Tale of the Tape

by Passenger Service: State troopers ride-along with truckers in crash study

Research the phrase “red tape” and you’ll find the origins are quite unsurprising. Turns out that the term we use today to describe rigid, mechanical and unnecessary bureaucracy comes from the fact that in 17th century England, politicians and bookkeepers bound legal and official documents with…well, you guessed it.

If only things were still that obvious at government departments these days.

Take, for example, border issues in the U.S. and Canada. Since Sept. 11 the customs and border ­portfolio has grown immensely — fed with big budget dollars (especially in the U.S.) — and, like most swelling bureaucracies trying to justify their own existence, managers are constantly coming up with “solutions” in search of new problems.

As truckers can attest, it’s not easy keeping up with all the border-related acronyms thrown around these days: C-TPAT, FAST, ACE, ACI, PAPS, WHTI, TWIC, APHIS, AMPS — and that’s just off the top of this writer’s head.

“What has been the return on all this?” asks Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley rhetorically.

“Is security improved? Because we sure as heck made the border less efficient and heaped more costs on the supply chain. How does that reconcile with the other stated goals of NAFTA, which is to create a strong, competitive North American region that can compete?”

Neither US Homeland Security (with an operating budget bigger than the entire Canadian government’s) or the eight federal ministers in Ottawa who at any given time get involved in border and trade issues, seem to want to answer those same questions.

Bradley, though, has someone in mind that might be able to. He recently floated the idea of appointing a so-called national “border czar” who would lead his own department or chair a committee of ­parliamentarians focused solely on border issues.

Ideally, the office would be the first to respond and deal with U.S. border mandates and regulations, as well as act as a clear go-to source for industry.

“We don’t have a coordinated, focused effort on issues. We have too many ministers who have their fingers in the pie,” says Bradley. “Because of this diffuse approach, it takes a long time to come to positions and we’re not agile enough to be proactive on border issues. And if we’re going to be reactive, then at least with a (border czar) we can be quick.”

Bradley admits he’s been criticized by those “sensitive to ideology” for how he’s coined the position. But unlike the Bolsheviks, this czar’s job would be to remove red of tape, not make it as sticky as possible.

A lot of the time, the trucking industry takes it upon itself to respond to U.S. border protocols.

Today, truckers are coughing up everything from cash to beef
sandwiches and the US border. A ‘border czar’ could make life easier.

“Before Sept. 11, it would have been very unlikely that a Canadian industry would be dealing directly with the U.S. federal government,” says Bradley, who guesses CTA spends 60 to 70 percent of its time and resources on border issues.

Sometimes, though, ­letting the market gauge the landscape is not a bad thing. But where CTA has been frustrated is the speed of Canada’s response when the association gathers and presents information to officials. “We literally have to bring a host of departments together and bring them to speed and then hope that the mud sticks somewhere,” he says.

Windsor, Ont. MP Brian Masse, who’s on the verge of presenting a private member’s bill that would establish a Windsor Border Authority, also likes the idea of a national body to oversee the border file.

“In our region [the Windsor-Detroit gateway] right now there’s chaos and lobbying as opposed to an overall coordinated effort,” he tells Today’s Trucking. You need people on the ground floor to try to get in there right away and prevent some of the nonsense from happening, but also to deal immediately with new rules when we have to face them.”

Were a border czar to be named, Masse hopes Ottawa takes the position more ­seriously than Ontario did when Premier Dalton McGuinty appointed — with much fanfare — former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Michael Kergin as Ontario’s “border czar” in 2005.

“He’s been a no-show ever since,” says Masse.

In fact, a Google News search on Kergin produces exactly zero returns.

“Maybe he’s been meeting with lobbyists behind closed doors. But what we need is an open business management model and long-term planning. We don’t need a political appointment.”

N.Y. City engineer and gridlock guru Sam Schwartz, who was formerly hired by Windsor to help fix the city’s traffic woes, has always been able to look at the much politicized Can-Am border with a fresh pair of eyes. No stranger to bureaucracy himself, he thinks a border czar is just what Canada needs.

“It makes sense to have someone who’s going to be a champion. And if the person is actually given some powers to summon all the people to the table and set deadlines, that could be very effective,” says Schwartz, who hints he could be working in Windsor again this year. “The creation of a border czar with a very clear mission to keep everyone on the dime would be very worthwhile, I think.”

So you think you might want the job, Sam?

Always the consultant, Schwartz responds with a modest laugh: “I would simply love to be an assistant to any border czar.”

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