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Transport Minister speaks to PMTC

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. - A new transportation corridor for the Niagara region as well as better driver training facility accreditation were among the promises made by newly-appointed Ontario Transp...

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. – A new transportation corridor for the Niagara region as well as better driver training facility accreditation were among the promises made by newly-appointed Ontario Transport Minister Frank Klees during his June 20 speech at the Private Motor Truck Council conference.

“Those of you from the Niagara region know that there’s a great deal of debate on the mid-peninsula corridor that we as a government are committed to,” Klees said to the 150-some conference delegates at breakfast.

“… We believe fully that a new transportation corridor is necessary across the Niagara peninsula. It’s important for the economy, not only of this area, but for the Golden Horseshoe.”

But Klees admitted there would be some obstacles to overcome before achieving the new corridor though the Niagara region.

“There are some who don’t like that idea and think it should be handled differently,” he said.

“But behind the scenes, we’ll do what we feel is the appropriate thing to do, and that is to ensure that we have additional capacity for truck traffic and at the same time respect the needs of the environment.”

Also on the government’s priority list, according to Klees, is the reduction of gridlock in Ontario.

The minister pointed to the government’s recent financial commitments to investing in border crossings in Sarnia, Niagara and Windsor, and ongoing projects on important transportation corridors in Northern Ontario, on Highways 6 and 11. Southern Ontario is also a focus, Klees pointed out, with projects on the 401, the 404 past Lake Simcoe, and the Bradford Bypass project in York region also underway.

As for better driver training, Klees said it was essential to Ontario’s road safety goals.

“My goal is to bring Ontario to that important place of having the safest roads in the world,” said the minister. “So in the area of driver training I believe there is a need for us to accelerate our activities on that. I hear reports about driver mills that are out there, that are putting drivers out that quite frankly may have their certificates, but really when you get to the front door, and take on the responsibility, don’t have the kind of qualifications that they should have.

“So I think there is a role for government to play in accrediting and facilitating a framework for accreditation for driver training facilities. Those should be broad; they should be strong as we bring the standards up for driver training.

“It follows that obviously then our roads will be that much safer.”

The minister also briefly commented on Canada’s proposed hours of service legislation.

“At the end of the day, we want to ensure that we have an opportunity to develop together uniform provincial regulations as soon as possible and we also are committed of course to ensuring that we have national standards that are consistent…” the minister said.

As for skyrocketing insurance rates, the minister had this to say:

“We’re aware of the challenges that your industry faces… Our government is taking some initiatives. We’re in the process of preparing some regulations now… they will deal with underwriting issues, we will deal with limiting certain benefits that now are being paid out (the minister later clarified this – saying the government is looking at limiting the pay-outs for soft-tissue claims) but I understand and I think we all understand that the claims component of the insurance premiums is really one aspect, and so there is a bigger picture that we all have to look at and we as a government will be looking at over the next number of months.”

The response of audience members to the speech was mixed, many of them remarking that the minister’s comments were somewhat vague.

But all appreciated the opportunity to ask questions from the floor.

Questions asked by those in attendance focused on what the government plans to do about driver training and accreditation, qualified shortage and licensing issues relating to it, traffic congestion in the GTA, harmonization of weights and measures across Canada and border congestion.

With regards to traffic congestion in the GTA the minister said he feels the government can solve the problem with long-term planning.

Klees pointed to Bill 25, legislation he recently introduced to the legislature that would allow the provincial government to identify potential transportation corridors 20 to 30 years in advance, thereby strengthening the government’s case against groups who might oppose road development in the future.

With regards to the training and licensing of qualified drivers, the minister repeated his government is interested in getting involved with industry to establish a hand-in-glove relationship between what training schools offer and what licensing requires, as well as looking at testing drivers on an ongoing basis for their abilities, not just retesting once when they turn 65. He also mentioned the possibility of drivers who don’t qualify for night driving (having failed their vision tests) being allowed driving during the day.

As for border delays, Minister Klees emphasized that recently announced border improvements in Ontario are partially funded by Ontario and therefore, also influenced by provincial concerns.

“It’s a ‘No Say, No Pay’ arrangement,” explained the minister, adding a significant portion of border funds will be going towards technology to aid in speeding up processing at the borders.

As for cross-country harmonization of weights and measures regulations, the minister indicated the provincial government is working towards achieving a national standard.

All in all, the minister’s speech and the ensuing question and answer period was welcomed, albeit with some skepticism, by those in attendance.

“I’m not sure he was too specific on any particular subject,” summed up Dave Goodwill, national director of safety and training services for Markel Insurance.

“But it was encouraging to hear him make a specific reference to the ministry working with driver training schools.”

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