Western Canada Highway News had the opportunity to connect with elected leaders on behalf of the BC Trucking Association,
Alberta Motor Transport Association, Saskatchewan Trucking Association and Manitoba Trucking Association and engage in a roundtable discussion on how this year has gone, what issues they’re currently engaged in, and what the industry can look forward to this coming year.
Describe this past year and how recent events, trends – and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic – have impacted/transformed the industry.
Phil Bandstra – The past year has certainly impacted our industry – some more than others. This is the second year of the pandemic, so I think we’re getting better at what we’re doing but we are still seeing pretty significant impacts on the transportation industry. Some businesses were up quite a bit due to a stronger economy – particularly in the resource side of the industry – and others in the retail and the bus passenger industry were quite a bit slower. It affected every business a little differently but in one way or another.
Jude Groves – The AMTA has continued to work with our government and industry partners through these unprecedented times. For instance, we’ve focused on reducing the administrative burden through red tape reduction initiatives, collaborated on funding streams to assist new entrants to the industry, and facilitated exponential growth in our research and innovation project engagements. We’re supporting international vaccination efforts at the border with Montana, some in-province efforts in Calgary and Edmonton, and promoting easier access to vaccinations more generally.
When the supply chain crisis hit, our industry rose to the challenge, doing everything we can to keep goods and people moving. We’re doing it again as BC grapples with unprecedented flooding and disruptions to its transportation network. When the unexpected happens, our industry always delivers.
Brett Marcoux – Without a doubt, the past year has brought new challenges in the way of COVID-19. Trucking has never looked so different – from the equipment we use, to the technology adopted, and the way we interact with customers – and our industry continues to experience fundamental shifts in how we move Canada’s goods from point A to B.
Bernie Driedger – In some ways, this year was a bit easier than last, in that COVID-19 was better known. We weren’t constantly reacting. We had opportunity to be proactive; for instance, vaccinations and an understanding of how COVID-19 works enabled us to gain a bit of control over our lives.
Having said that, we face new challenges with the supply chain and, specifically for our industry, a driver shortage. We are already 18,000 drivers short in Canada. Five thousand openings are anticipated in our industry in Manitoba alone in the next five years. We are looking at another global crisis related to the supply chain.
Was there a particular lesson to be learned or key takeaway that resonated with you while working through and adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Phil Bandstra – That’s where working with the BCTA really helped. Generally, a lot of us are competitors with each other but when you put that aside, and we work together through this Association, we have much more of an effect on making change or trying to steer the ship in the right direction.
Jude Groves – Collaboration is king. By working with our neighboring provincial associations, governments, and industry representatives, we’ve moved mountains over the last 24 months. Being transparent and results-oriented drives timely responses and delivers on the needs of our industry to keep moving throughout these challenging times. We’ve seen a great showing of solidarity within our industry.
Brett Marcoux – What has resonated with me is how our industry has continually come together since the beginning of the pandemic. We are a large and diverse group, but when called upon, we all come together and take action. There have been countless challenges to overcome in the past year and a half, and we have always come up with a solution together.
Bernie Driedger – For me, it was the importance of taking time to listen to people, think about the situation, and work together towards the best solution. This was a new situation for all of us, and the old ways of doing things weren’t always there to rely on as options. We needed to come together for the best solutions as a team as we navigated new ways forward.
Describe the overall health and operations of the trucking industry within your province at this time.
Phil Bandstra – Overall, I would say that the health is quite good. There are certain segments of the industry that are hurting due to the pandemic, but generally – especially in the North – we’re seeing that the trucking industry remains very strong and it’s been a good, safe place for people to work over the past year.
Jude Groves – Overall, the trucking industry is healthy and growing. We have segments that are ramping up after a few slow years. This is particularly true of those segments seams that serve supply chain and truckload and linehaul operations. It’s an exciting time to be in an industry with such a great future. Still, the challenges we face are real; for instance, we need to change how we attract new entrants into the industry. We also need to do a better job getting the word out about the exciting career opportunities exist. Kudos to the Canadian Trucking Alliance for developing our industry image campaign. It’s up to us now to share it far and wide: www.choosetotruck.ca.
