REGINA, Sask. — The Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA) said the provincial government’s announcement March 22 that it will allocate $1.1 billion toward highways and infrastructure was a sign of relief in the face of economic downturn and financial struggle, but rural roads should not be ignored.
STA director Susan Ewart said her province has more rural roads per capita than anywhere else in Canada, and there was a good reason behind that.
“We are an agricultural province; those rural highways are what connect trucking companies to farmers and large agricultural producers who not only need the final product exported to market, but need delivery of good such as fertilizers, fuel and seed,” Ewart said.
Despite Ewart’s contention, she said many in the province have been calling for some low-use rural roads to be shut down.
“The possibly unforeseen circumstance of that call to action is that it would potentially cut the artery of a family farm, or multiple family farms, by making it more difficult and more expensive to get supplies to them and for the finished product to be sold,” Ewart said. “Agriculture and trucking go hand in hand, it’s where much of the trucking revenue in Saskatchewan is generated.”
The STA also said weight restrictions on rural roadways are a “thorn in the side of the industry”, which are necessary due to the current condition of the roads.
All-in-all, however, the STA is pleased with the announced funding for the province’s highways and infrastructure.
“The Saskatchewan Party has always made it very clear that highways are of key importance to our economy; we cannot be a land-locked exporter without trucking,” said Ewart. “Without the proper roadway infrastructure for trucks to travel on, Saskatchewan risks losing its competitive edge on many of its exports. The government fully understands this and makes it possible for trucks to operate and keep our economy moving.”
The government’s highways and infrastructure budget includes funding for the Regina bypass (which is 40% complete), $53 million for Northern Saskatchewan infrastructure and $342.9 million for capital investments, but neglected to fully address the alternative truck route agreement funding, decreasing the amount by $500,000, which the STA said could risk increased damage to the province’s rural roadways.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure 2017 budget was just below its record-setting budget last year.
“This was a difficult budget year with decisions being made to get Saskatchewan back into the black,” said Ewart. “With the decisions made, the government reiterated its dedication to building and maintaining roadways and infrastructure that will allow exports to be moved to market safely and efficiently.”
Despite the hit to rural roads and the current financial state of the province, the STA said the Saskatchewan Party did make good on its promise to invest in the province’s roadways and infrastructure.
However, a 1% increase in PST will be a moderate hit to the industry, according to the STA, as it will have an effect on a trucking company’s capital expenditures, but will mainly impact its customer base.
The introduction of PST on insurance premiums was also introduced in the budget.
“The PST increase on insurance is an increase to their bottom line costs and when premiums are large they are hit with tax on the plate portion of the insurance as well as their insurance policies in Saskatchewan, so they are getting hit twice,” explained Ewart, who has a background in insurance services. “A large fleet, say 70 trucks, can pay $500,000 in insurance premiums annually, so a sudden 6% tax is a large figure.”
Anyone with questions regarding the PST can contact HAL Insurance at 306-569-2150 or e-mail email@example.com.
The STA have also been pushing for better harmonization on weights and dimensions as part of the New West Trade Partnership, and the association could work with the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities on the issue pertaining to the road ban system.
They also would like to see progress made on extended wheel bases on B-trains to accommodate environmental efficiency equipment.
“The government is willing to work with us on many of industry’s requests, but change comes very slowly,” said Ewart, “and that is also something we would like to see changed.
“The goals of the trucking industry and goals of the government are well aligned here in Saskatchewan: moving goods to end users as efficiently and effectively as possible. Better, stronger, safer roads are the path to a prosperous and resilient economy.”
The STA will be holding a panel discussion May 18 in Regina to discuss this and a variety of issues facing the trucking industry today. Policy makers from the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure and SGI (driver’s licensing and vehicle registration) will be on hand to answer questions. Visit www.sasktrucking.com to register.