From the monthly archives: December 2010

It was interesting to read your article ‘Redefining Energy’ in your November edition. It paints a wonderful picture of a responsible industry striving to evolve and make peace with those its work impacts. But, of course, we know that’s a bunch of BS.
Let’s face it: For decades the oil and gas industry has run rampant over landowners, with the tacit agreement of the governments involved. They like the money they get from this industry too much to make much of an effort to curtail it, or to make it operate more responsibly.
Politicians worry that if they make things too difficult for the industry, the big corporations will pull out and go to work elsewhere in the world, where the climate is more friendly. Then what would we be left with, the politicos worry. Ranching in Alberta at a time when that industry is on its heels? Forestry in BC, when that industry is almost non-existent? They don’t dare kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
So the landowners are left to fight this battle on their own. And that is truly a David and Goliath scenario. Imagine the farm or ranch couple faced with a land agent explaining there will soon be drilling on their property, or a pipeline running across it, or both. What happened to the concept of ownership? What other industry can come onto your property whenever and however they wish, just because they think there’s something there that they want? None.
And let’s not even think of the impact of this industry on our water supplies, especially now that the search for unconventional gas in shale and silt formations has taken the process of ‘fraccing’ to new levels. Many areas suffered drought conditions last summer and some communities had to impose water restrictions on their citizens. Did we hear of the big corporations cutting back on their fraccing so they wouldn’t use so much water and thus help us out? Not a chance. Is this a responsible industry?
It’s fine to talk of the progress being made in the industry, and likely that’s what energy conferences like the one in Fort St. John BC are for. But the BC Premier, the mayor of Fort St. John and the others quoted in the article are deluding themselves if they thing problems are being solved. The industry is just making polite noises to stall those upset with its operations and its lack of simple human decency while it pursues the almighty dollar at the expense of everyone it comes into contact with. The money a Shell or Encana spends on so-called advancements is only pennies to them, but it’s a great smoke and mirrors game to fool us into thinking they really care.
Aaron Gottlieb
Grande Prairie


I was surprised to read Karen’s article (The Toybox) in the Nov. issue of NWB titled Calling All Gamers.
The reason I say surprised is that my impression of NWB’s target audience is that it is partially the businesses within the region.
If the above is true, most business owners that I know are not gamers.  Many don’t have time or are enjoying a lifestyle that is a nice one, but gaming is rarely included.  My knowledge of the business market may be limited but perhaps the above is true.  The article certainly had very little relevance to me.
The other aspect that is well known to people working in the technology industry is that Microsoft has released more software and solution for businesses that are in NWB target audience in 2010 than at any other time in the company’s history.
IBM, Cisco, HP and Google are also releasing products that are more and more relevant to the SMB market in the near future and have released several over the last two years.
It is a time of very rapid innovation and change for businesses that are connected to technology in any way.  Perhaps content highlighting the technology or the local impact it has had may be more of interest.
If you would like article suggestions going forward I have several and would be happy to offer any suggestions or content that you feel might be relevant.
Darren Boyer,
Via email


The letter to the editor ‘Seeking Equality’ was not ethical for you to publish. It’s racist. Basically some old guy ranting on a sensitive topic that has no bearing on what your magazine deals with on regular basis. I’m shocked you published it.
If you would like any other racist material, I don’t like Italian people. Let me know.
Jesse Fehr,
Via email


