Nova Scotia looks to bring roadwork in-house, threatens to kill 80/20 rule

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TRURO, N.S. — Nova Scotia documents, uncovered by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation through the Access to Information Act, have revealed the province plans to get into the roadbuilding and quarry operations business and will kill the so-called ’80/20′ rule which assures local truckers are used for 80% of the work on taxpayer-funded construction sites.

The 80/20 rule, a gentlemen’s agreement between the province and the Truckers Association of Nova Scotia (TANS), ensured local truck operators benefited from taxpayer-funded construction projects. However, a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal plan to bring road construction in-house and conduct it using unionized workers and provincially-owned trucks would leave many dump truckers out of work, TANS claims.

“For many of our members, roadbuilding work is essential for us to survive,” said TANS executive director, Wayne Onda. “This plan cuts us out of the roadbuilding work we are doing now.”

The Nova Scotia Roadbuilders Association was equally alarmed by the plan.

“Government documents that came to light Thursday (March 10) reveal that bureaucrats have been secretly working for almost a year to create a Government Road Company,” the organization said in a release. “The documents clearly show that the government has its decision based on dated, flawed and incomplete information that misrepresents our industry and how it operates.”

For its part, the department claims its road construction costs are too high and can be lowered by bringing certain functions in-house. The province wants to develop a Government Road Company and operate a mobile asphalt plant and chip sealing crew. It also plans to open and operate quarries on Crown land, documents reveal.

“Nova Scotians have been forced to pay far too much for some road work in this province the last number of years,” Minister Bill Estabrooks said in response to criticism from roadbuilding organizations. “That has to stop. It has to stop because paying more means paving less.”

However, TANS members are now wondering how they, and their 80/20 rule, became caught in the crossfire and how unionized government workers using government-owned trucks could possibly do the job more economically?

Onda told the province pays TANS members $19.96 per axle for a total of $59.07 per hour, while government trucks are typically paid $88.48 per hour. Also, he pointed out, most government-owned trucks are configured for snowplow operations and have just 10.7 tonnes of payload compared to the average of 16 tonnes of payload TANS trucks are able to haul.

“They are 45% less efficient than we are today,” Onda said.

Yet government documents accessed by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation clearly show the province is planning to scrap the 80/20 rule and give the work to government employees.

“TANS will not support the proposal as TIR (the Department of Transport and Infrastructure Renewal) will perform all the trucking,” page 11 of the Asphalt Report, accessed by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, reads. “TANS will see this as work being taken away from them as they will not get the opportunity to haul approximately 88,000 tonnes of hot mix asphalt.”

Onda admits the 80/20 rule isn’t perfect, but it was accomplishing its goal of ensuring local truckers were hired for local projects.

“80/20 had its ups and downs,” Onda told He said the biggest problem is the province’s poor planning when tendering projects. They’ll issue several tenders for work in a county at one time, requiring contractors to call in trucks from far and wide and then go months, sometimes years, without committing to more work in the region, he said.

“The work itself is so sporadic, but the rule itself is fine,” Onda said.

According to the Taxpayers Federation, workers belonging to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) would benefit from the provincial plan, including flag holders who could make up to $275 a day, not to mention a generous pension and benefits.

CUPE disputed those comments.

“The Canadian Taxpayers Foundation would like to see workers making $10 an hour with no benefits and no pensions,” said CUPE Nova Scotia president Danny Cavanagh. “They are not interested in seeing people being able to earn a living wage or being able to retire with some dignity. They have a simplistic outlook on everything, which boils down to ‘public bad, private good’.” Cavanagh added: “Nova Scotia highway workers and the Department of Transportation are more than capable of getting this work done and saving money in the process.”

Onda found it ironic flag holders could be pulling in up to $275 a day while independent truckers, who have invested heavily in equipment, rarely make that kind of money.

“Our guys driving truck don’t get that at the end of the day,” Onda observed.

The Taxpayers group, in what has already become an ugly war of words, offered its own solution for lowering roadbuilding costs: “The civil servants and CUPE members who think they can offer competitive roadbuilding services can quit their day jobs, raise money, buy equipment, hire workers and bid for road contracts on their own. But first, of course, they would have to write a real business plan to take to the banks.”

A more reserved Onda said many of his members are waiting to learn more information about the province’s intentions.

“Nobody has been consulted,” he said. “Nobody knows what to make of it.”

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  • Bill Estabrooks has decided to get the government back into paving. He is claiming that it is going to be cheaper for taxpayers, if the Dept. of Transportation purchases the aggragate it needs from the private companies, and then trucks it all over the province to supply his mobile asphalt plant. He is also investigating the possibility of acquiring crown land to build a government owned quarry, if the prices he receives from the private companies are not to his liking. Doesn