A week before handing over the reins to a new OTA chairman, Steve Ondejko recalls with pride his role in improving truck and highway safety, compliance, the environment, and overseeing a major shift in the association’s leadership.
Although he wasn’t expected to fill the OTA chair for another six years, Ondejko was thrust into the role in 2016 after a previous shakeup in the OTA executive board hierarchy.
“I stepped into the role with my training wheels still on,” he says.
His first challenge was to oversee the conclusion of the transfer in the OTA presidency. “I was stepping in at a turbulent time with the transfer from the 30-year reign of David Bradley to the unanimous choice of Stephen Laskowski as his successor,” says Ondejko, who credits former chair Scott Tilley for much of the legwork. “What I walked into was a very focused, cohesive group that were revitalized and looking for a new direction and challenges to take on for the industry.”
He says he and Laskowski quickly built a strong rapport and identified common approaches and directives for the staff and board.
“We were in full agreement on what OTA stands for, but we also knew in these disruptive times the future of the association couldn’t be based on just staying on course, but we needed to evolve and embrace change.”
Once the dust settled on the leadership transition, Ondejko says OTA/CTA staff trained their sights on issues important members, both in Ontario and nationally: Driver Inc. and driver classification, MELT, ELDs, the driver shortage, distracted driving.
“Then the Humboldt tragedy happened,” Ondejko recalls. “We were all devastated. But without a doubt, the OTA/CTA team led the industry. Their response to this horrific event paved the road for every trucking association and safety stakeholder to follow if they truly serious about improving truck and highway safety across the country.”
OTA’s leadership in developing mandatory entry level training, speed limiters and a variety of other landmark safety initiatives began to affect other parts of the country in the wake of the Humboldt crash, he says.
“Always with compassion, Stephen and his team worked hard to promote our safety message and make recommendations nationally. They did OTA and CTA proud in how they made the best of a tragic situation and hopefully inspired some much-needed changes elsewhere in Canada.”
Ondejko looks back with fondness how he and staff travelled cross-country to promote the value of the organization to members in other associations and the importance of ongoing initiatives in improving the industry at-large. “This has proved fruitful,” he says.
While he is proud to have laid some groundwork for several OTA lobbying efforts, Ondejko says the incoming chair will also have his hands full as staff continues to navigate through a myriad of important policy issues, such as Canadian ELD implementation; distracted driving, MELT harmonization; carbon tax and environmental reforms like delete kit enforcement; labour issues including immigration and drug and alcohol testing; and general issues dealing with non-compliant carriers
“All these and other issues are in play and new ones continue to surface. I have no doubt whatsoever the OTA-CTA team is up for any challenge,” says Ondejko.
“This has been a most memorable experience. It has been an honour to have served my industry and my association as chair. I can only thank the membership and board for the opportunity and everybody who helped me through some challenging times both personally and professionally during my tenure.”