BC politicians have had a rough go of it lately. First of all there was all the foofurah about the HST and the official government intransigence, which led to the resignation of Blair Lekstrom as Minister of Energy and Mines. Then, low and behold, Premier Gordon Campbell was shoved from his lofty perch (even if he says it was his intent to step down). And now Lekstrom’s replacement Bill Bennett has been summarily dismissed for – well that depends on who you are.
Independent thinking is an expected and valued part of being a northerner. There is a sort of perverse pride in going against the grain and it seems that Bennett could fit right in here. While there are those that are offended by his outspoken criticism of Campbell’s opting to stay in office in the face of public opinion that would leave the nearly dead running for a place to hide – there are many who are not.
Maybe there is something in the water up here (and once is all it takes) that creates a special kind of backbone. Two energy ministers, two outspoken and independent thinkers, two men left out of a portfolio where they belong only to be replaced by Natural Resources Operations Minister Steve Thompson (Kelowna-Mission MLA).
Even juggling a position created in the recent government restructuring, a position that isn’t all that clearly defined, could be a plateful even if the rest of the provincial government was stable. In this situation, adding these new responsibilities is a bit like handing the baby a cactus to play with.
Our resources are too important to let hurt feelings or unbending arrogance dictate who takes the lead in guiding us through the next few years. At the end of the day, party solidarity is meaningless if it doesn’t support the people who bring in the dollars – and in this case, whether that’s what we’ve been handed is questionable at best – no offence to Minister Thompson.
Alienating one minister from cabinet and ousting another to save face in a situation where there is no face left to save is an insult to thinking people everywhere and Campbell continues to make decisions backed by the puppet cabinet at the public’s expense.
And all this instability could likely inhibit the growth of this region’s oil and gas industry at a time when it’s just crawling out of a recession. Ok, so Bennett and Lekstrom may not be the best of team players. Good on them. Ok, so Bennett and Lekstrom are branded “mavericks”. Good on them.
It’s easier to fight it out with someone who tells it like it is than someone whose opinions are buried beneath layers of rhetoric anyway.
Good thing cabinet can’t fire everyone that has a voice.


It’s a wide world and knowing exactly where things are is becoming a more integrated part of doing business.
While many people haven’t heard of geomatics, it nonetheless is likely to be a part of their lives. And for industry, it is a must.
Geomatics technology is relatively new but is advancing rapidly and one company has made it their mission to ensure that people who are trying to develop geomatics technology have the best chance possible.
“We do not develop technology but we enable and fund the development of technology,” explained Tecterra CEO Dr. Mohamed Abousalem.
“We have funding from the province of Alberta and the federal government to use those funds to stimulate the economy. Our objective is to create commercial activity with the money we have by encouraging and helping companies to bring technology out to market.”
In a nutshell, geomatics is the discipline of gathering and interpreting information that pertains to location and positioning. Applications that are location, positioning, navigation, mapping, remote sensing imagery based– all these are geomatics applications.
“It originally started with surveying…today people use satellites instead of the conventional surveying equipment. Satellites are used to provide accurate positioning, with a lot of advantages from an operational point of view,” said Abousalem.
There is no shortage of applications that impact industry, as Abousalem points out. Knowing where and how deep to drill, inertial navigation sensors such as pipeline pigs carry, navigation systems of all kinds, wildlife tracking devices, underwater positioning, and a host of other applications, some as yet undeveloped, are just a few examples.
“One of the first things in any project at any site is you see a lot of earth moving activity. Ground is being dug in one area and earth is being moved from one spot to the next, every minute of that equipment being used costs a lot of money because this is expensive equipment and time is money. It is important for them to know in the field, what to move, how much earth to move and where to move it to. GPS and laser technology are typically used together as a geomatics application to help operators of those (pieces of) equipment…to determine what they need to do in the field in real time and to the centimeter,” explained Abousalem.
And that really is just the start of it. But, that’s where Tecterra comes in. Geomatics is still a relatively new thing. The advent of satellite technology and the advancement of communications technologies have taken geomatics from its infancy to a rapidly advancing set of technological applications. However, not all companies with a good idea have the resources to take that idea to market.
Perhaps the most critical advancement impacting the ability to commercialize the applciations, said Abousalem, is the miniaturization of the technologies. This he added reduces expense and that’s important because the more inexpensive technology becomes, the more applications they can be deployed in.
“Lets talk forestry applications and imagery and taking pictures by airplanes if you will or fighting fires with aircraft. You can only put so much on an aircraft because it’s important how much that equipment weighs. So, again, with the miniaturization of technology that has become very useful now and very usable if you will,” he said.
Sometimes cost is the prohibitive factor in using technology in certain applications,” he added. Tecterra is offering a number of programs to help with this and other stumbling blocks.
“We work with university programs and research programs to help them push their technology out to market. They line up industry partners and we can fund their development to bring their technology to market. We will be launching programs to assist in the employment of highly qualified professionals in the field of geomatics, not only technical but also business,” said Abousalem.
One example of the business focus is the recently launched GEomatics Commercialization Kick-Off (GECKO) program. It will provide early-stage funding to geomatics entrepreneurs and researchers for the development of comprehensive business plans for the purpose of commercializing new geomatics technologies.  Grants of up to $25,000 per business plan project are available to qualified applicants. “The ultimate goal is generating wealth,” said Abousalem.
For more information about programs offered by Tecterra, their website at has a complete listing.


