Shippers, carriers, and government address policy concerns at Transpo

by Canadian Shipper

TORONTO, Ont. — The Transpo 2006 Conference, held in Toronto by the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association with media partner Canadian Transportation & Logistics and a host of sponsors, concluded this week with a gala dinner Wednesday night.

The conference theme looked at “Beating the Obstacles to deliver the goods”, and examined, in one of its seminar sessions, the policy situation for transportation across Canada.

On hand to address policy issues were Rob Bryson, director of Eastern Canadian Grain Operations, with Parrish and Heimbecker, David Bradley, CEO, Canadian Trucking Alliance, Bruce Burrows, acting president & CEO of the Railway Association of Canada, and Kristine Burr, Assistant Deputy Minister, Transport Canada.

Discussion focused around how transportation policy in Canada must evolve to encompass the intricacies and interdependencies of the various modes.

In defining policy, said Rob Bryson, one must look at a “policy matrix”, or the side effects of a policy on other issues and areas. Transportation policy, for example, will always be overlaid by environmental, security and trade policy in the equation. Drafting policy is by no means an easy process to go through.

“There’s complexity involved to get all stakeholders and jurisdictions to the table,” he said.

Bryson also questioned existing policy, like the Canada Transportation Act, for example, and whether it goes far enough when there is no mention of municipal governments, and when there is considerable focus on regions. “Who speaks for a region?” he asked.

The Act is also, he pointed out, essentially the product of 1996 policy, and a lot has developed since then (i.e. 9/11, the possibility of bird flu and its effect on commodity markets).

“Maybe we need two policies, with a separate focus for different regions,” suggested Bryson, and to reflect the fact that municipal governments are becoming more and more involved in infrastructure and port-related issues, he added.

He stressed that simple business fundamentals must apply to policy crafting as they would elsewhere in the business world.

“To be prepared is to tackle it head-on, i.e. to have an understanding of the objectives. We may have to deal with compromises, but can we move ahead on growth and economic development, the overriding principles? As a group, we can certainly do a lot,” he said.

David Bradley raised the question of whether or not Canada needs an actual national transportation policy.

While the industry would seem to have been pushing for this as a possible solution, Bradley said he is not so sure that a national policy that looks at transportation in isolation, and not as part of an overall vision for Canada, would achieve the results we’re seeking.

“Maybe I am too cynical, but I recall what happened the last time there was an attempt to develop a national transportation policy. The result of that effort was the policy document, Straight Ahead, developed during the time of then-Transport Minister, David Collenette. Straight Ahead went nowhere, in large part I believe because it did not have sufficient buy-in-not only from the transportation industry-but also from the provinces and as importantly from other departments within the federal government.”

“It’s my view that rather than a freight transportation policy that recognizes and addresses economic issues while safeguarding public safety and the environment, what we really need is an economic policy that recognizes and addresses freight transportation issues while safeguarding public safety and the environment,” said Bradley.

He noted that more often than not, the industry ends up fighting rear-guard action to prevent unnecessary impediments to its productivity.

“One of the major hurdles the trucking industry faces in addressing its driver shortage (beyond the ability to generate a return on investment that will allow us to pay our drivers what they are worth- is the fact that the occupation-despite being the number one job for males in the country-is not viewed as a skilled job or vocation by the people that develop the country’s innovation, immigration and other policies.”

With regard to the new government in power in Ottawa, Bradley said he was encouraged by the fact that the new Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon’s portfolio will include infrastructure and communities.

“In the former government I had four ministers all tell me, for example, that they were in charge of border infrastructure, which means no one was. I just hope this does not mean that he (Cannon) will be engaged mainly on transit issues,” said Bradley.

“I also think that transportation policy development would benefit from more input from shippers. I found the ongoing debate over modal shift over the past number of years particularly frustrating as it seemed to me nobody asked shippers why they selected certain modes or what kind of service they wanted. At the same time, I think it is important that shippers also understand that things are changing in the trucking industry. It’s becoming more sophisticated. Insurance has in many ways become what many predicted it would back in the mid-1980s-the regulator of trucking.”

Speaking on behalf of rail, Railway Association of Canada’s Bruce Burrows said that status quo is not an option for railways in Canada.

“A key challenge remains investment. We have to contend not only with service challenges but
the challenges of owning infrastructure,” he said, noting that rail spends some 25 % of its revenues on capital costs. “There’s a need for equitable taxation (with how railways are taxed in the U.S.)
We want government to encourage multimodal outcomes, and there are also labour issues in rail, with 50 % of the workforce to be retiring in the next four years,” noted Burrows.

Kristine Burr, Assistant Deputy Minister with Transport Canada, noted that a recent change in Canada’s federal government means that the agency is still waiting to see what direction transportation policy will take.

She anticipated however that the scheduled April 4 speech from the throne on key government priorities would probably include transport security, environment, competitiveness and enhanced productivity at the top of the list.

“Canada is the most trade-dependent country in the G8, and integration in the global environment is the name of the game,” said Kristine Burr, Transport Canada.

Of note is the possibility that connectors into key intermodal facilities and major border crossings will be considered for possible infrastructure funding, she added.

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