Trucking industry driving Manitoba


Industry contributes over $2 billion annually to province’s GDP

Online-C1 DSC7689

Photo by Diane Warner

The impact of the trucking industry branches out to every variety of business, from construction to agriculture and more.

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson

Banner Staff

Whether it’s the Trans Canada Highway or a country road, the trucking industry is ever present— one thing is for certain, Manitoba moves by truck. Transportation has always been a vital part of the province and today, the highways passing through the “Heart of the Continent” are just another step in the evolution of an industry that began with the river systems used for trade by the First Nations. While the technology has changed, the industry’s importance to Manitoba and its people has not.

A vital link

Manitobans might not give it much thought, but the trucking industry is responsible for keeping local economies moving along. Almost every product bought and sold in the province has spent some portion of its journey to the end consumer on a truck. Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) figures find that approximately 95 per cent of goods moved within Manitoba depend on trucks. “Not only does trucking connect our rural communities with employment opportunities, the rural communities rely on the industry for delivery of every day items. These items would be anything from groceries, fuel, building supplies and everything in between. Some northern communities rely solely on our industry to help connect them to these everyday items,” said Don Stewart, Senior Business Development Manager at MTA.

But the industry isn’t just important to consumers, it’s an important employer in the province too. According to MTA data, for-hire trucking directly and indirectly employs 4.6 per cent of Manitoba’s labour force. Nationally, over 268,000 Canadians are truck drivers, making it one of the top occupations in the country.  The trucking industry contributes more than $2 billion to Manitoba’s GDP— the provincial economy depends on the over 500 for-hire trucking companies headquartered in Manitoba and the more than 15,000 power units and 20,000 trailers they operate to keep Manitoba moving.

Not only is trucking important to Manitoba, the province is important to the industry nation-wide. Five of Canada’s top 50 carriers are based in Manitoba and while Manitobans account for 3 per cent of the Canadian population, the Manitoba trucking industry represents 5.1 per cent of the industry nation-wide.

Moving forward

No industry can stand still, especially one based on moving forward.  Operating in an ever-changing environment, the industry is always looking at ways of improving efficiency and safety.

Fuel represents one third of the industry’s operating costs and technological advances in terms of engine design and aerodynamics are helping trucking companies stay on top of these costs. However, with a provincial carbon tax set to come into effect, the 6.7 cent jump in the price of diesel on Sept. 1 will hit the trucking industry especially hard. MTA estimates that the tax will cost heavy diesel vehicles an additional $50 million each year, on top of the $318 million in taxes already paid by the industry. MTA said that the industry, which accounts for less than 11 per cent of the province’s emissions, will be paying about 20 per cent of the total taxes expected to be collected.

When the carbon tax was announced, there was an expectation that the “Made in Manitoba” plan would be revenue neutral and tax revenues collected would be reinvested into environmental programming and energy reduction initiatives. As the carbon tax will have a big impact on its members, the MTA worked with the provincial government in the hopes of collaborating on a greenhouse gas reduction strategy for commercial vehicles and investment in the GrEEEner Trucking Efficiency Initiative.  This program is a partnership between Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, the Manitoba Trucking Association, the Centre for Sustainable Transportation and University of Manitoba Transport Institute, which offers incentives to companies or owner-operators that install various technological improvements to reduce their environmental footprint.

Unfortunately, in March, the MTA issued a release saying that wouldn’t be the case.  Instead, the government has stated that carbon tax revenues will be directed towards income tax and other cuts and that more carbon tax would be collected, than returned to Manitobans. Stewart said they are still trying to work with the provincial government on a collaborative solution that will result in meaningful changes to the industry’s carbon footprint. He explained that they hope money can be made available to help with further implementation of fuel saving technologies, as well as reward the majority of companies already using these technologies. What could have helped reduce the industry’s environmental impact will now just be an added cost of doing business, to be passed on to customers.

In addition to technological advances to reduce fuel usage, new technology has been implemented with the goal of improving road safety. One such technology is electronic log devices (ELD). These devices replace paper log books and must be connected to the truck’s engine, allowing them to electronically log drivers’ hours of service, including when they are driving and when they are on-duty, but not driving.  The requirement that trucks be equipped with ELDs came into effect this year in the United States and any Canadian-based truck working south of the border already has to be outfitted with a device. Stewart said that while there has been concern at first, feedback from drivers and companies has been positive. While they aren’t required in Canada yet, a Canadian ELD mandate is currently being developed and its expected they will be required by 2020.

Most valuable resource

The industry relies on its drivers, many of whom are getting older. The average age of a professional driver is 53 years and like many skilled trades, there is a shortage of young people entering the industry. A study commissioned by the Canadian Trucking Alliance predicts the industry will be short 48,000 drivers by 2024. Today, the shortage is already being felt by companies looking to hire new drivers.

To help train more professional drivers, the MTA has partnered with the provincial government on a driver training program. This program, which can be accessed through MTA, provides funding to those training as a Class 1 driver. The need for more drivers isn’t expected to go away any time soon. Goods will still need to be moved and while autonomous trucks are in the prototype phase, the expectation is that this technology will support drivers, instead of replacing them.

In addition to getting new drivers into trucks, keeping the existing workforce healthy is also a priority. In order to reduce the approximately 1,100 occupational injuries experienced annually by those within the trucking industry, RPM, a trucking-specific workplace health and safety program was established. Now it its third year, Stewart says that the program is gaining lots of traction. “It’s really taking off,” he said. RPM is available to all members of the industry, not just MTA members, and provides training, education and advisory services targeted to the trucking industry and its unique working environments. In addition to its primary goal of helping to reduce injuries, participation in RPM can result in savings on WCB premiums. To date, Stewart said that the program has saved the industry over $600,000 in premiums.

Online-C1 DSC7676


Photo by Diane Warner

Without trucks, nothing much moves in Canada. Many more trucking industry jobs are expected to open up by 2024.

Despite the challenges, the industry faces many opportunities.  With an increased emphasis on just in time delivery, the demand for the flexible type of transportation provided by the for-hire trucking industry won’t be diminishing. Cutbacks and the decommissioning of rail lines has also created more demand for truck-based transportation. Given the integral role trucking plays in tying together buyers and sellers at all levels of the supply chain, the industry is well positioned for the future. “Everything ends up on a truck, there’s more and more freight, there’s more to move,” explained Stewart.

As trucks roll down the province’s roads, few think about how life would be different without them.  National Trucking Week gives the industry the opportunity to remind Canadians of the important role the industry plays in keeping Manitoba moving forward, now, and in the future.