The five senses of the human body are the foundation of every safety program. Think of your five senses – seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting.

Every aspect of safety relies on these senses to recognize and respond to danger. If any one is impaired, your safety is compromised.
We use our sight to read warning signs, labels, stickers and literature. Sight also allows us to identify colors; red for danger, yellow for caution, and so on. Symbols as well were created for our sense of sight, to indicate everything from poison to radiation to explosives.
Of course, it goes without saying that sight also warns us of what is coming and gives us time to react. It is usually the first sense to pick up on anything, as we can see further (unless our vision is restricted) and process what we are seeing faster than any of our other senses. Every safety program should be designed to use and protect our sense of sight for first-line defense.
Horns and whistles were created for our sense of hearing (as well as ‘fore’ on the golf course!). Vehicles and machinery will often produce unusual sounds that will clue us in to a malfunction before a breakdown occurs, and shouts of alarm always grab our attention and stir up our adrenalin. Hearing really complements our sight, as it can warn us of dangers that are not visible, with plenty of time to respond. Its use and protection should be valued right behind sight in our safety programs.
Touch – how many of us learned what ‘hot!’ meant by burning our fingers on a stove? It triggers our fastest reflexive actions, which makes sense when you consider that if you are close enough to feel danger, there probably isn’t a lot of time left to react…
It can pick up vibrations that your sight or hearing cannot, and can also make you aware of pressure and temperature. Touch, while important, should be a secondary line of defense.
The best way touch can protect us is through feeling pain.
Ouch! How can pain be good?
Bee stings, stubbed toes, cuts, burns and breaks all scream for attention through pain. They demand that we do something about it. Move away from the hornets’ nest, remove the tripping obstacle, stop the bleeding, cool the burn, immobilize the break… So you can see that the sense of touch and pain are very relevant to safety.
Our sense of smell in the workplace can pick up on dangers such as melting plastics in malfunctioning electronics or smoke from fires. The smell of rotten eggs is commonly known as an H2S gas warning as well, but once again, we want to have controls and warnings in place that use our sight and hearing as well, such as lights and bells. H2S can be lethal at very few parts per million, so by the time your sense of smell picks it up, it can be too late. Also, when the concentration of H2S gas is too high, it actually knocks out your sense of smell, so that’s not too helpful!
Moving on, our sense of taste is our weakest sense, and is closely linked to smell. In fact, people who have no sense of smell cannot taste flavors. Taste would mostly be for protection against ingested poisons, but also against tainted or spoiled foods and certain food allergies such as peanut butter, which can be deadly.
The ultimate last line of defense your body has is your sense of taste. Once you swallow, that is the end of your voluntary defense system.
Although having all five senses working well gives you the widest margin of safety, there are many helpful aides that can compensate for a lack of poor vision, hearing loss, etc. Our bodies themselves enhance our other senses to make up for a lack in one.
However, we need to be aware that if the sun is in our eyes, nose is stuffed up, earplugs are in, or gloves are on, these all impair our ability to sense danger. We need to compensate by slowing down and being more aware of our surroundings and what is going on.
There is one other less commonly known sense, which is simply known as the sixth sense. You cannot attribute it to a particular part of your physical body, but it is scientifically debated and is experienced by most everyone at some point in their lives. Some call it premonition or intuition, others a supernatural warning, while others believe your subconscious picks up on subtle danger signals that your emotions expose as an ominous feeling.
Whatever the case may be, the feeling inside that something is not quite right, a warning or sense of danger can save your life.
We need to pay attention to and trust what our bodies are saying to us.
Here is food for thought: the ability to incorporate all of our senses logically into our safety programs produces a comprehensive seventh sense – COMMON SENSE!
It is most often to be found in older, experienced workers (so they say), and this may be a good thing, considering that all the other senses diminish with age!

