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Quebec forum comes to life

QUEBEC CITY, Que. - Quebec's permanent forum on trucking was enshrined into law on June 16, beginning a process that could have a dramatic impact on the lives of the province's truckers.The new group ...

QUEBEC CITY, Que. – Quebec’s permanent forum on trucking was enshrined into law on June 16, beginning a process that could have a dramatic impact on the lives of the province’s truckers.

The new group has powers and responsibilities that will include developing common contracts, finding a way to determine true trip distances, and ensuring owner/operators have the business knowledge that they need. Bill 135, which gives the forum its powers, also requires “transport service intermediaries” to post a bond if they want to operate.

The forum is basically split into two groups, representing “freight movers” who are defined as a Quebec-registered owner and or owner/operator of a single truck; and “clients”, defined as a heavy-vehicle operator, intermediary or someone who wants a role arranging the transportation of goods. In addition to appointing a chairperson for the forum, the government will appoint five members of each group, each limited to a three-year term.

A key clause in the bill also requires Quebec’s “freight movers” to vote on whether to mandate membership in formal associations for the right to operate. (The Commission des Transports [CTQ] is preparing a list of all the province’s freight movers who will vote on the requirement.)

If the majority of freight movers approve such mandated memberships, those who don’t belong to an industry association could be put out of business.

The idea of mandated memberships infuriates Daniel Brulotte, president of the Association Professionelle des Chauffers de Camion du Quebec (APCRIQ), who sees the forum as nothing more than a political game between the government and unions representing thousands of the province’s truckers.

“Our members don’t want to be part of a union,” Brulotte fumes. “If even 50 per cent plus one vote for it … we will find a way to bypass that stupid law. For example, we will tell our members to register their trucks in Ontario.”

There is no doubt that the unions that have sprung up in Quebec in the past two years will be the most powerful of the forum’s member associations. The way the bill is written, the CTQ will only certify a maximum of five groups of freight movers, and any group given a seat on the forum will have to represent at least 10 per cent of the total number of freight movers in Quebec.

Groups will also have their voting power in the forum weighted by the number of members they represent.

Pierre Miller, president of the Canadian Co-operative of Independent Truck Owner/ Operators (Coop), estimates that there may be 7,000 owner/operators in Quebec who will qualify as freight movers. That means an association like APCRIQ, with 600 members, may not pass the 10 per cent threshold that would qualify it for a seat.

The point may be moot, though, if Brulotte sticks to his vow earlier this year that APCRIQ would not participate in any permanent forum. On the other hand, Brulotte says that only union or association members in good standing will count as legitimate members. This may drastically reduce union head counts. As of June 2000, for example, the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux claimed an astonishing 5,000 members, although its rapid-recruitment method has been to sign up cardholders at $5 a head. Brulotte believes that these $5 card holders will not count, nor will all shareholders in the Coop who, like Brulotte, are not necessarily members in good standing.

With any luck, the CTQ will unveil its union and association membership counts. And this would end suspicion that the CSN – the Centrale des Syndicates Democratique and the the Federation des Travailleurs du Quebec (which merged its trucker union with the Co-op last year) – has been claiming improbably large membership growth in an attempt to one-up the competition with a “mine’s-bigger-than-yours” strategy.

Responsibilities of freight mover groups within the forum will include improving commercial practices, promoting services and employment benefits for freight movers, and promoting administrative services for their members’ businesses.

The forum will also be given the power to develop a standard contract, with the government given the right to promote its use.

Brulotte sees a standard contract as a pointless exercise which he says was proved unworkable during an earlier attempt to use one between 1995 and 1999. Too, says Brulotte, Bill 135 does not distinguish between an individual owner/operator and a carrier. He predicts it will become more complicated to deal with small carriers because they will have to sign two contracts with shippers.

The bill also empowers Quebec’s Minister of Transportation to verify the knowledge of freight movers who are registering with the CTQ for the first time. These wannabe owner/operators may also have to demonstrate how they can ensure the safety of road users (read run safe trucks) and preserve the intergrity of the road network (read not run overweight). n

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