EDITORIAL: Canada Transportation Act Review: Part I – National Standards?


By: David Bradley

Canada’s Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, has launched a statutory review of the Canada Transportation Act to provide an independent assessment of how federal policies and programs can best ensure that the national transportation system “has the capacity and nimbleness to support Canada’s long-term economic growth and prosperity across all sectors.” The review will also examine the extent to which the national transportation system has the capacity and adaptability to respond effectively to evolving international and domestic conditions and markets.

CTA has made a submission to the review panel and will be testifying in 2015. In this month’s column I will focus on the general state of the regulatory system governing the trucking industry. Next month I will discuss the issue of capacity.

Despite being Canada’s dominant mode of freight transportation, other than through a broad statement of national transportation policy, the Act has little to do with trucking. The objectives promoted in the existing policy statement – competition, efficiency, safety, security and sustainability – are appropriate at a 40,000 foot level and provide a reasonable basis for the exercise of federal jurisdiction should the federal government ever wish to exercise its authority or provide leadership in terms of national standards.

The federal government has constitutional responsibility for regulating extra-provincial motor carriers. But, the Motor Vehicle Transport Act (MVTA) delegates administration over extra-provincial trucking regulation to the provinces. The result: a hodge-podge of regulations that are slow, cumbersome and unresponsive to changes in technology and logistics practices. Take the National Safety Code (NSC), introduced in 1987 as the ‘Made-in-Canada” response to economic de-regulation. Not one of the NSC standards has been uniformly adopted or enforced across the country including the one standard which the federal government actually regulates – driver hours of service. The NSC is neither national nor is it a code. Transport Canada is now basically “just another seat at the table.”

Other federal legislation — the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) which sets requirements for new equipment such as brakes, vehicle conspicuity, tires and under-ride devices; the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act (TDGA) which is supported by comprehensive regulations whose main purpose is to prevent the accidental release of dangerous goods and in the event of an incident, to provide information to first responders; the Bills of Lading Act (BLA) which identifies the parties, subject matter and terms and conditions of the contract of carriage – is also subject to right of provinces to introduce their own laws and regulations.

For example, standards set under the MVSA often require changes to provincial “highway traffic” acts/regulations (e.g., weights and dimensions standards) to be effective. The federal TDGA regulations have been adopted (with some minor differences) by the provinces either by reference or via their own provincial regulations. The applicable Canadian law regarding the interpretation of the bill of lading is that of the jurisdiction where the bill of lading was issued — in most cases the shipment’s point of origin.

As evidenced by the NSC, the current processes and mechanisms are not working and create inefficiencies and at times an un-level competitive playing field within Canada. New institutions and approaches are required. The real government decision-makers, those that can direct others in the bureaucracy to get things, need to take a more active role. Perhaps federal funding for infrastructure could be tied to provincial adherence to national standards.

Not only do the current regulatory mechanisms and resultant lack of harmonization impact on Canada’s internal economy, they also impair Canada’s ability to address North American issues.  How can we expect, for example, the United States to harmonize with or grant reciprocity to Canada when we don’t have uniform standards at home? Moreover, in recent years regulatory initiative has – too often in my view – been ceded to the United States where Canadian perspectives and concerns are not considered and Congress ultimately dictates what certain Canadian trucking regulations look like. While harmonization or at least compatibility with US rules can be and often is a good thing, simply deferring to the US approach is not the way to go.

The Canadian trucking industry is one of the most, if not the most, innovative in the world. Canadian carriers are as or more focussed on productivity, safety and environmental sustainability than anywhere else in the world. Canada can lead and can make a significant contribution to North American regulatory standards. But, it needs to be at the table, speaking with one voice, advocating national policies and solutions.

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