David Phibbs is the president of Alpha Safety Ltd. and Alpha Training Solutions.
For more information on this article or their services, contact 1-888-413-3477, 250-787-9315 or


Travel Hotspots For Business And Pleasure.

Most people know of at least one special place they can go in Alberta and BC, but these two provinces have much more to offer than the well-beaten paths. There are some lesser-known gems that are well worth a look and that holds true whether your travel is for business or leisure.
Spectacular vistas and a change of scenery aren’t the only bonus in a getaway – many facilities also offer special activities specifically geared toward making your stay more productive or pleasant.
Away on Business
Company retreats are often a nice benefit, if not necessity, for many companies. Getting your team away from it all can bring new life and energy to brainstorming, strategy development, goal planning, team building or just about anything else you can dream up.
With so many options to choose from, NWB had a tough time narrowing down the list but here is what we came up with.
Based at the foot of Lady Macdonald Mountain in Canmore, AB is the ‘Creekside County Inn’. It’s conveniently situated about a thirty-minute drive from Calgary and is proving to be a great alternative to the usual locations.
This is a newly built 12-room bed and breakfast can accommodate up to 46 guests and provide breakfast for them in the morning. The inn is smaller than other retreat centres, so your company could actually book the whole inn for your event, adding further to that personal feel. If you need bits and pieces, there are number of amenities such as a café, convenience and liquor store within a few min even if you’re walking.

