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Trucking in Canada & How to Start a Trucking Business in Canada 2021

By Vineet Baid on October 08, 2020

According to the UN mid-year data, 37,742,154 people live in Canada. More than 700,000 trucks (approximately) operate across Canada, out of which 420,000 carry commercial freight. Moreover, out of the total number of trucks in Canada, nearly 500,000 are straight trucks and 200,000 are truck tractors. $37.9 billion was generated by the Canadian trucking industry by hauling nearly 61 million shipments in 2019. It has to be remembered here that ‘trucking industry’ means the companies that are involved in the transportation of cargo by trucks.  Approximately 181,000 truck drivers are involved in the transportation of goods. 

The National Highway System of Canada has a road network of 38,021 km. The National Highway System of Canada is made of 3 different types of routes which are as follows:

NHS Map Trucking Canada

Core routes

The Core routes are 27,608 km. These routes constitute of key interprovincial and international corridor routes. 

Feeder routes

The Feeder routes are 4,490 km. These provide key linkage to core routes from other provincial, regional population, and economic centres (including links to intermodal facilities and important border crossings).

Northern or Remote routes

The Northern or Remote routes are 5,922 km. These are the service areas in the Northerly provinces and territories.

However, the main route of the National Highway System of Canada is the Trans-Canada Highway that is 7,821 km. The Trans-Canada Highway runs through all the 10 provinces of Canada. 

Looking at the history of trucking in Canada, shows why trucking has become such a prominent part of the country. The primary mode of transportation in the earlier days was by waterways. It was not until 1734 that a rugged highway was built, connecting Montreal to Quebec City. However, the railways became the most commonly used mode of transportation by the 1850s. As railways connected communities, it also facilitated the movement of goods from one part of the country to another. Canada’s first gasoline powered truck was bought by Parker Works. Mechanics and engineers were observed to take up truck driving courses in the early 1900s. This speaks volumes about the popularity of trucking as not only a mode of transportation but also as a career opportunity. Moreover, fresh produce began to get transported from one part of the country to another with the introduction of refrigerated containers during the 1930s.


While the trucking industry in Canada has an interesting past, it is also interesting to learn about the current situation of Trucking in Canada. 

Regulations for Trucking in Canada

All the regulations governing commercial vehicles, drivers and motor carriers in Canada are based on Transport Canada’s NSC or National Safety Code standards. The NSC is a code of minimum standards of performance that are required to be followed by all commercial vehicles. For the safe operation of commercial vehicles, the NSC is applicable to everyone.

The Canadian trucking industry is managed by Transport Canada and is regulated by the Motor Vehicle Transport Act. 

Motor Carrier Safety Fitness Certificate Regulations

All commercial vehicles that travel across the provincial borders are required to have a Motor Carrier Safety Fitness Certificate. This is applicable to: 

1. A truck, tractor or trailer, or any combination of these vehicles which has a registered gross weight of more than 4,500 kg.

2. A bus that is designed and used for transportation of passengers with seating capacity of more than 10 persons (including the driver) if it is utilized for anything other than personal use.

Commercial Vehicle Driver Hours of Service Canada Regulations

This can be found by reading our article on it very soon.

An ELD or AOBRD can help handle all of these regulations so that you or your drivers don't have to. 

Memorandum of Understanding on Interprovincial Weights and Dimensions (MOU)

All the trucks that operate in Canada are required to follow the weight and measurement regulations laid down by this Memorandum of Understanding. These measurement limitations are acceptable in all the provinces of Canada.

For example, the tractor semitrailer commercial vehicles have to following the limitations:

1. The height cannot be more than 4.15 meters.

2. The length cannot be more than 23 meters.

3. The width cannot be more than 2.6 meters.

4. The maximum permissible weight cannot be more than 46,500 kg.

ESC or Electronic Stability Control on commercial vehicles

On 14th December, 2017, Trucking Canada posted on Gazette II about the compulsory introduction of ESC or Electronic Stability Control on truck tractors and buses that have a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 11,793 kgs, or 26,000 lbs. the main reason for introducing this mandate was to reduce the number of accidents caused due to truck rollover and loss-of-control. This requirement is aligned with that in the United States of America. The ESC requirement was effective in USA since 1st August, 2017. All trucks in Canada after 14th December, 2017 are equipped with electronic stability control. However, trucks which were manufactured before the regulation’s coming-into-force date do not require electronic stability control.