Brett Marcoux – Trucking is the backbone of Saskatchewan’s economy and continues to help move our most important resources to market. The industry continues to face a major shortage of labour in many critical job functions, such as truck drivers and mechanics – nonetheless, trucking will continue to be heavily relied on as our province enters an economic recovery phase and welcomes new investments into Saskatchewan.
Bernie Driedger – The Province of Manitoba recently released a labour market update, anticipating 5,000 openings for truck driver in the next five years. That means recruiting, training, and retaining a new driver every eight hours, every year, for the next five years. The reality, though, is that a lot of people aren’t interested in being a truck driver or being in the trucking industry. It’s a very serious issue for us right now. We are also facing equipment issues as we wait on new truck and trailer orders to be filled.
What is the latest update on MELT and the current landscape of educating and training professional drivers?
Phil Bandstra – MELT was activated on October 18, 2021, and we’re already struggling to find drivers. As an Association, we’re fully behind MELT – it’s something that had to be done across the country and we support it fully. We’re all getting used to how this is going to work and setting up programs that will encourage people to enter the industry and take these courses. We think that at the end of the day, we’re going to have a much better workforce overall – we’re pleased with the direction it’s headed in.
Jude Groves – MELT continues to function as designed but has been a barrier due to cost. Driving Back to Work is a multi-million-dollar investment in our industry by the Alberta Government to help remove the barriers.
In addition to MELT, carriers still have extensive training processes to onboard commercial drivers. That’s where we’re focused. The Association is actively working on growing the vision for a recognized, transferable credential to support consistent training within the industry, a recognized certification that would save a carrier time while onboarding employees and longer term while recruiting qualified professional drivers already within industry. The impact to our industry members costs us between $30,000,000 - $50,000,000 a year in repetitive training being delivered to qualified employees switching carriers within the province. The Commercial Transportation Orientation for Drivers (CTOD) initiative is focused on building an orientation that becomes the common denominator for what we do to bring a commercial driver into our industry. While AMTA is leading the change, we’re collaborating with STA, MTA, and BCTA on this great initiative.
In addition to that, earlier in 2021, we announced a partnership with Serious Labs, an Edmonton-based tech company, to develop a virtual reality training simulator to support the MELT process. This program is being delivered in partnership with Alberta Transportation. It is part of a national vision for the tools available to provide MELT training created through CCMTA and Transport Canada.
Brett Marcoux – MELT in Saskatchewan was implemented in March of 2019 and, to date, has elevated the level of training new class 1A drivers are receiving. In 2020, 1,417 new class 1A licenses were issued in Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Trucking Association continues to work with SGI to help elevate the overall level of instruction in the MELT training.
Bernie Driedger – As mentioned, we need a lot of skilled drivers, right now. I think a lot of the driving schools are doing their best to graduate well-trained drivers. Now we need to look at next steps: how are we ensuring those skilled new drivers become professional drivers who want to stay in our industry?
Looking ahead, what challenges/opportunities do you and your Board of Directors anticipate for the trucking industry?
Phil Bandstra – Our biggest challenge is recruiting people to the industry – country-wide, provincially we are running short on drivers. The average age of a driver seems to get older and older. 92% of the product moved across the province is done by truck, so, we need to convince more younger people to get into this industry.
Jude Groves – First, a massive shoutout to the team and board at the Association. We’ve gone through a few heavy years of building a strategic planning process, rewriting our governance, committee structure, and bylaws. We are just getting to the point where 2022 will bring us into an operational cadence. With over a 100x increase in the projects the Association has commissioned, the desire to foster growth and cooperation with our peer organizations, and more opportunities than ever to support our industry in Alberta (and beyond), there is never a dull moment at the AMTA.
