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TORONTO, Ont. - Mistake. Unsafe. Incredulous. Those were some of the words used to describe Ontario's speed limiter legislation during public hearings June 5 at Queen's Park.

TORONTO, Ont. –Mistake. Unsafe. Incredulous. Those were some of the words used to describe Ontario’s speed limiter legislation during public hearings June 5 at Queen’s Park.

However, a well-oiled PR machine led by the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) was also on-hand to present some compelling arguments of its own as the two sides sparred all day over Bill 41, which would mechanically limit truck speeds in Ontario to 105 km/h. Their audience was the Standing Committee on Justice Policy, consisting of MPPs from the governing Liberals as well as Opposition parties.

Representing the pro-speed limiter crowd were:the OTA;Canadian Trucking Alliance; Brian Taylor of Liberty Linehaul; the Ontario Safety League; the Insurance Bureau of Canada; the American Trucking Associations; and Jeff Bryan of Jeff Bryan Transport. They insisted speed limiters would improve road safety and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Countering, from the anti-speed limiter corner, were: the Owner/ Operators’ Independent Drivers’ Association (OOIDA); the Owner-Operators’ Business Association of Canada (OBAC); driver Dorothy Sanderson; the Canadian Owner/ Operators’ Co-operative; and Dr. Barry Prentice of the University of Manitoba, I. H. Asper School of Business.

They argued that safety may in fact be compromised by the legislation, that the emissions reductions are debatable and that trade with the US could be impeded by the bill.

At the end of the day, the committee agreed to extend the public comment period from its original deadline of end-of-day June 5, to June 10 at 5 p. m.

The extension came after the committee was chastised about the short notice provided for public input. Notice of the hearing was posted by the Legislature on the morning of June 3 and those wishing to present had only until noon that same day to make a request. Written submissions were only to be accepted until 5 p. m June 5, before the extension was granted.

OBAC executive director Joanne Ritchie, who was scheduled to appear in person, instead called from the 10 Acre Truck Stop in Belleville, Ont. where she pulled over to rest on her way to Toronto after pulling an all-nighter to work on her presentation. She condemned the committee for providing such short notice.

Ritchie said she was disappointed “not only with the short notice given for this hearing, but also that public input on such an important issue be restricted to a one-day session in downtown Toronto.”

Her point was well-received and was key to having the comment period extended. The arguments in favour of speed limiters seemed to carry the momentum early in the day. OTA’s Bradley said “As an industry that shares its workplace with the public…we have an added responsibility to do the right thing.”

Bradley also had some choice words for the anti-speed limiter crowd.

“If any of what the opponents of this bill say will happen was true, how is it that many if not the majority of the companies already embracing speed limiters are generally considered to be amongst the best managed companies in any industry, the most successful and the most responsible in terms of safety and the environment?” Bradley asked. “How is it that they are regularly recognized by their shippers on both sides of the border as providing the highest levels of service and on-time performance? Is it coincidence that some of the most vocal Canadian supporters of this measure also happened to dominate the US truckload carriers’ association safety awards this year?”

His group was lauded by safety groups and the ATA. Dave Osiecki, vice-president, safety, security and operations, said “In general, ATA supports Bill 41 as written” and he added “we do not believe Bill 41 would create significant impediments to cross-border trade.”

He said he hopes the ATA will succeed in implementing its own, slightly different, speed limiter policy and that the two laws can be harmonized at a later date. At one point, a Liberal MPP said he was having trouble finding any reason not to support the legislation.

But as the day wore on, committee members from Opposition parties seemed befuddled by the vastly different opinions they were hearing on the issue – especially MPP Frank Klees, Caucus Chair for the Official Opposition and critic for the Ministry of Transportation.

A presentation by Prentice, a highly-regarded transportation academic, seemed particularly to capture the interest of the committee.

He pointed out that increased acceleration and deceleration by cars as they maneuver around speed limited trucks may offset greenhouse gas reductions from trucks.

He also explained that speed differentials would be created if the bill is passed, which would actually jeopardize highway safety.

In fact, he pointed out the likelihood of an accident increases by 227% when speed differentials exist.

Representing OOIDA, driver Terry Button said the legislation would obstruct Canada/US trade. In fact, he cited an OOIDA survey that suggested 88% of its members would no longer run into Canada if the law is passed, which would take some 80,000 trucks out of the pool.

“We believe your good intentions are being taken advantage of,” Button told the committee. “If you pass this, we will not sit idly by.”

Klees said he was “puzzled how people in the same industry can be arguing opposite sides of the equation.”

“What really is underlying this debate?” he asked. “Why do we have people in this industry that have come to this committee and said ‘Don’t do this. It’s dangerous?'”

It was a point he returned to as the hearing wrapped up, noting he was “still searching” for the core issue of the debate. “I’m missing something here,”he said, also suggesting he was uncomfortable supporting the legislation without first soliciting further feedback.

NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo agreed, saying “I think we need more time to (allow stakeholders to) make submissions.”

The deadline for amendments to be made to the legislation is June 11.

Discussions at the hearing suggested that if the legislation proceeds, the most likely amendments will include expanding the legislation to cover motor coaches and increasing the fine for offenders from the currently discussed $250.

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