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Strength in Numbers

Canada's first "all-mode" transportation coalition, the Transportation Optimization Pact, (TOP), reached its first anniversary last November with positive prospects for change in Canada's transportati...


Canada’s first “all-mode” transportation coalition, the Transportation Optimization Pact, (TOP), reached its first anniversary last November with positive prospects for change in Canada’s transportation framework.

TOP was formed in November 2003 to press the federal government for an overhaul of its policies towards the sector, to “urge the government to view transportation as an essential element of Canada’s economic success and competitiveness, adjusting its policies to support increased efficiency and economic growth through stronger transportation services.”

Members include the Canadian Trucking Alliance, Association of Canadian Port Authorities, the Canadian Airports Council, the Chamber of Maritime Commerce, the Railway Association of Canada, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, Motor Coach Canada and the Air Transport Association of Canada. Sylvain Langis, President and CEO, Canadian Bus Association, was named chair this January.

The TOP, which meets by teleconference every couple of months and face to face about once a year, says so far it has been able to put the modes’ shared interests at the forefront of its agenda.

According to former TOP chairman Raymond Johnston, who is president of the Chamber of Maritime Commerce, the need to present a united front to government supersedes any modal competition issues that could arise.

“Everybody would agree it’s somewhat significant that all of the modes have come together in a united effort to make the case for transportation being recognized as a very important element of the Canadian economy and society. It’s really the third pillar of the economy,” he says.

After deregulation, the federal government seemed to take a hands-off approach and stopped promoting transportation as an economic development tool. TOP wants to promote more proactive policies at the federal level.

“Growth and security are going to cut across all modes, placing challenges on infrastructure. The flow of trade, particularly with the U.S., is another issue we need to get right. TOP is not just about regulatory issues, it’s about making sure Canadian industries remain competitive and that borders work smoothly,” says Johnston.

TOP started at the urging of Westac, (the Vancouver-based Western Transportation Advisory Council), which felt there was the opportunity for a new entity that could be more advocacy-oriented. “The feeling was there were a number of common issues between the modes,” says Bruce R. Burrows, acting president and CEO, Railway Association of Canada.

TOP met recently with Transport Minister Jean-C. Lapierre, who Burrows says has become deeply engaged in modal issues, spending quite a bit of time since acquiring his portfolio travelling the country to meet with industry and modal representatives.

“It’s fair to say we were all quite impressed with what he had learned. We’re trying to impress upon the minister that more attention needs to be given to intermodal, and multimodal issues. There’s a lack of acceptance of the strategic importance of transportation, and how it can help Canada be competitive. It tends to be viewed as a cost,” says Burrows.

Part of the problem that TOP will address is that transportation is still not integrated enough in the economic thinking of government.

“In terms of getting the other ministries engaged in the same way, that’s the challenge. Lapierre should be a real champion for transportation around the cabinet table. Transportation is unlike any other business sector – it’s fundamental as a service provider to all sectors, and can’t be treated as a stand-alone,” says Burrows.

He notes the modes are in an increasingly integrated marketplace, where, ultimately, shippers don’t care how goods get from A to B as long as they are on time, at a good price and in good condition.

“We need to have policies that reflect the seamless nature of the marketplace, and we still see modal silos to some extent. Each mode has some unique features, and we need to acknowledge that. But our vision calls for a market-driven policy that addresses security, infrastructure, regulatory and tax burdens, and access to foreign markets which are all shared challenges.”

A Smart Regulation document report, released end of September, recommended that regulation must acknowledge U.S.-Canada differences and can’t impede operations, something TOP also aims to emphasize to officials in future meetings.

On the trucking side, David Bradley, CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, has long said an integrated plan is overdue for a country “so dependent on the movement of goods both domestically and especially to foreign markets for its economic livelihood.”

Trucking is extremely dependent on smooth trade and the Canadian Trucking Alliance has been a steady advocate of steps to facilitate trade at Canada’s border points, raise the importance of transportation, and respond to the need for a national highway policy on the federal government’s agenda.

Bradley, who last year appeared before the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Trade, Trade Disputes & Investment in Ottawa, says “the next few months will be critical in determining whether the border will be improved over the long-term or whether the situation will get worse.”

He wants border and trade issues at the top of the economic agenda to address a host of new U.S. security measures, and attention to critical infrastructure investment needed at the borders and in the transportation network as a whole.

“No country is as vulnerable to trade with one other country as Canada is to the United States. As a nation we need to ensure we have the infrastructure and the bilateral border management systems in place that support that trade and meet U.S. security needs. Canada needs a ‘border czar’, a minister with the power to make decisions and the money to implement those decisions,” he says.

All the associations within TOP speak favourably of Transport Minister Lapierre’s performance so far, and welcome his three-point agenda which sets out to promote a safe and secure transportation system, enhance trade corridors and improve strategic infrastructure, and encourage sustainable transportation.

“I think those are good themes and categories that the various modes can be seen to talk to,” says Burrows.

In his speech to the Standing Committee on Transport this November, Transport Minister Lapierre acknowledged the government needs to support multimodal projects.

“We need better connections between the modes of transport. This will help mitigate the effects of transportation on the environment and contribute to a productive and competitive economy,” he said.

“I have asked my department to look at the Canada Transportation Act and the Canada Marine Act in light of the new pressures and opportunities we see emerging. We’re asking stakeholders to work together to resolve some of the difficult issues that emerged with Bills C-26, amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, and C-27, and the proposed Canada Airports Act,” he said.

TOP, meanwhile, is hopeful a new federal budget in late February/early March will reveal some positive change.

“We will be going back to the minister with further suggestions. The modes will always have issues they need to advance on their own, but fundamentally this recognition that there are bigger issues at play as well is an opportunity for TOP to push the agenda. There’s always a good chance for more success when you come together hand in hand,” says Burrows.


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