ON THE SCENE: Ontario truckers push back on government, big business

| 6/16/2009

Some people’s passion for trucking cannot be extinguished with a thousand hoses, even if the water is aimed directly at them by the government and large carrier fleets.

If you’ve learned anything about Canada in the past few years from the pages of Land Line Magazine, chances are it had something to do with a regulation or law that truckers have deemed unfair, dangerous or harmful to their businesses. The fight is the same there as it is in the U.S.

But to get the real answer to the question, “what’s it like to be a small-business trucker in Canada these days?” I traveled to the Toronto suburb of Milton to hear from men and women who are locked in constant battle with the government and large carriers that are trying to suppress their spirit.

Trucker Scott Mooney, whom many of you met in Land Line’s “Jumpseat Journal” (May 2009 issue, Page 48), was at it again on June 13 in Milton, Ontario, bringing truckers and anyone who would listen together in protest of the Ontario government’s speed-limiter legislation.

The weather was perfect this time, a far cry from the minus-25 Celsius (minus-13 Fahrenheit) during Mooney’s organized convoy to the provincial capital in Toronto back in March.

Scott promised his fellow truckers that the fight will continue – and must continue – as the government pursues speed limiters and longer, heavier trucks.

I shot video clips of the event and conducted interviews in the same fashion as the “Jumpseat Journal.” It took a while to upload the videos (someone told me it was because I must have shot the clips in metric) – but here is a link to the collection.

Take a moment to catch up with Scott Mooney’s thoughts on the whole speed-limiter situation, and then we’ll meet some new faces and hear about how these laws affect their lives.

The Ontario Trucking Association’s claims about speed limiters saving fuel, etc., are not difficult to poke full of holes, but the trick for people like Scott and associations like OOIDA is getting policymakers to listen.

Scott personally invited Ontario Transportation Minister James Bradley to attend the rally but was not surprised when Bradley didn’t show or send a representative.

One lawmaker did show up, MPP Ted Chudleigh, a Progressive Conservative from the local riding, or electoral district, in Milton. PC Party members are against anything the Liberal Party government does, and that includes the speed-limiter push.

Chudleigh was one of many people at the rally who said speed differentials increase the frequency and severity of vehicle interactions on the highways. Hearing any lawmaker acknowledge the science that OOIDA and others have known for years is, in itself, a small victory.

OK. Back to debunking the contentions by the OTA and the government that speed limiters save fuel and make highways safer.

OOIDA Life Member Ed Wesselius of Guelph, Ontario, and OOIDA member Scott Walker of Aylmer, Ontario, said speed limiters have become a source of road rage on the highways. They’ve seen it firsthand, and you can sense urgency and passion in their comments. These guys are the real deal as are many of the others I talked to. We’ll meet some more later on.

Officially representing OOIDA at the event was Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig, there to show support for the drivers and to share the Association’s viewpoint. Rick was a trucker for many years and can relate to those who are struggling against mounting regulations and big-business pressure in the industry.

So what about fuel savings? Shouldn’t slower trucks on the highways automatically save fuel as the OTA and the government claim?

I was soon clued in by people who are in the business of doing the math for their businesses – people like Ben and Anita Hamilton of Simcoe, Ontario. They said that setting the limiter below the prescribed cap of 65 mph (105 km/h) on their trucks has actually cost them fuel mileage.

“Every owner-operator we’ve talked to says the same thing,” Anita said.

Next, there’s the fear that enforcement of speed limiters opens up the door for invasion of privacy, according to Mooney. He told truckers to avoid caving in when enforcement officers ask to plug in to their truck computers. He believes the Privacy Act of Canada trumps the need for officers to download ECM data.

When the discussion turned to the economy, I was happy to get a perspective from two sharp-minded truckers Laverne Liebrock and Ross Farrand. Their comments are definitely worth checking out.

Government regulations and lobbying efforts by large carriers are having an effect on all of us whether or not we are truckers.

It’s anybody’s guess what will happen once the full-on enforcement for speed limiters begins July 1.

I do know that truckers will not take speed limiters and longer-combination vehicles lying down.

Truckers are a resilient bunch. It’s just too bad the government is not interested or is afraid to meet with them face to face on the real issues. So, it’s up to us – you and I – to share the stories and hope that those outside of the trucking circle will listen.

– By David Tanner, staff writer