The inn offers three separate individual conference rooms, each one complete with equipment and the capacity to seat up to 75 people for meetings, retreats and seminars.  The mountain views from the windows of the conference room are awe-inspiring and the hotel can provide catering services for those who wish.
Once the meetings are over, there are plenty of other activities to choose from such as massages, spa packages, or perhaps the steam room, which seats up to ten people.
For those who have extra energy to burn, there is an exercise room and for guests who are feeling less energetic or just wish to socialize, there is a game room available too.
Another business option is Quantum Leaps Lodge. It is a picturesque riverside retreat on 11 acres of land in the Blaeberry Valley just 15 minutes outside of Golden, BC.
The lodge is an ideal place for both small and large company retreats. It has 34 beds overall, with seven in the main lodge and the rest spread over the several other lodges on its grounds. The lodge also has two, 26-inch diameter teepees.
Quantum Leaps Lodge offers team building activities such as: fire walking seminars, sweat lodges, holotropic breathwork, shamanic drumming and labyrinth walks.
For the less esoterically inclined, there are a variety of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces. The largest of the indoor spaces is the Rumi Room. It provides amenities such as wireless Internet, a projector and a full sound system.
The lodge is surrounded by five National Parks and three Provincial Parks and offers ample opportunity to take advantage of the natural environment.
There are rafting tours, white-water rafting, scenic raft floating, horseback riding, guided hiking, sightseeing and a mud bath in the natural glacier silt pools.
The lodge provides its guests with peace, tranquility and solitude. For that reason there are quit hours from 10 pm to 8 am. There is no smoking policy on the property and a very limited consumption of alcohol.
It’s easy to think of warmer climates and exotic locations when it’s time to plan a vacation but there are plenty of homegrown options that are well worth considering as well.
One such option is a scant 40 minutes west of Edmonton. If you are looking for some personal time to relax and take a step back from the fast-paced life, then the quietness of the surroundings of the River Lodge Retreat may be for you.
The retreat sits on over 55 treed acres and provides amenities such as walking trails, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. With the large size of this retreat, comes an enormous amount of secluded wilderness, ideal for those who want to meditate on some peace and tranquility.
The lodge has a wonderful view overlooking the North Saskatchewan River bordering two ravines and provides private rooms with showers for up to 23 guests.
There are a wide variety of outdoor actives to indulge in including swimming, gold panning, fishing and stargazing. The owners can also help arrange access to canoeing and golfing sites nearby.
If something even more low-key is the ticket, then guests can request a massage session.
If you want to broaden your mind and your knowledge then perhaps a visit to one of Canada’s leading Educational Retreat Centres is the right direction to head.
Hollyhock Retreat provides individuals with personal awareness and education programs. If you’re looking to increased calmness, trying to move into a slower pace of life, and gain some information on current topics in the process, then Hollyhock could be the place for you.
Hollyhock is located on the island of Cortes, which has a diverse ecosystem and provides habitats for various wildlife species. Compared with Victoria, Cortes Island is lightly populated, which is great if you’re wanting some space and time by yourself.
During your stay you can revive yourself with morning yoga and meditation, listen to presentations by guest speakers, take time to relax and join in with the on-site naturalists for discussions.
Afternoon walks provide a chance to talk about and experience first-hand the biodiversity that thrives in the area. Finally, if you are interested in the stars and their alignments, you won’t want to miss the evening star talks.
After the morning yoga workout you could try a visit to Bodyworks. They will provide you with the ultimate spa experience.
Those who have more energy to expel can try guided kayak tours or a sailing trip on the West Coast Schooner Misty Isles.
For a different flavoured kind of retreat, the Red Deer River Ranch has some great things to offer.    They are based in Red Deer on the eastern slopes of the Rockies and the ranch itself has been in existence since 1890.
This is a working ranch and follows the rhythms of ranches everywhere. Beginning in the spring, the cows are brought to a large grassy area to graze. In June it’s time for branding all the new calves.  July is spent moving cow-calf pairs to the summer range. October and early November are spent looking for cows and driving them home. Finally, November is spent either weaning calves on their winter diet or selling them at market. The whole process then gets underway again.
At any time when vacationing, you can try your hand at horseback riding, working alongside the ranchers or driving the cattle on to fresh pasture grounds.
The ranch also provides a ‘bed and bale option’ where you can take your own horse and use their outdoor paddock while you ‘work’ around the ranch.
When you are outside in the sun working hard, it’s easy to overheat but there is a handy solution. The Red Deer River runs right through ranch property and a refreshing dip in the river is a great way to cool off. For the more adventurous person, white water rafting is a more energetic option.
A three to five day stay will give guests enough time to ride a variety of different trails. Bringing your own mountain bike and hiking boots opens up even more opportunities to discover some areas of Alberta that are off the beaten path.
Fishing on Red Deer River is allowed by the owners so if fishing is one of your favourite pastimes, remember to pack your fishing gear.
If horseback riding and cattle drives are is something you want to try, then contact the Red Deer River Ranch.


After several months of political unrest in British Columbia, including the resignation of the premier, as well as the loss of two energy ministers in six months, the announcement of government restructuring plans and, of course, the HST hot potato, BC is looking less and less like a place to invest.

Northwest Business checked in with South Peace MLA Blair Lekstrom to get his thoughts on how the current situation is perceived and what he thinks needs to be done to rectify the situation.

NWB: Do you see the current political instability in BC as a problem for businesses?