As an industry, we continue to work on delivering programs focused on improving our industry image and recruiting, training, and retaining employees. We’re also helping bridge new and emerging technologies within our industry, softening the transition, and ensuring that our provincial carriers have the opportunity to remain relevant and resilient in the face of change in our industry. It’s an exciting time to be in transportation.
Brett Marcoux – COVID-19 should continue to persist as one of, if not the biggest challenge in the industry. With sweeping vaccine mandates from federal governments in Canada and the United States, our industry may be hard-pressed to meet some of the proposed deadlines in January 2022 to enter the United States. Our industry will face a potential mass exodus of drivers if we cannot meet requirements.
Bernie Driedger – The supply chain is going to be an issue for awhile, which means recruiting, training and retention will be challenges for awhile. This is not a new challenge for us, but it is a growing one. Obviously, we want a healthy working environment for all our industry employees.
We have great opportunity in reducing our carbon footprint, but it’s going to take some effort by a lot of stakeholders. However, we are seeing some really encouraging projects: efficiency and zero emission technologies as well as emerging safety technologies, that are going to transform the trucking industry.
Share some highlights of safety campaigns, initiatives or means of community outreach that your Association put forward/participated in this year.
Phil Bandstra – It was challenging this year. In past years, we did joint initiatives with ICBC and the Ministry of Transport – hosting safety events and demonstrations. With COVID, it’s been more difficult to do them but our Association, with the Trucking Safety Council, have pushed hard on safety; therefore, there’s been a lot of activity in the safety market.
Jude Groves – Overall, we’ve increased the reach and impact of our industry touchpoints – while COVID-19 has limited the in-person opportunities, the team at the Association switched quickly and effectively to virtual engagement. That said, the time with the front-line is what always stands out to me, and the driver appreciation events honouring their efforts really resonated. These folks are the face of our industry, the front lines representing our companies and industry to our customers. We can’t say it often or loud enough, thank you!
Beyond that, we also developed a micro-learn strategy around reducing Slips, Trips, and Falls and Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention. These short video clips are coupled to tailgate briefings for carriers to share with their employees. The material is all available through the Association’s website for anyone to use.
Brett Marcoux – It was a big year for the STA in this respect, working with the Ministry of Trade and Export Development (TED) to produce several videos highlighting and promoting our Women Shifting Gears program – designed to empower women and help them enter the transportation industry. The STA also linked TED to a member to produce a series of videos showcasing how Saskatchewan gets its good to market.
Bernie Driedger – The RPM program, our trucking industry safety program in Manitoba, continues to grow and build momentum. We have transitioned our industry outreach from being very “in-person” focused to a virtual platform, and we have partnered with community organizations to provide resources for the industry over the past year.
‘Mental health’ has been a buzzword in the transportation industry and beyond, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Has your Association put forward any mental health programs or resources for professional drivers? If so, what program(s) and where can our readers go to learn more?
Phil Bandstra – Mental health is definitely at the top of our mind. The BC Trucking Association has its own benefit plan where smaller carriers can sign up and some of these mental health programs are built into these benefit programs. There is opportunity for smaller firms, especially, to provide benefits that include mental health benefits by going through the BC Trucking Association.
Jude Groves – We’ve continued to work with our provincial WCB counterparts and are focused on developing educational opportunities to support workers in industry and provide our carriers with training opportunities. We are pleased to say the uptake on both has been well received, including many organizations taking advantage of WCB’s subsidy for the University of Fredericton’s Psychological Safety programs.
Brett Marcoux – Mental health and overall wellness continues to be a main theme and consideration from trucking companies and the Association. The STA does offer a Psychological First Aid course, which is a resiliency building wellness program that equips individuals in supporting themselves and others to cope with the effects of stress, loss, trauma, and grief. This is a very affordable and important course for Carriers to invest in.
Bernie Driedger – We have been working closely with the United Way of Winnipeg for many years, and especially over the duration of the pandemic. We have been promoting their resources for everyone in our industry to access via www.211.ca. Mental health was one of the featured topics during our RPM Speaker Series in the spring, as well.
Can you comment on your province’s trucking-related infrastructure?
