National training standard a long time coming

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and his provincial counterparts emerged from a Council of Ministers meeting in Montreal on Jan. 21, with a promise to implement a national training standard for entry-level truck drivers by 2020. It’s about time.

It was a late Christmas present for the trucking industry, which has been lobbying hard to get such a program put into place. Currently, only Ontario has mandatory training requirements for entry-level truck drivers, though other provinces are following suit.

Ontario’s mandatory entry-level training (MELT) standard went into effect in July 2017, and employers report having better-prepared driver applicants showing up at their door – still needing additional training, but at least having a command of basic driving skills. A set of skills they can work with through a mentoring and finishing program.

The Jan. 21 announcement was a long time coming, and almost certainly a result of the tragic Saskatchewan crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus, which resulted in 16 fatalities. The semi driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, has plead guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

He is awaiting sentencing and will likely be spending a long time behind bars; the crown is seeking a 10-year sentence. Sidhu took full responsibility for the crash, citing his lack of experience as a factor.

We as an industry, and as a nation, share some of the blame for allowing Sidhu to so easily obtain a commercial driver’s licence, to gain employment, and to operate for any length of time – enough time to have racked up 70 violations, most of which were related to hours-of-service. How many other Sidhus are operating on our roads today because of the lax entry standards we have created?

It’s stunning to me that hairstylists, deemed a trade by the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, require 3,500 hours (approximately two years) of training, including 3,020 hours of on-the-job work experience and 480 hours of in-school training, while in most of Canada, all one must do to obtain a licence to operate an 80,000-lb commercial vehicle on public roads is to pass a short road and written test. Even Ontario’s MELT program requires only 103.5 hours of training.

Think about that for a second.

It would take quite some clipper calamity to result in a fatality and jail time for a hairstylist. But truckers go to work every day realizing one bad mistake can cost someone their life, and land them behind bars. The training requirements and the responsibilities of the job just don’t equate.

Yet we as an industry, send unprepared and undertrained drivers out onto the highway every single day. That has to change, and it will eventually change, if the feds successfully implement nationwide training standards for entry-level drivers and if employers follow that up with further on-the-job training and mentoring.

Once this is achieved, and the provinces follow through with implementation, the long overdue recognition of truck driving as a skilled trade should follow. But is it any wonder the industry has been unsuccessful in having truck driving recognized as such, when the barrier to entry is so low? Finally, there seems to be an appetite to fix this.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Hi James-agree 100%, Trucking should have been recognized as a “Trade” many years ago,then skilled drivers would be plentifull today. The commercial accident rate escalated during the 1980’s as training was never upgraded since 1971. I was involved in the trucking industry since 1961 in all levels, and finally change has come!

  • James
    Excellent and poingent point about training hair stylists take in comparison to truckers. It centralizes the issue. Stylists can take years to complete their training, and all they are operating with is scissors. The worst outcome? A bad haircut which can be grown out in mere weeks. Truckers without proper training have a lot more to lose, not just to themselves but innocent people on the road with them. There needs to be a frank and open discussion about this, and stronger action from regulatory boards.
    Cold N. Holefield

  • Dear sir/madam
    I want to file a complaint against a driving school.which one cheated to me for CAD 1000$ as advance to train me for Licence class ‘AZ’ can you please guide me how to file the same.
    Sinder pal

  • Hi James Thank you for a well written and honest piece of journalism. Your comparison of truck training to Hair dressers was beautiful! Although MELT is a much needed program and has my full support. As 40 year AZ driver and trainer I have heard enough of the Ministers and so called representatives of the trucking industry patting themselves on the back saying how wonderful it is. Do Not misunderstand me it is much needed, but lets stop the back patting for a moment. It replaced a Minimum training period program run by PCC’s of 200 hrs !! training was slashed to 103.5. down grading our training and any chance of being recognized as professional’s. OPP own stats say since the introduction of MELT Ontario roads have seen an increase of almost 38% of crashes involving large trucks!! Drivers leaving our training institutions are now poorly equipped to start work as a driver. Needing companies to fill the gaps in the training, Ministers need to understand just because you pass a test does not mean you are a competent driver. Filling the empty seats in this way does nothing for road safety or our profession. This is a proud hard working professional industry and as such requires high entry and training standards. If the OPP were short of officers would the public be comfortable with the cutting by 50% of their training and little or no entry standards! Ok I have had my say I will get off my soap box now. Thanks for your time.

    • Am I to understand that in Ontario the MELT program has half the hours of training that they had before it with the other mandatory one.
      If this is the case, then it’s a huge step backwards, we need more not less training and follow up by the companies or the OTA as to the performance of these new drivers.
      I know the need for new drivers is great but at what cost?