Licences and Permits

The Trucking industry in Canada is not as centrally-governed as it is in the United States of America. Through the passing of the Motor Vehicle Transport Act, many of the regulatory responsibilities were given to the provincial and territorial governments apart from a few broad regulations.

Now, see below the licences and permits that are required to start a trucking business in Canada:

  • NSC or National Safety Code Certificate
  • Federal Business Number for Income Tax and GST
  • IFTA or International Fuel Tax Agreement Registration
  • IRP or International Registration Plan 
  • CRA or Canada Revenue Agency Fuel Charge Registration
  • Insurance
  • Driving licence

NSC or National Safety Code Certificate

The NSC or the National Safety Code is a set of uniform safety standards applicable to all private and public trucking companies of Canada since 1987. The guidelines of the NSC or the National Safety Code were laid down by the CCMTA or the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators. The Canadian legislation requires all commercial vehicles operating in Canada to register at their base jurisdiction’s National Safety Code. 

National Safety Code aims at the following for Trucking in Canada:

  • Enhance the safety of trucks and drivers on the cross-border routes of Canada.
  • Emphasis to be placed on regulations related to safety.
  • Enforce uniform safety regulations across all provinces and territories of Canada.

Besides the above-mentioned goals of the NSC, there are 16 regulatory guidelines:

  • A driver is permitted to have only one drivers licence.  No driver is allowed to have multiple drivers licences in a number of Canadian provinces and territories.
  • The knowledge and performance of the drivers is judged via written and practical assessments before issuing a drivers licence.
  • The truck drivers training is to be judged via testing.
  • The classification of the process of drivers licensing is based on the type and weight of the vehicle that can be driven under a particular drivers licence.
  • The standards of self-certification along with the methods that are required and dependent on the elements of training required for commercial drivers licences.
  • The standards of the medical tests that a truck driver is required to pass.
  • The collection of data against the profiles of the drivers and the trucking companies.
  • A legal party is eligible to suspend a particular driver’s licence for a short period of time.
  • The number of hours a truck driver is permitted to work within a specific period of time in Canada.
  • Particular requirements of securing loads.
  • The standards of vehicle maintenance and inspections that commercial vehicles are to be compliant with.
  • The standards of CVSA that describe the procedures for on-road inspection of vehicles.
  • To ensure that that the vehicle is thoroughly inspected and safe to drive on the road.
  • Issuing of safety ratings determined on the basis of their performance with regards to the NSC.
  • Auditing and inspecting the facilities.
  • Determining the required first-aid training for the drivers of the trucking companies.

Note that the National Safety Code certificate is a required document for vehicle registration. An application for the National Safety Code is available at the options mentioned below:

  • Driver Service Centre
  • Weigh Scale
  • Appointed agents
  • Office of the Government Agent

For further information, please visit

Federal Business Number for Income Tax and GST

The Canada Revenue Agency or CRA assigns a 9-digit Federal Business Number (BN) to a business. The types of business can be sole proprietorship, a corporation, or a partnership.   

Note in this regard, trucking companies in Canada have to communicate with the CRA that they wish to register for both GST and Payroll.

IFTA or International Fuel Tax Agreement registration

Similarly to how we discussed IFTA in our guide to starting a trucking business in the USA, The IFTA or International Fuel Tax Agreement is a cooperative agreement between the 10 provinces of Canada and the 48 American states. It makes it simpler for trucking companies operating internationally to report and pay fuel taxes while operating in the agreeing states and provinces of USA and Canada. According to IFTA, Canadian trucking companies require only one licence plate which is issued by their base jurisdiction. This one licence allows trucking companies to pay fuel tax to the base jurisdiction. The total fuel tax gets divided amongst the states and provinces through which the trucks of that company operated in. Truck drivers are required to maintain a record of the total distance they had travelled in each of the states and provinces and quantity of fuel that was bought in each province and state.