Phil Bandstra – It’s a work in progress. We meet with the provincial government on a regular basis. Product has to move within the cities, within the province, so we’re constantly pushing for infrastructure improvements – whether it’s the George Massey tunnel or six-laning the Highway 102 to Chilliwack, or improvements up North – there are improvements that we meet with the government on a regular basis. A lot of the infrastructure was built in the 1960s and it’s getting closer to end of life.
Jude Groves – We’ve had some great successes lobbying for both investment and maintenance efforts on behalf of our member’s needs. To give you a few examples, there was the Highway 3 twinning, 43x and 40 in Grande Prairie, 65th Street in Leduc, and many other programs as part of the over 260 capital projects that were prioritized and funded under the 2021 Alberta budget and exponentially more through municipal funding streams. 2022 will see continued investment in road upgrades and maintenance, including rest stops and roadside pull-offs. As this is being printed, there are some additional announcements in the works, so stay tuned. A call to order for our membership – if there are any specific needs, please reach out to a member of the AMTA team at email@example.com to ensure that it’s on the Association’s radar.
Brett Marcoux – The Government of Saskatchewan has invested $10.6 billion in highways infrastructure since 2008 and is set to see an additional 30 sets of passing lanes added to the road network. To this point in 2021, the province has improved more than 1,350km of roads and highways. Pullout areas for commercial vehicles continue to be an afterthought.
Bernie Driedger – The Government of Manitoba has been making some headway on road repairs such as the commitment to a permanent flood detour on PTH 75; however, we still need improvement in trucking-related infrastructure. We would also like to see improved rest stops for professional drivers; if there’s one thing we all learned about during the last eighteen months, it is the deplorable washroom facilities drivers have to access. We need to ensure that our drivers can have safe, clean, accessible washroom facilities; we shouldn’t have to pass a law to ensure that as is being considered in Ontario.
What is the latest on environmental issues coming from your Association?
Phil Bandstra – We recognize that the trucking industry is significant contributor to greenhouse gases. So, we’re working within the Association and provincial government on green initiatives, whether we’re experimenting with electric trucks or natural gas trucks, hydrogen trucks. We’re looking at fuel savings consumptions; we’re tied to the provincial government on a heavy-duty environmental program to provide funding to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Jude Groves – The words of Mark Carney resonant with us – “Climate change is the biggest risk to the world, but when you turn it around, if you’re part of the solution, it makes it the biggest commercial opportunity in the world. We’re going to require the entire global economy to get a net-zero space.”
As our industry navigates the call to change by our provincial and federal governments, in addition to international groups, we’ve focused on fostering collaborative relationships between suppliers, innovators, government, and, most important, industry. We have taken on several projects focused on reducing our industry’s GHG footprint and, most important, ensuring our member companies are at the table, helping to develop and deliver effective and viable solutions within our operating environments.
The AMTA supports the development of the provincial hydrogen roadmap that defines what that transition looks like and validating that a change to clean fuels is both possible and realistic in the Canadian market. We’re building two hydrogen fuel cell trucks, multiple hydrogen fueling locations, and testing technology like platooning and VR technology. It’s an exciting time at
the AMTA and within the industry
Brett Marcoux – It is well known Canada has recently strengthened its climate plan to align with the most stringent targets in North America and Saskatchewan is being looked to by the federal government to take proactive steps to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The STA is prepared to work with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment to help our industry meet certain environmental requirements.
Bernie Driedger –We have had some productive meetings with various stakeholders, including Climate and Conservation Minister Guillemard, to discuss environmental issues for our industry. Of course, the Efficient Trucking Program has resulted in millions of dollars in rebates to our industry for investing in green trucking technologies. We recently saw investment from industry and government in a fully electric shunt truck, which will be a great test for this type of equipment. We have also been working to better inform the public of environmental challenges so they understand the balance of meeting the demands of the supply chain while also trying to reduce our carbon footprint. We are very active in this area.
What lobbying successes has your Associat.ion experienced in 2021?
