REGINA, Sask. – Speculation that the election of an NDP government in Alberta could lead to a flood of companies hightailing it to greener pastures a province to the east appears to be unfounded, at least so far.
That’s according to Al Rosseker, executive director of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA), who sat down with Truck West to outline the current state of the province’s trucking industry.
“We haven’t had a lot of inquiries from Alberta trucking companies saying they want to (relocate)…maybe one or two,” he said, “but I think it’s not that they’re running away from a government, it’s more just straight business.”
That said, Rosseker noted that “NDP governments have a reputation for tax and spend and we’ll see what happens in Alberta.”
Unlike the vaunted “Alberta Advantage” that’s based mostly on one sector of the economy – the resource sector – Saskatchewan’s economy is more diversified.
“We have fallbacks,” Rosseker said. “We have wheat, we have potash, we have uranium. We certainly have oil and natural gas.”
And, it appears, a premier willing to go to bat for the province.
“We’ve got a premier here who’s at least pitching our oil and, by way of extension, Alberta’s,” Rosseker said. “Alberta’s new premier is not as proactive, but I can also see that she’s new to the whole deal…so let’s give her some time and see what she does.”
In Saskatchewan, the STA finds itself busy playing catch-up when it comes to its own digs.
“We’re looking to put together a concept for either a new building or renovating another building,” Rosseker said, noting that the current building, which they’ve owned for 38 years, is “tired” and not situated well.
“We want to move out of the zone we’re in right now. We’re in kind of an older industrial zone in the city and we’d like a cleaner image.”
He said the STA isn’t looking for a “Taj Mahal or anything like that,” just a modern building in a light industrial area. Its decision on where to put down new roots will, as such things often do, depend in great part on money.
“We don’t have a lot of cash to play with,” Rosseker said. “We receive no government funds other than through sponsorships and things like that.”
The STA has a good working relationship with the province right now, but Rosseker said that wasn’t always the case.
“My board members have told me that with this government, the Saskatchewan Party government, we have realized more positive change in the first four to five years than we had in the whole 16 years of the former administration,” he said.
He said the NDP regime seemed to look at truck transport as “a hindrance and an expensive way to move goods that wreck roads,” but the current Brad Wall government is “a pro-business government and it looks at truck transport as an economic partner and as an economic driver.”
Rosseker admits that heavy trucks do have consequences in wear to pavement and such, but said the Wall administration is building those factors into its planning.
The New West Partnership (NWP), which Rosseker said was spearheaded by Wall, has B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan working together on “all kinds of regulations,” and its sphere of influence could expand eastward.
“The Saskatchewan government quite some time ago reached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) – for transportation only – with the Manitoba government,” he said, and, while he noted that Manitoba hasn’t signed on to the NWP as a whole, “the four provinces’ truck transport associations and the provincial governments have hammered out a Western Canada MOU on reducing a whole bunch of regulatory red tape and nightmares just on LCVs, particularly turnpike doubles, that have saved our industry hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions. So it can work. We’ve got a great working relationship and I think we’re quite envied by some other regions of Canada.”
One area in which the STA’s lobbying in its home province has so far failed to bring satisfactory results is the issue of wide-based tires.
“There just continually seems to be no movement,” Rosseker said. “They say there’s road damage and we ask to see the studies, but they don’t really have them. We know there are fuel efficiencies, safety efficiencies, tire recycling efficiencies – this generation of wide-based tires has a softer compound and it doesn’t need to
be inflated as much; it’s a really
Governments, he said, seem to worry that there will be 100% uptake on the wide-based tires, but that in Saskatchewan, “probably less than 20% of the fleets (will adopt them). You aren’t going to see courier trucks running wide-based tires. They’re long-distance tires.”
Rosseker said the goal is to set up a super trade corridor from the Port of Montreal to the Port of Vancouver, “and we want to run wide-based tires. If they want to run duals that’s fine, too, but we think the efficiencies are there.”
Speaking of efficiencies, Rosseker noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US is set to inflict a new set of rules on the industry and, given the recent history of such rules, chances are it may not go smoothly on this side of the Canada/US border.
“When the EPA says ‘let’s do something,’ they don’t really think about Canada,” he said. “They don’t think about our harsh conditions.”
Rosseker said the truck manufacturers and their engineers find ways they think can make the rules work – in California or Florida – “but not in Edmonton at 40 below. So that’s a major push for us right now.”
The failure rate of the current post-2010 truck technology has reached the point that, “in western Canada we’ve come to the conclusion that fleets are now increasing their size by 10% just to make up for all the engine breakdowns,” Rosseker explained.
Rosseker mentioned a Manitoba company he’d heard of that has actually bought its own wrecker because it’s cheaper to tow one of those extra trucks out to wherever the first truck has broken down, then swap them.
“He’ll take the broken truck and he’ll give the driver the other truck and he’ll tow his own (broken down) truck all the way back to his own shop,” he said. “He’s found that cheaper than…putting it in a (faraway) shop where they’re going to say they don’t have the parts and it’ll take two to three weeks to get them.”
Rosseker said the fact that the current engines haven’t been working well isn’t just costing owners money; the situation has the potential to cost human capital as well.
“There’s all kinds of stuff going wrong with them and when a guy is on an ice road and that engine quits and he doesn’t even have cell phone service – now we’ve got a real life and death concern. Is he supposed to start shooting flares, like the
He said these issues have to be addressed, because “our drivers’ safety is number one in this industry, always has been and will be. So we have to get the ear of Washington and (Canadian Trucking Alliance chief) David Bradley and his crew have been doing a good job.”
Whether Washington listens is another matter, of course.
Despite the many challenges, Rosseker said he has a positive opinion of the Saskatchewan trucking biz.
“Things are good relatively speaking, and we’ll get through this economic downturn,” he said. “There will be a few casualties, but we’re looking forward to continuing to be the voice of truck transport – in Saskatchewan at least – and working with our colleagues across Canada to make the industry better.”