BL: You know I think there’s some uncertainty now. I think business is looking to the government and saying whatever’s going to happen, let’s get on with it. Let’s find some certainty with this HST issue. The vote, whichever way it goes, at least we’ll know where we’re going to be. That’s why I believe we should expedite that vote.
I do think businesses are looking right now at British Columbia and saying for heaven’s sake let’s get things worked out one way or the other. All business looks for certainty. When they’re going to invest their money they want to know there’s a pretty stable environment to do that and right now, they’re probably thinking that isn’t the case at this point.

NWB: We’ve lost two energy ministers in the last six months. How do you think that’s affecting people?

BL: Probably very similarly. I think the uncertainty is a concern for them. Although I left the ministry, I have stayed in close contact with the industry doing what I can to ensure that we’ve got a good environment to invest and at the same time, staying in contact with the people that live there to ensure we look after what we have.
Does it create some challenges and a bit of uncertainty in the industry? I think it would. I think they’re looking for something to say let’s get a leader in British Columbia, let’s get a minister of energy in there and I’m not sure what their thinking about the government reorganization but I certainly would have to believe they’re wondering what that’s all about because I certainly don’t see that as a positive move for the resource sector.

NWB: What can you say to help alleviate people’s fears?

BL: If anything, I guess I would say we have to rebuild the government and rebuild the trust of the public in government.
At the end of the day we can create a great environment for industry and business to invest and operate in BC, but if the public is always dissatisfied with what’s going on that’s not positive for anybody.
If I had to say something I would say we’ve got the greatest province in the country and we’re going through a bit of a ripple here right now but I tell you what – we’re going to get it together here one way or another.

What do you think is causing this instability?

I think it’s broader than just British Columbia. I think when you look around not only North America but around the world right now I think people, and I’ve thought this for quite some time, people are finally tired of the old way of politics, are tired of the Government and opposition always fighting. I’ve always believed that as a government you bring a piece of legislation forward and you put it on the floor of the Legislature and if the opposition has a better idea, why wouldn’t you embrace it? I’ve never seen that yet but ..
People are just looking for some common sense and to be honest with you, probably a little more maturity. It’s embarrassing to watch the way question period operates not only in British Columbia but across the country.
If there’s anything, I think there’s a real kind of inner feeling, I’ll speak to British Columbia but this transcends us, that they want a change in how things operate, they want this extreme partisanship to come to an end. They’re going to elect the government that most closely aligns with what they believe will build a stronger province, but they also expect that government then to listen and engage the public in discussion and right now that’s not happening.

NWB: A lot of the comments from the public recently seem to focus on supporting the more ‘maverick’ approach, a more independent and less party based style of politics….

BL: I know exactly what you mean. When people run for a party, they try to align themselves closely to a group of issues that you think will build the province and that doesn’t mean you will agree with them all. What people do expect from their elected official is that they will represent their constituency first and then their party, and right now we don’t have that in our political system.
We have people that are elected by the people that for some reason or another may very well go against the wishes of the people that elected them in order to stay in line with the political party they represent and that is just completely backward in my mind. So what I think the public is saying, and what I’m certainly experiencing is, “Thank you, you put the people that elected you first and then the party,” and I’ve had a great deal of support over that one.

NWB: Is there a solution that will change something that is that entrenched?

BL: Definitely and I think it has to go back to what I just said; that as a political party that there are a few key issues that you do want the support on and that would be the budget and the throne speech. Everything else is wide open to a free vote and this will sound crazy but the Premier gave us that ability to do that. I exercised that. Many didn’t – for whatever reason.
We have to have our elected officials feel comfortable enough in the system that they can speak for their constituents first and if that means voting against a government bill that they’re part of, then so be it.
I don’t think you’d see a piece of legislation hit the floor of the Legislature if the majority of the MLAs in that party didn’t support it but, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with, if there’s 50 people on one side and you need 40 votes, there’s nothing wrong with a good number of people speaking out and disagreeing with it and knowing the government is going to bring it in but recognizing that the people that elected them don’t stand behind it and voting against it.
Do I think it can be saved? Yeah and that’s the way I think we’ve got to get it done.

