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ONLINE SPECIAL: Driving championships latest victims of economic decline

LANGLEY, B.C. -- The recession has claimed another Canadian trucking victim: the 2009 National Professional Tr...

LANGLEY, B.C. — The recession has claimed another Canadian trucking victim: the 2009 National Professional Truck Driving Championship.


The organizing committee called off this year’s national event, which was slated to take place in Abbotsford and Surrey, B.C. in September due to a lack of sponsorship.


“We had such optimism for hosting the 2009 event, when we left Ottawa last September. Sponsors were already committed to support our event and the venues were in place,” said Shaun Garvey, chairman of the B.C. organizing committee. “Then, the bottom dropped out. The economic crisis hit everyone hard: our sponsors, our industry – everyone was affected. After months of open consultation with our national group, hearing what the other provinces were experiencing with their provincial events, we had no other choice but to cancel this year’s event.”


Meanwhile, the event is facing challenges even on the provincial level. The Saskatchewan Trucking Association cancelled its version of the truck driving championships altogether.


“We looked at it long and hard with our industry, but the consensus was that many sponsors could not justify contributing to such an event, in light of the serious economic downturn,” said Al Rosseker, STA executive director. “Even though Saskatchewan is not fully feeling the economic slump, our members are directly tied to moving freight east and west, north and south. We’re a bellwether industry; when the trucks aren’t moving, the economy’s not moving.”


When the STA found out the APTA and others would not be sending their provincial winners to the national event, the association decided to pull the plug on its event entirely.


“It’s an expensive proposition holding provincial competitions, then sending a team to the nationals,” Rosseker said. “Sponsorship dollars are drying up. It’s unfortunate, but amassing volunteers, sponsors and driver competitors just isn’t flying right now in an industry that’s experiencing layoffs, wage freezes and rollbacks, thin profit margins and far fewer loads moving.”


The STA is planning on resuming its provincial event next year, although it may have a different look.


“We’re reviewing how the event comes together and what it stands for in terms of promoting driving safety among our membership,” Rosseker said.


The Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association and its counterparts in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario are going ahead with their provincial truck driving championships. However, many jurisdictions have noticed a decline in participation.


Ontario held its competition last weekend and the APTA hosted its provincial championships June 6. Manitoba and B.C. will host their championships on June 27. The lack of coast-to-coast participation in the national championship along with the decline in sponsorship left organizers with no choice but to cancel the nationals, Garvey explained.


“With the reduction in sponsorship commitments, we looked at every option to allow us to continue with the event this year,” he said. “When other provinces weighed in, some were not holding their provincial events; others were not supportive of a national competition without attendance from all of the provinces. We crunched the numbers again and again, but each time, the viability of the event was in question. We owed the sponsors that stuck with us, the fleets that send their drivers to compete and the drivers that would attend full value for their dollars. The economics just weren’t there!”


The 2010 National Truck Driving Championships are slated to take place in Manitoba, and organizers are hopeful the industry will be enjoying better times by then.


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