We need to keep trucking “on agenda”

by David Bradley

A constant challenge for Canada’s trucking associations is to keep transportation issues, particularly trucking issues “on agenda”. It’s difficult enough to get trucking issues high enough on the political and legislative agenda in bad times, let alone good.

Despite higher fuel prices, the Canadian and Ontario economies remain strong, and the federal and provincial finance ministers arepainting a rosy picture of our economic, fiscal and social outlook.

The lower corporate income tax rates in the latest federal and provincial budgets help all businesses, including trucking. Ontario Finance Minister Ernie Eves recently eliminated the repugnant five per cent provincial sales tax on automobile insurance premiums, and the sales tax on warranty repairs. (For the record, the Ontario Trucking Association had been fighting to repeal those two tax grabs ever since the NDP government introduced them in 1991.) Eves also rewarded Ontario with the largest-ever single commitment to its highway infrastructure -$1 billion.

So what have you got to complain about? That’s the message the trucking industry is hearing.

In Ottawa, Roy Cullen, Etobicoke MP and parliamentary assistant to federal Finance Minister Paul Martin, recently told the House of Commons that truckers “will benefit from the tax relief measures provided for individuals as well as businesses in the February 2000 budget.”

In Mike Harris’ Ontario, the current buzz phrase is “less is more” when it comes to new legislation on business-related issues. You know, government leaders have a point. After years of compounding regulation, deficits, increasing taxes, unemployment and an unfriendly climate for direct investment, the trucking industry, in this strong economy, probably has very little to complain about in the short term. But continued prosperity requires a competitive, productive and safe freight transportation sector in which trucking plays a vital strategic role. Our policy makers have taken freight transportation for granted for too long, and if we don’t fix some of the problems confronting the industry while times are good, how will we ever be able to deal with them in a slow economy? It takes a strong, persistent lobby to keep issues moving. Unfortunately, it seems that the industry only gets noticed when something goes wrong. And then, we usually get Band-Aid responses as opposed to meaningful action. During the diesel fuel crisis this past winter, Stan Dromisky, an MP from Thunder Bay and the parliamentary assistant to the federal transport minister, told the House, “I would like to point out that there have been ongoing consultations with all members of the industry. In the very near future we will have before the House and before the members of the transportation committee our recommendations to solve many of the problems the industry is facing right now.”

We’re still waiting.

We need changes in the archaic federal hours of service regulation. We need a trade policy that recognizes Canada’s trade moves by truck. We need new NAFTA negotiations on the role of sub-national governments. We need a re-negotiation of the Canada-U.S. tax treaty to include such things as state franchise taxes., a restoration of the 80 per cent meal tax deductibility for our truckers, and CCA rates that are competitive with our U.S. competitors. The federal excise tax on diesel fuel needs to be restructured.

And we need a national highway policy. Canada remains the only major industrialized country on the planet without one. Surely the federal budget announcement of a piddling $600 million for our nation’s highways over four years, commencing in 2002, doesn’t close the book on a national highway policy for the next five years or so … does it?

Ontario still needs to complete the work of the Target ’97 task force on truck safety. In particular, to implement a new road test for a Class A driver’s licence that will drive the license mills out of business.

We need weights and dimensions harmonization with Quebec and to turn our sights towards Michigan and New York. We need to have an infrastructure plan for cross-border traffic at Windsor, Ont. We need to finally come to grips with the ridiculous administrative situation with Ontario Ministry of Transportation and municipal overweight/over-dimensional permits. We need further reform of the Ontario sales tax system, and we need common sense in the heavy-duty vehicle component of the Ontario Drive Clean emissions program.

Your associations need to continue to work to ensure that trucking remains “on agenda”. They need your support. n

David Bradley is CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, president of the Ontario Trucking Association, and a monthly columnist in Truck News.

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