The International Fuel Tax Agreement or IFTA is not valid in the following jurisdictions:

  • Canada: Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon Territory
  • USA: Alaska, Hawaii, District of Columbia

A trucking company in Canada is required to register IFTA if its commercial vehicles are motor vehicles which are used for business purposes and cross the boundaries of the provinces and states. Alternatively, trucking companies can also get separate permits from the different provinces. For example, a trucking company can get a MFUP or Motive Fuel User Permit for entering into the province of British Columbia from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. If the trucking company transports goods for another person, the carrier is responsible to pay the fuel taxes and other interjurisdictional reporting instead of the owner of the vehicle.

IFTA Start Trucking Business Canada

Filing a quarterly IFTA tax return

Canadian trucking companies have to provide the following information in the respective IFTA tax return form- Amount of tax paid, Quantity of fuel purchased, & Distance travelled in each of the jurisdictions.

Trucking businesses are to balance the overpayments made in one jurisdiction against the amounts they owe in the other jurisdictions. If the total tax results in the trucking company paying less than what should have been paid, the balance amount has to be paid. If an extra amount was paid, the trucking company will get a refund.

There are certain penalties a trucking company may be subject to if they do not file their IFTA tax returns or pay pending taxes on time:

  • The trucking company may be subject to paying interest against the amount owed by them along with other penalties.
  • The trucking company’s IFTA licence may be cancelled. 

IRP or International Registration Plan registration

IRP is a cooperative agreement that is suitable for vehicles that are to operate in two or more member-jurisdictions. Just like IFTA, the licence fees gets divided amongst the jurisdictions the vehicle has operated in. Below are some characteristics of IRP:

  • There is only one licence plate for each of the vehicles in the fleet.
  • Alternatively, there can be a set of licence plates.
  • There is only one cab card for each of the vehicles in the fleet.

Canada Revenue Agency or CRA Fuel Charge Program

A Canadian trucking company from owner operator to many fleets that operates in the following provinces: Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Nunavut, or Yukon are required to register for the CRA Fuel Charge Program if it uses propane, fuel oil, gasoline or marketable natural gas.

This new fuel charge has been introduced by the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. It applies to 21 varieties of fuel and combustible waste. Only Canadian Trucking companies who operate inter-jurisdictionally are required to register. Trucking companies that operate within only one particular listed province are not required to register. This fuel charge became applicable in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan since 1st April, 2019 and in Nunavut and Yukon since 1st July, 2019.

An owner of a trucking company in Canada who is registered as a road carrier is required to submit a fuel charge return every three months. 

Insurance for Trucking in Canada

Along with the required permits, insurance is one of the key aspects for a Canadian trucking company. Listed below are the different types of insurance and why is it required to start a trucking business in Canada.

Liability Insurance

Liability Insurance Owner Operator Trucking Business Canada

Liability insurance pays for all the damages that are caused by a truck. If the truck driver is found to be driving without liability insurance, this could lead to heavy penalties.

The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 laid down federally regulated basic responsibilities that are to be maintained by the motor carriers involved in interstate transportation. Trucking companies are required to keep a proof of their financial responsibility for any sort of damage that might be caused by them in any of the following ways:

  • MCS-90 endorsement
  • MCS- 82 endorsement
  • Department of Transportation’s written authorization for self insurance

Bobtail Insurance

Bobtail insurance is a voluntary insurance that is also known as deadhead or non-trucking liability.  It covers any costs that may be involved in and responsible for an accident while driving a truck under the following circumstances:

  • Liability coverage when the trucker is driving a truck without a trailer. This is applicable regardless of being under dispatch or not.
  • Applicable when big rigs are driven to and from the dispatch terminal without the cargo trailer.
  • Applicable when truck drivers travel without the trailers being attached, between the hauling of loads.

Cargo Insurance

This is also not a mandatory insurance but some shipping companies prefer trucking companies to have it. This type of insurance covers the load that is being carried in the trailers.

Drivers licence Trucking Canada

Trucking Canada Drivers License

A commercial driver who hauls freight on inter-provincial routes is required to get a drivers licence of that province or territory. However, the classes of the drivers licences vary from province to province. The requirements for obtaining a drivers licence are also different in different provinces and territories. 

This blog discusses the rules and regulations that are to be followed by trucking companies operating in Canada. However, these are subject to change in different provinces and territories. It is advisable to refer to the ICBC website to find out what rules apply in the province the trucking company will be operating in. We wish you the best.

Vineet Baid

Vineet Baid
Like the simple things in life like chocolates, beer, and fries.


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