going and will work to ensure it works out for both (provinces).”

Rosseker notes that his and other western Canadian trucking associations have been lobbying their respective governments about harmonizing regulations for years.

“This is one of the first milestones,” he says, “and it shows that some of our efforts are paying off.”

Government and bureaucracies, Rosseker says, are tuning in to why such harmonization is needed, and he gives them full credit, both for having the vision and for listening to the industry. He also expressed optimism that it will spread eastward.

“Hopefully, the Manitoba trucking industry will continue to carry the ball,” he says, “and we’ll continue to support them.”

The AMTA’s Root says his organization had input with Alberta Transportation on some of the issues covered by the new memorandum, “just some informal and formal meetings to talk about some of the issues,” he says. “You could say it’s the Alberta consultative process – the way it works most of the time.”

Saskatchewan’s Reiter acknowledges that the issues covered in the memorandum are important to the trucking industry, but stresses that they go beyond trucking.

“The business community sees the problems inherent in the system,” he says, “And so (the MoU) is good news for the trucking industry, good news for the business communities and good news for citizens of both provinces because this can help streamline the flow of goods which in turn should help with the cost of goods.”

The Minister notes as well that the agreement’s effects could be felt far beyond his province.

“For Saskatchewan’s export-based economy, this means businesses will be more competitive in reaching inter-provincial, national and worldwide markets,” he says. “Our two governments are acting to reduce red tape and enhance our business climate to continue to grow our provincial economies.”

Reiter admits that this MoU doesn’t mean all is suddenly sweetness and light across the prairies, however. “It continues to be a work in progress,” he says, hinting that there’ll be further developments fairly quickly while others will take a while to work out. But overall, “it’s going to be a good thing for both our economies and as it moves forward I can see nothing but more good news stories coming out of this.”

Rosseker would like to see one of those subsequent good news stories be LCV (Long Combination Vehicle) speeds becoming harmonized across all the prairie provinces. Currently, Manitoba and Alberta allow LCVs to drive at up to 100 km/h, but the speed limit drops to 90 km/h at the Saskatchewan border.

“If you look at taking a load from Saskatoon to Edmonton or from Regina to Winnipeg,” he says, “you can’t make the return trip in one day driving 90 kilometres an hour when you consider factors like hours-of-service and the like. But if you push it up to 100 km/h, then you can.” Rosseker says the STA has had verbal assurance from the province that it will happen and that, when it does come to pass, “It’ll mean a lot to us.”

Such harmonization would help truckers remain at constant speeds, which helps fuel mileage as well as helping get the goods delivered more quickly. “Continuity is the key,” he says. “That’s what we’re looking for.”

News of the agreement appears to be spreading. “I’ve been contacted from as far away as Washington, D.C.,” Rosseker says. “So the word is getting out. There seems to be a lot of interest in what’s going on in western Canada.”

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