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Blockades caused loss for Pro-North, Lakehead Freightways spared set-backs.

Blockades caused loss for Pro-North, Lakehead Freightways spared set-backs

Northern Ontario trucking industry officials report varying levels of disruption as a result of the recent independent truckers blockades.

The truckers blockades may have resulted in adverse effects to trucking companies in southern Ontario, but some representatives in the north say that because the May blockades were set up primarily at southern border crossings, little effect could be noted to their individual freight businesses.

Don Wadelle, highway dispatcher for Lakehead Freightways Limited in Thunder Bay, explained that his company's trucks enter the United States at crossings such as Pigeon River and International Falls. These areas, he said, were too insignificant for blockades. As a result, his company, which operates out of both Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, was spared any set-backs associated with the halt in transportation.

"Northern Ontario seemed to be isolated from the affair. I don't think I could name one company that was affected," he said.

However, Pro-North Transportation System of North Bay lost one week of business from the calendar, according to company operations manager Brent Byers.

"We have had to cram two weeks work into one," he said.

Byers estimated that it would take "at least a month to recover from the backlog."

Many of the paper-transport firm's 60 trucks were halted in places such as Lacolle, Que. and Fort Erie, Ont.

Although unable to say how much money Pro-North lost, Byers said the effects of having to fulfil two weeks worth of contracts in one week and having to compensate employees even though the trucks were not moving, left the company with little way of making it up.

"I doubt we will ever recover the financial loss," said Byers.

Don Campbell, terminal manager for Kingsway Transport Limited's Sudbury operation, said the blockades halted all of the company's shipments at Quebec and U.S. borders.

Campbell said Kingsway managed to skirt any substantial problems for customers by shipping by rail.

"We were forced to put all our trailers on trains," he recalled.

It was the necessity of having to ship by rail, rather than by tractor trailer, which added to the firm's costs.

"It was very costly for us to have to use rail," he explained.

BLOCKADE

The protest by independent operators which started in Quebec on Victoria Day and then spread to Ontario the day after, virtually stalled traffic at several major border crossings, including Gananoque, Fort Erie, Windsor and Sarnia.

Hundreds of truck drivers jammed commercial traffic at the border crossings to protest what they call unfair and intolerable federal policies.

The policies, they claim, add 15 to 20 per cent to operating costs, making it impossible to compete with their U.S., counterparts.

Although excessive taxes were seen as the root of the demonstrations, other concerns raised by the protesters included the inflated value of the Canadian dollar, high interest rates and deregulation of the trucking industry. Deregulation was initiated in January 1983, when the federal Bureau of Competition Policy recommended that Canada follow the lead of the U.S. which implemented deregulation in 1980.

The truckers complained that both federal and provincial taxes result in substantially greater fuel prices in Canada.

During 1987/88, the most recent year for which statistics are available, diesel fuel taxes generated $475 million for the federal government.

The money is collected through an excise tax of four cents per litre and a sales tax of 2.7 cent per litre. Truckers in the U.S. pay no excise tax on diesel fuel.

The cost of "trucks, insurance and gas, it's all cheaper in the states," said Byers.

Byers further commented that truckers from south of the border can operate their rigs for less here by by filling up prior to entering Canada.

"U.S. companies can come here (Canada) on a regular basis and audit us to see if we are paying proper fuel taxes," he said. However, the same situation doesn't exist in reverse.

Commenting on whether or not Canadian officials enjoy the same luxury, Byers said, "If the same rules exist, I would think they could. But the rules just aren't enforced."

A second complaint by the independent truckers, also associated with the tax system, concerns the depreciation of trucks.

They complain that trucks in Canada, which cost approximately $100,000 each, must be written off at 30 per cent annually on the declining balance, a stipulation which extends the write-off over 13 years.

The blockade by independent truckers, although disrupting shipments of food from the United States and slowing down production at Canadian Auto assembly plants which were waiting for parts shipments, appeared to have less of an effect on the Northern Ontario economy.

Contrary to reports of losses in the food industry in southern Ontario and Quebec, Ami Martin, operations manager for Loeb's Sudbury division, said northern operations not affected by the blockades.

The Ontario Food terminal in Toronto reported that receipts were reduced by as much as 50 per cent during the final days of the protest. At the same time, a published report indicated that the Association of Quebec Food Distributors, which represents approximately 80 percent of Quebec food wholesalers, said its members had lost $7 million in revenue.

Although he estimated that Loeb's Ottawa division suffered set-backs, Martin said Sudbury wasn't slowed down at all. "We never noticed much at all," he reported.

Byers, although admitting that the blockades disrupted Pro-North's operations, said he symphatizes with the independents who staged the protest and he "definitely supports the concerns of the truckers."

He said the blockades were the truckers only alternative and they were "pretty effective."

"There wasn't a lot of alternatives open to them and it has definitely made the politicians aware of the problem," Byers concluded.

SOLUTIONS

Just three days after the first truckers began to stall their rigs at the Canada/U.S. border crossings, independent truckers were rolling again, following discussions with provincial Transport Minister William Wrye and his federal counterpart Doug Lewis.

Following meetings with protesters blockading the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor to Detroit, Wrye outlined steps he would take to resolve the truckers' concerns.

According to the Ontario Truckers' Association, the provincial minister will undertake the following:

-Truck inspection enforcement will be stepped up at night and during weekends, particularly at border crossings.

-Facility audits will be expanded to include U.S. carriers.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Pro-North Transportation System
Author:McDougall, Douglas
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Words:1060
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