Phil Bandstra – There’s various successes, whether it’s working with our Association or together with the Canadian Trucking Alliance on tax initiatives and protecting the companies – making sure we’re running fair and continually working on the green initiative to help reduce greenhouse gases. We have a good relationship with the provincial government and Ministry of Transportation, so that helps.
Jude Groves – I’ll save recapping the projects and successes I’ve noted earlier;
I would offer the most considerable success we’ve had is continuing the growth and development of the relationships we have with the critical partners in delivering our mandate and strategic plan. Red tape reduction, Covid support, an updated Partners in Compliance MOU, support for infrastructure investment, and alignment on our long-term strategic direction.
Brett Marcoux – The STA has been vocal with our Ministry of Immigration and Career Training (ICT) about the severe driver shortage hanging over the industry. The STA is now in the beginning stages of working together to identify mission critical jobs in Saskatchewan’s trucking industry. The STA has also been vocal about a provincial ELD mandate. The Government of Saskatchewan, however, does not intend to mandate proven safety enhancements to trucking.
Bernie Driedger – The Cross-Border Essential Worker Vaccination Initiative was a huge win for us. That program, a partnership between the Province of Manitoba and State of North Dakota, resulted in thousands of Manitoba’s drivers being vaccinated. The Government of Manitoba has revised how they assess
Manitoba safety ratings after years of advocacy efforts by the MTA. We have had a number of meetings in the latter half of this year with government officials, including the Minister of Infrastructure, the Minister of Economic Development and Jobs, and the Minister of Conservation and Climate. We also met with Premier Goertzen this fall to discuss the driver shortage and green trucking.
Describe the current relations between your Association and the provincial government – positives and negatives – and what you hope to see in the future.
Jude Groves – I would offer the most significant success we’ve gained has been achieved through continuing the focus on our relationships with the partners critical in delivering on our mandate and strategic plan. Specifically, Alberta Transportation, Workers Compensation Board, and Alberta Labour & Immigration, and our Alberta-based ESDC representatives, in addition to leaders within the communities of Alberta and leaders of our industry.
I would be remiss not to recognize the commitment and dedication of the former Minister of Transportation, Ric McIver. I would also like to offer a warm welcome to Minister Rajan Sawhney, who took the wheel in late June, and has already demonstrated her commitment, vision, and passion for the commercial transportation industry.
Overall? The future is bright. We have fantastic collaboration happening daily, and it’s delivering a smoother, more reliable, and industry-friendly environment to operate within Alberta.
Brett Marcoux – Working with the Government of Saskatchewan is always a privilege, and we are thankful for the relationships and inroads we’ve made. Trucking has received strong support from Immigration and Career Training, SGI, as well as the Ministry of Highways. We were also grateful to form a new relationship with the Ministry of Trade and Export Development to highlight the great work done in our industry. In the future, we hope to make further progress with important issues like ELDs and pullout infrastructure with our Ministry of Highways.
Bernie Driedger – I feel that we have seen an improved relationship with the provincial government over the past year. We always had a good relationship with the government, but let’s be honest: there’s nothing like an in-person meeting to really build relationships with people.
Did the COVID-19 pandemic open new doors for collaboration with your Association, provincial government and other Associations and governments in Canada and the U.S.? If so, please explain.
Phil Bandstra – From a provincial perspective, it certainly opened doors for the Association and provincial government – they were looking for our support and ideas. Our relationship with the Canadian Trucking Alliance also gave us direct contact with the federal government and the American Trucking Association, so cross-border issues were at the forefront of all our discussions.
Jude Groves – We wouldn’t have seen as positive an outcome to an awful situation without collaboration. From vaccination programs, to sharing PPE
and sanitizers, to managing restrictions and lockdowns, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without working together with our businesses, our workers, and most important, our customers. I would have been a very different experience if we hadn’t.
While that collaborative space is a great highlight, the most significant opportunity that the pandemic presented was highlighting the critical role commercial transportation plays in the supply chain and the opportunity to say “thank you” to those essential front-line workers that make it happen.
