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The fuel protest truckers hauled to Canadian highways

Hundreds of truckers parked their big rigs on highways in protest of rising fuel prices nearly two decades ago.

Sharp increase in fuel prices left many independent truckers struggling in 2000

Hundreds of Canadian truckers took part in a fuel price-related protest in February 2000. 0:55
They weren't willing to keep on truckin' with things going how they were.

And that's why hundreds of truckers parked their big rigs on Ontario, Quebec and Maritime highways and roads, as part of a protest over rising diesel prices nearly two decades ago.  

Their protest was newsworthy enough, in fact, to lead The National on Feb. 21, 2000.

As anchor Peter Mansbridge told viewers, the truckers involved in the protest were "putting the brakes on deliveries of many goods Canadians use and need every day."

The truckers, he said, "want something done about it."

'Give it to 'em!'

Truckers were upset over rising fuel prices and some motorists were cheering them on in their fight. 1:52

But what did they want exactly? Higher compensation and lower fuel taxes.

Many independent truckers were getting fed up with rising fuel prices that were cutting into their livelihood. (The National/CBC Archives)

And their demands were such that some of their fellow drivers could relate to them.

"It's about time somebody did something about the gas prices," said a sympathetic motorist who was among drivers slowly moving along a stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway where a long line of trucks had blocked the right-hand lane.

"Give it to 'em, every one of you," she added.

In Quebec, truck drivers were making their case to individual motorists who were being forced by those same truckers to stop and listen to their complaints.

Many independent truckers worked on contracts that did not make allowances for price adjustments when fuel prices changed. (The National/CBC Archives)

"The main one there?" reporter Adrienne Arsenault said. "The doubling of fuel prices."

Ditto for Ontario, where hundreds of independent truckers met that day to talk about how to drive their issues forward.

As Arsenault explained to viewers, the rise in fuel prices was especially hard on independent truckers who had to bid low on contracts to ensure they had steady work.

"It's such a competitive industry that they have to keep their rates low and if the price of diesel jumps the way it has, there's no renegotiating the contract, which means every kilometre they drive is costing them money," said Arsenault.

'Prices have to adjust'

The fuel protests rolled on for several days in various forms as the drivers grew more frustrated with the situation they were facing.

Canadian truckers continue a protest over fuel prices for a second day. 2:41

On the second day, protest efforts had reached Ottawa and even Prime Minister Jean Chrétien — as seen in the video above — found himself answering a reporter's question about it, as trucks parked near Parliament Hill and honked their horns.

A trucking industry group predicted that adjustments would be made to alleviate the situation, sooner or later.

"Eventually prices have to adjust and that will be felt in the final cost of goods sold to the consumer," said David Bradley of the Canadian Trucking Alliance. "The question is how long that will take."

'I'm going to lose my truck'

Trucker Earl Whalley spoke to The National about the financial pressures he was facing as a result of rising fuel prices. (The National/CBC Archives)

Some truckers couldn't afford to wait very long for that to occur.

Earl Whalley, a trucker who let The National ride along with him in his cab, said he was losing $1,500 a month as a result of rising fuel prices.

"The industry's hit rock bottom," said Whalley, who had bought his truck new a year earlier.

"I got no place to go and if I don't put up a fight now, I feel that in three months I'm going to lose my truck anyway and my business."

No easy answers

By the third day, the protesting truckers were getting some support from unionized autoworkers, who pledged to provide funds for national advertising for them. 

The National reports on a third day of a protest involving Canadian truckers in February 2000. 2:11

And while the truckers largely agreed on the bigger issues, there were divisions among them on how to make things happen.

Even in terms of the protest action, some of the participating drivers began to go their own way.

A slogan is seen on the side of a truck participating in a protest against rising fuel prices in 2000. (The National/CBC Archives)

"Instead of massive co-ordinated convoys, today's truckers broke into small groups, held up traffic wherever, whenever," said Arsenault, who had filed reports on the protest for three consecutive days.

Arsenault told viewers "the same brand of confusion" was on display near a border crossing in Woodstock, N.B., where truckers ended a blockade "more out of frustration than a sense of accomplishment."

A trucker named Earl Beck summed up the problem that did not have a solution at hand.

"I really don't know what the answer to it is," he said.

The following month, another high-profile protest took place in Ottawa. More than 150 trucks were involved. The National reported that the protest leaders wanted to meet with either the prime minister or a cabinet minister — but that didn't happen.