Action needed on continued pause of New Fast Card Application Approvals

Society, and our industry, have been thrown many curve balls and suffered many consequences as a result of Covid-19. While governments, in most cases, have been proactive, reactive when necessary, and worked with industry and the public to strike a fine balance between public health and our economy, sometimes decisions get made that fail to take this into account. A concern the PMTC has been raising for quite sometime, continues to fall on deaf ears, mainly south of the border it appears, caught up in politics at a higher level. We first raised the concern on the pause of New FAST Card Applications back in August of 2020.  We understand why some things have had to shut down, including in person interviews in order to protect everyone’s health and safety. At the same time, however, we have, as a society and as regulators, determined that some things are essential to ensure that our economy and the needs of people are addressed, and as such essential services have continued, even in the face of a pandemic. One of the essential services that has been allowed to continue is transportation, as well as cross border trade and commerce. While the land border between Canada and the U.S. has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21st of 2020, truck drivers involved in trade have been declared essential and accordingly have been allowed to continue to cross borders uninterrupted, which evidences how critical they are to our well being and economy.

The Free and Secure Trade Program, and the FAST cards are fundamental programs used by commercial drivers and importers/exporters to allow for free and uninterrupted movement at the border to ensure trade continues to flow.

The commercial driver workforce has been hit hard by this pandemic, and in order to try and protect their health and safety, COVID has caused many drivers to either retire early or change routes and stay in their home countries. The average age of a long-haul commercial driver is over the age of 50 now and prior to the pandemic, a shortage of roughly 24,000 drivers existed in Canada, and significantly higher in the U.S. As the economies are trying to recover despite the pressures of Covid continuing, the need for transportation has returned to pre pandemic levels. This has led to the driver shortage resurfacing, and carriers scrambling to replace drivers who have retired or left the industry with new hires to their organisation. Many of these drivers do not have FAST Cards, resulting in a major problem as set out below. While we appreciate the action CBSA and CBP took to extend current FAST Cards for at least 18 months, this has not addressed the drivers who did not have FAST Cards prior to the pandemic. With the FAST enrollment centers being closed for over 13 months now, this has left a considerable gap where a large number of drivers are waiting in que for their applications to be approved. We understand why this had to be done at the start of the pandemic, however, almost 14 months in this situation needs to be resolved as soon as possible. We believe safe methods to conduct these interviews can, and should be found. While vaccines are rolling out in both countries, case counts are still increasing again as a result of variants, and we still cannot be sure when border and travel restrictions will be relaxed.  Many sectors of the industry and trade have been impacted by the pause in FAST approvals, with the automotive and tank industry being hit the hardest.

Unfortunately, we are now getting to a point where health and safety will potentially be affected. Canadian drivers who transport Dangerous Goods in the U.S., must have a FAST Card to haul the Dangerous Goods. With carriers having to hire new drivers, many of whom are not FAST approved, it means that they cannot transport Dangerous Goods in the U.S. We have member carriers who distribute critical medical gases, including liquid oxygen to health care facilities in the U.S.  Conversely, medical grade oxygen is imported from U.S. production facilities to supply Canadian hospitals and Healthcare facilities.  As a result, this issue can potentially have a negative impact on both sides of the border. The lack of FAST approved drivers is on the verge of having serious repercussions, and in a truly short period of time, may in fact lead to these loads not being delivered. We know that this is not something any of us want to see.

We are hopeful a resolution to the current situation of approving new FAST Card applications and continuous cross border travel can be reached in a timely manner so as to ensure the health and safety of our economies and our collective health and safety. The PMTC has recently wrote border, transportation, and government leaders on both sides of the boarder. If this is an issue you would like to add your voice to, please reach back to trucks@pmtc.ca and we can share the communication and contacts with you.

Mike Millian
Mike grew up on a beef farm in rural Southwestern Ontario in Huron County and began his career in the Trucking Industry in 1990 at the age of 18. Mike spent three years working for a local carrier Hauling Livestock and bulk agriculture products. At the age of 21 Mike went to work for a long Haul Refrigerated and general freight carrier and spent 5 years hauling freight in all 48 US Mainland States and 6 Canadian Provinces. The Carrier then opened a Certified Driver Training School in 1998 and Mike came off the road to become one of the Schools First Certified Driver Trainers. In 2000 Mike Transitioned into Safety and Compliance for the Fleet, while still working part time as a Trainer for the School. In 2002 Mike moved over to a Private Fleet and became the Safety, Compliance, Maintenance and Training manager for the Hensall District Co-operative’s Commercial Trucking Fleet. Mike spent the next 12.5 years with Hensall and oversaw the Fleets as it grew from 40 Trucks in 2002 to over 160 in 2015. In January of 2015 Mike moved into the Trucking Association business and was named the President of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, where he remains in his current role.