APTA rejects bid to reintroduce tolls to NB highways

by Canadian Shipper

DIEPPE, N.B. — The head of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association has lashed out at a proposal that would reintroduce tolls to New Brunswick highways as a way to generate revenue for the province. APTA executive director Peter Nelson has accused the most vocal supporters of the new tolls – namely Tom Mann and the New Brunswick Union of Public and Private Employees – of wanting to “put another noose around the struggling neck of the Atlantic Canadian economy.”


Tolls on the Fredericton-Moncton toll road were abolished almost a decade ago, thanks to some effective negotiations from then New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord. But the economic downturn has brought the issue back to light, with tolls being mentioned during pre-budget discussions and most recently in an op-ed in the province’s largest daily.


In “Good public policy requires new political will,” published in the Telegraph-Journal March 13, NBUPPE’s Mann outlined six “bold, revenue-generating” ideas (according to the article’s YouTube counterpart) including the reintroduction of tolls. In the article, Mann admitted that road tolling is a politically “unattractive” topic, but stressed that the region’s current economic situation has necessitated change.


[T]he increased traffic on our Trans Canada highway, the evolution of an Atlantic gateway, and the rising cost of maintaining publicly funded, privately managed national highways should alleviate the pressure on the argument for toll re-introduction. In 2000, tolls were seen to be a generator of $1.5 million per year. The cost to New Brunswickers for dumping the tolls was estimated in 2000 to be $180 million. That money would have helped,” Man wrote.


But Nelson disagrees, saying that Mann’s position that road tolls are good for New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada is “irresponsible and out of touch with the present economic reality.”  


“The imposition of road tolls in [New Brunswick] would drive up transportation costs within every Atlantic province and increase costs for food, clothing and shelter. It will make our region’s ports less attractive for shippers; it will stall a rebuilding of our forestry sector and the valued added goods that were once produced in mills throughout our region,” Nelson wrote in a release from the APTA. “Road tolls will make it more difficult and costly for our struggling fishers throughout Atlantic Canada to move their products to external markets. The province of Prince Edward Island is completely reliant on road transport to receive 100% of all products consumed. The good people of Newfoundland, struggling under the high costs of food and food shortages, owing to Marine Atlantic tolls, will suffer even greater hardship if road tolls are imposed in New Brunswick.”


Nelson wrote that many of its members may be forced to scale back operations and human resources by 10% to 50% in the coming year, adding that each truck that is removed from the road will result in a loss of  $50,000 to $60,000 in annual tax revenues.


Nelson also accused the public sector unions of investing their “very large” pension funds beyond the borders of Atlantic Canada, saying that those in the private sector should be “deeply offended” by this.


“The public sector unions would have more credibility if they invested where they lived. This is especially true when all of the major banks are telling every sector of the economy in Atlantic Canada that they are going to restrict consumers, as well as small, medium and large businesses, to less credit and charge more for it,” he said.


Nelson has called on the four Atlantic Premiers to dismiss the call for road tolls outright and also ensure that public sector cuts match those in the private sector.


“We would also ask that the four Premiers band together to hold the line on energy increases by the regional utilities. When this present economic turmoil ends we will need to jumpstart our production in the forestry sector and low energy costs as well as holding the line on transportation costs will be a cornerstone to that success,” he said.


Nelson closed his statement by lamenting the “massive” freight imbalance in the region, saying tolls would only make the situation worse for the truck industry.


“We import far more goods and foodstuffs into this region than we produce to sell outside the region. We now have empty trucks leaving our region to pick up food in Mexico, clothes from Ontario and appliances from the United States. These trucks are being dispatched from our region empty because there is no demand for our value added wood products, lobster or Michelin tires outside of our region. There is a massive cost to having one way freight; road tolls would only make a bad situation much worse,” he said.


“Tom Mann and the New Brunswick public sector unions want to increase road transport costs that will only result in families in New Brunswick and the rest of Atlantic Canada paying $8 for a head of lettuce. In these very uncertain times is this the message of the public sector unions? Do they wish to promote a policy that sees increased costs for food, clothing and shelter for Atlantic Canadians?”

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