Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2003   by BOB BLANS

Aia Update: Connecting With Legislators

The Automotive Industry of Canada’s Government Relations Committee is the automotive aftermarket’s link to the halls of power in government.

The Government Relations Committee will be the most active committee the Automotive Industries Associa-tion of Canada has ever had, according to its chairman.

Robert Blair, the president of Carquest Canada Limited, is in his second year as chairman of the committee. He says that the Government Relations Committee is playing an increasingly important role in serving the interests of its members. “I believe that government relations are the cornerstone of any trade association,” says Blair.

The committee’s mandate is to identify and prioritize aftermarket issues that need to be addressed by government; monitor proposed government legislation and regulations; establish an industry position on government relations issues; and to lobby governments on issues.

Prior to Blair coming on the committee, most of its attention was on the federal government. He, together with his committee members, have totally revitalized its focus to maximize benefits to AIA members. The committee has two face-to-face meetings each year, plus additional meetings through conference calls.

Currently, the key issues that the Government Relations Committee is tackling include:

Transportation of Dangerous Goods legislation and permits;

Kyoto Accord (promoting environmental issues through proper vehicle maintenance);

Skills shortages;

Tax relief on the cost of technicians’ tools;

Emissions Testing (Ontario Drive Clean Program, Quebec L’air D’avenir, B.C. AirCare);

Sewer bylaw changes;

Asbestos and brake service;

R-12 automotive refrigerant issues;

Recycling of used oil and filters;

Ontario classroom tax levied on automotive apprentices;

B.C. apprenticeship changes;

Access to repair information.

The committee seldom goes it alone. Last year, following a meeting of a diverse group of automotive industry shareholders with federal Industry Minister Alan Rock, the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council (CAPC) was created. It will identify and prioritize short and long-term actions required to strengthen the automotive industry in Canada. Various segments of the industry are represented on the council, including car manufacturers, car dealers, labour, and government. Robert Blair represents the Canadian automotive aftermarket on CAPC.

“It is a pretty high-powered group and I have spent quite a bit of time with it. My [focus] is to attract more people to work as technicians in the automotive aftermarket. We need mechanical, bodyshop, and heavy-duty technicians.

“The average technician in Canada is in his mid-forties. We are going to have a problem if we don’t recruit more. On CAPC, I work with a subcommittee that is dealing with getting more qualified people. Everything our Government Relations Committee can do to aid and abet that process I’m certainly doing,” Blair says.

He notes that Ontario has enacted an apprentice charge that is greater than any savings from tool tax deductions. “That’s why we have to be aware of the different jurisdictions. New Brunswick and Newfoundland have used oil return regulations that they are enacting. I want make sure, if our help is required, that we are going to provide it. We are trying to lobby to get meetings with the senior ministers in all of these jurisdictions so we can present our case. We have never done that before at the provincial level.

“Quebec has been talking about a clean air program for the past 10 years, and nothing has happened. They haven’t passed legislation. We have it in Ontario and B.C. and Quebec is now talking about alternatives. We have to represent the aftermarket’s interests to the Quebec government. When you talk about lobbying, the most important thing is not to put our parochial self-interest in the face of government. It is to allow government the freedom to enact legislation from a well-informed base of knowledge.

“For me to say that lobbying is the primary activity is absolutely right. Our job is to make sure governments are aware of the size of our industry, the benefits, the role we play in the industry, and our need for real strong apprenticeship programs so we can attract more people into the trade.

“And, if anything comes along that would have an impact on our industry, at least government has to be informed on what that impact, negative or positive, might be.”

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