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Paul Landry, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association, speaks his mind about the association's top concerns and prioritiesMT: A good part of your summer was spent travelling arou...

Paul Landry, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association, speaks his mind about the association’s top concerns and priorities

MT: A good part of your summer was spent travelling around the province and consulting with your members on issues of concern to them. What stood out as top priority?

Landry: I’ve really been hit by the driver shortage issue, especially, as my members have been telling me, by the number of people they have to look at to get one qualified driver. When only one driver out of about 30 interviewed is really qualified, it’s time-consuming and frustrating .

The drivers coming out of the schools may have the training but need to further their experience and require some extra supervision. It’s a reminder to us to get more involved in this issue and to try to find a way to get more qualified drivers.

MT: What are some possible solutions or approaches looked at to address this?

Landry: Our starting point in BC is to look at the standards for obtaining a Class 1 licence and to make it more challenging for those who want to enter the profession. I think there’s agreement that the standard has to be higher. We’re talking to ICBC (Insurance Corp. of British Columbia) about what can be done.

The higher standard will force more training and a better driver. The industry is in some difficulty for various reasons but I think we’re in a bit of a trap now as an industry. We’ve got an excess supply of trucks and anyone can get a Class 1 licence. It’s almost easier to get into the trucking business (at least as an owner-operator) than it is to open a hot dog stand. In the trucking industry there is no entry standard. To a certain extent, part of the solution is to make it more difficult to get a Class 1 licence, so that the person who succeeds in getting one is a qualified and a safe driver. This will act as a screen, and perhaps there will be fewer people competing for the freight. It will improve the negative image of the industry, and will improve the perception of the truck drivers, professionally. On the rates issue, as they increase, the industry will better be able to compensate. It’s a bit of a circle game.

It’s a matter of developing a strategic plan but no single province can act by itself. All of the provinces trucking associations need to work together to raise the bar.

MT: Canada and the U.S. are involved in a serious dispute over softwood lumber. In British Columbia, there have been heavy layoffs in logging operations as well as mill closures. How is this crisis impacting BCTA’s members?

Landry: It’s causing a widespread ripple. We’ve been polling our members on how the tariff situation has been affecting them, and affecting the carriers that supply the trucking industry. Our membership is quite concerned – a number of our members carry softwood not only southbound but eastbound. There’s concern that not only will less lumber be transported by truck, but as some of the less efficient mills are shutting down they will no longer have customers to serve domestically. I’m hearing from suppliers as well that they are getting hurt.

I’ve recently met with BC’s Finance Minister Gary Collins to discuss these issues among other things. It’s difficult to gauge what the solution will be. Working through the WTO process would take years. More likely, the solution would involve pressure from US business interests, for example from the home construction side. Though they’re not likely to react to the Canadian lobby, US politicians will react to pressure from US interest groups. We need to animate and work with these organizations to ensure maximum pressure.

MT: The Canada Transportation Agency’s Review Panel has released its report on the state of the transportation industry in Canada. What is your opinion of the report’s findings?

Landry: There are certain things I’m disappointed in, for example, how the national highway system is funded. The Feds have been by and large off the hook in terms of their responsibilities. Meanwhile, Canada is falling behind in comparison to the US (which is injecting massive funds into transportation). In British Columbia, we have something like 25 percent of the national highway system, with mountains, steep grades and narrow shoulders, that not only undermine safety but affect productivity. This comes as a significant cost to the trucking industry and also the shipping industry as a result.

MT: On the Customs and border issues front, what is the situation in B.C.?

Landry: PAPS (Customs Pre-Arrival Processing) hasn’t been widely subscribed to by either carriers or brokers. For it to be a solution we need more participation-working with carriers and brokers to promote more involvement. However, we’re pushing hard on the staffing issue with US Customs and INS (Immigration and Naturalization) at the Pacific Highway crossing. We need more resources at the northern border points. What we’ve been told by US Customs is that the staffing issue is based on political pressure that sees the states on the southern border getting a more sympathetic hearing. Lobbies from the southern states are doing much better at getting staffing. I think that probably reflects their concerns about illegal immigration rather than more comfort at the situation at our border crossing. However, this situation is impacting international commerce for us as a result.

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