Brett Marcoux – Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic provided opportunity to collaborate with the State of North Dakota who helped facilitate voluntary COVID-19 vaccinations at the Canada-U.S. Border in the earlier stages of COVID-19. The STA has regularly spoken with other provincial associations to best understand how COVID is impacting our industry from west to east.
Bernie Driedger – I wouldn’t say it opened doors specifically, but it certainly solidified relationships we already had with the other provincial trucking associations, CTA, and other stakeholders. We were able to access more of a direct line with the government last year during the height of the pandemic when our drivers were literally the only ones on the road; we appreciate that the government realized the important role we were playing and that we had specific needs to be addressed quickly as we kept the economy rolling. We also appreciate that government has kept that access open.
What hopes do you have for your Association in 2022?
Phil Bandstra – We hope our Association remains strong. We’re reaching a segment in our history, where we want to reach out to a lot more of our industry and make sure that our Association caters to that larger industry.
Jude Groves – 2022 is where the rubber hits the road. We’ve got the housekeeping done within the Association, and we have a tremendous strategic direction. We continue to invest in better serving our member companies and supporting our workers so they enjoy a safer, better experience as commercial drivers. We’ll be getting into the data from our platooning pilot, Daisy and Lilly, our platooned trucks.
Our data and digitization strategy remains a primary focus to better target industry support and workplace safety initiatives. Our campus program is also focused on developing a tangible asset to serve the needs of the Association membership, two hydrogen fuel cell trucks, alternative energy fueling stations, and a VR simulator to train and develop commercial drivers. It’s a busy dance card, but one that’s changing the shape of the commercial transportation sector in Alberta and helping our industry prosper while delivering on
the needs of our province.
Brett Marcoux – The STA continues to be in the early phases of being a stand-alone Association after the sale of HAL Insurance. 2022 will be an integral year to continue building a foundation of safety, accountability, and professionalism in Saskatchewan’s trucking industry. We will continue to promote the highest level of safety and offer high quality services to all facets of our members operations.
Bernie Driedger – Obviously, the number one hope we have for our association and its members in the upcoming year is continued good health for everyone. As an industry, we are nothing without our people. I also hope that we can continue to build on the momentum we have seen recently in drawing attention to the driver shortage and supply chain issues.
What makes you the most proud of your Association?
Phil Bandstra – We’re about 30 people and whether we’re competitors or not, we can meet and decide issues in our industry and leave our private business at the door and work together as a group and represent the trucking environment in BC.
Jude Groves – We have a fantastic team at the Association, delivering brilliant work supporting an industry that’s filled with outstanding professionals. So, on behalf of the board of the AMTA, THANK YOU for everything that you do!
Brett Marcoux – The Saskatchewan Trucking Association is built on history. I am excited to lead the Association into its 85th year of existence. Trucking has come a long way since we formed in 1937, and we are proud to help make the fabric of this essential industry.
Bernie Driedger – As I mentioned, people are our greatest asset as an industry. I go to work grateful every day to see a great group of people; I know that there are a lot of people in the trucking industry who have that same feeling when they walk through the company doors every day. Our industry isn’t without its challenges, but the people make it great.
Do you have any comments you wish to add?
Phil Bandstra – We’re proud of our Association and we’re all committed to making it work.
Jude Groves – Our Association and its focus are only as good as the engagement and feedback from our members. We welcome the opportunity to support our industry and the professionals within it however we can. Please reach out to the association staff if you have any concerns, comments, or questions firstname.lastname@example.org. As well, if you have any questions about the Association’s strategic direction or focus of the board, please feel free to connect with any of our board members at www.amta.ca/who-we-are/board-of-directors.
Bernie Driedger – It’s hard to believe that my time as MTA President will wrap up in the spring next year, so I just want to thank everyone for their support and patience during these challenging times. We have been through some rough times together, so I hope everyone is able to take some time this holiday season to have some laughs and spend time with loved ones.