NWB: While the upheaval is happening politically, is the mechanics that underlie that still solid?

BL: I think it’s still solid. I think that right now in British Columbia there’s a lot of internal questions among the staff with this new government reorganization that the premier announced just recently. I think it’s raised a lot of eyebrows and concern to be honest, with people wondering why.
Different people experience staff in different ways but our public servants; we have some of the best public servants in the world. It’s their job and they take it very seriously and the vast majority of our people are very proud of what they do.
So, they’re concerned. When they see what’s going on right now, the government reorganization that is very hard to explain what the benefits are, I think they share concerns as do most British Columbians.


It’s a complicated business. The carrier industry, its regulators and the companies that need the trucks are often in conflict but all that will take a back seat to a severe shortage of drivers if everyone involved doesn’t address that issue and do it quickly.

An aging population where the average driver age is 50, changing interests, evolving values and what some consider over-regulation are all part of the problem say those in the industry. What was once a glamorous career choice is no longer seen in the same way.
There is not always consensus even within the industry about what is and isn’t wrong but one thing everyone seems to agree about is that there is a shortage of drivers and that situation is more likely to get worse rather than better if something doesn’t change.
“We are absolutely concerned with finding good qualified drivers. The biggest issue is the industry isn’t the industry of choice for young men and women to go into when choosing careers out of high school,” said Transportation, Training and Development Association president Henry Van Steenbergen.
“Technology has made earning a living somewhat more appealing in getting jobs in the technical industries…we’re different than we were 30 years ago.”
Another point of agreement among most is that the industry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and that makes the issue of recruitment all the more critical.
“The trucking industry is going to continue to be a viable industry. I can’t see it shrinking because people are more and more demanding we want more stuff, we want more stuff when we want more stuff and there’s nothing that we buy that doesn’t come on a truck at some point,” said Alberta Motor Transport Association executive director Mayne Root.
Initiatives to enhance recruitment have been tried in both BC and Alberta but it’s a challenge to get past some of the humps. And in part, the larger issues in the industry play a part in whether the industry is going to been seen as attractive by potential future drivers.
New expectations such as ‘just in time’ delivery are creating stresses on drivers that were not there in the past, and inconsistent regulations make it more and more difficult to know what the right thing is never mind comply with that. The fact that not all employers, or provinces for that matter, expect the same standards from drivers adds to that stress, and what are frequently misguided expectations on the part of the companies needing the industry’s services further compounds that stress.
“Truck drivers can make a very good living but the challenge to family life is very difficult,” explained Van Steenbergen. Shift work, and in this region, seasonal fluxes, add uncertainty to the list of reasons to look at another industry.
The shortages are not evidenced in every sector. Areas with larger immigrant populations such as the lower mainland are having less of a crunch. And as industry long-timer and Fedderly Transportation president Bob Fedderly pointed out, “the rate structure down there indicates that”.
This is not a region with a large immigrant population, and here there is a shortage. “The idea that you have to work these guys half to death to make a dollar has not done us any favours,” said Root. That attitude is often found here as strongly as it has ever been and often with the support of drivers who are not interested in sitting in a hotel somewhere with no work.
“The industry and the demands on the industry have resulted in that…companies are coming round to see that ‘we’ve got to make this attractive so we can attract people into the industry. The demand is they (drivers) want time off with their family, they want to be comfortable and a lot of those kinds of things, where a lot of us took it that if that happened all the better but let’s get out there to make a living and work ourselves into the ground.”
Even if people are willing to deal with those hardships, the two outstanding issues are regulation and training.
The need for “training” above and beyond a driver’s license is just one issue where realism conflicts with regulation – a situation with no easy solution.
“Some companies are willing to hire lesser-trained people than others and certainly there’s not a type of trucking that’s more likely to do that than another,” said Van Steenbergen. It can also be said that some companies expect more of carriers than is strictly permitted under current regulations.
With existing driver shortages, who wants to take the extra time for additional training when all that they need to do at the moment is walk into a licensing bureau, pass the driver’s tests, and sign on for work?

In this region, the requirement of safety tickets is just one of many regulatory issues. Tickets can be expensive and take time that both the employer and the driver would rather have spent working and earning money and not everyone thinks the benefit is worth the expense.
“We get calls every November from people wrapping up their work season in Southern BC and they can’t believe that they get the door slammed in their ace all over the place because they need this ticket, they need that ticket, and in reality, do they,” asked Fedderly?
His question is based in his perception that the hazards from south to north really are no different. Mountains, snow, handling weight or chains are by no means exclusive to the North he added.
“What it boils down to is a handful of, not training courses because we’re not training him to be a better driver, we’re making him aware that sour gas will kill you, and that shouldn’t be something that’s embedded in our WorkSafe BC regulations; it should be something that’s carrier specific,” he said. “Why would our people need H2S to go to a coal mine or housing development?”
It’s that type of irrational regulation along with inconsistent, or inconsistently enforced regulation that can frustrate people in the industry. Hours of service is a prime example of what doesn’t seem to work well.
“It took the industry 20 years to come to a consensus from one ocean to the other, and once the industry had consensus, not all the governments jumped onboard and mandated that everybody follow the new hours of service across the country,” said Van Steenbergen.
“Weights and lengths and all those things vary from province to province and it’s very frustrating for us as an industry to operate in that kind of environment but that is the way it is.”
Root too expressed concern over regulatory changes and over-regulation. Despite that, he is confident that a good relationship with “government partners” will prove helpful in the long-term.
“Sometimes you have to bend one way or sometimes you have to bend the other but to come up with the best combination that we can possibly do, that’s probably the biggest thing in working with government,” said Root.
“Shippers sometimes put demands on carriers that are unrealistic, like the ‘just in time’ delivery stuff and ‘you will get this there or I will get someone who can do it cheaper’, kind of an attitude, and the industry just continues to fight with those kinds of attitudes because you want to do it safe and you want to do it right and yet they’re not willing to pay you to do that…there’s a balance there as well.”
Van Steenbergen and Fedderly both agreed that consistency isn’t needed just from the government. The producers also need to have an attitude adjustment, said Fedderly. Many of the producers are not based in Canada and carry with them a liability attitude prevalent in the US, but not necessarily transferable to this country.
Fedderly’s opinion is that if they would recognize the liability issues are different here, they might relax the stringent requirements they place on carriers and become more realistic in their expectations.

A National Standard?
One of the solutions the Alberta industry is looking at is a national standard for training. While this doesn’t solve all the problems, there is optimism that it will at least open the door.
“We don’t have a standard of training anywhere is Canada…Because trucking has so many facets to it, there’s much more training required to do different types of trucking and I would love to see a standard of training,” said Van Steenbergen. “Our organization has been endeavouring for the last 10 years or longer to get some kind of standard of training.”
So far, the most impressive inroad they have made in that direction is a successful pilot program in Red Deer, one the province was unwilling to continue to fund.
If it does fly it is likely to be a lengthy process, and in the mean time, there are larger issues to consider as well. If there is that much difficulty in resolving that one issue, something that still is in contention with some sectors, the odds of a standardized set of regulations even between Alberta and BC is not promising and at the end of the day, trucking, like every other industry is about money and that backdrop is critical to dealing with all the other factors.
“If we’re going to spur economic development in any region, we have to recognize that part of what makes that region viable is a locally available, reasonably priced transportation network, and right now if you want to talk about Northeast BC, we don’t have that because 60 per cent or 80 per cent of the goods that are moving, not only in and out of this area, but point to point in this area are on out of region equipment,” said Fedderly.