Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
Following a series of recent tractor-trailer crashes in Ontario, a trucking-safety advocate and two New Democrat MPPs from northern Ontario called for the provincial government to improve the industry's safety mechanisms.
Speaking at Queen's Park on Wednesday morning, Travis McDougall, the co-founder of Truckers for Safer Highways, stressed a need for more diligence at truck inspection stations and in licensing.
"The quality of training that new drivers are receiving is insufficient, considering the job they'll be expected to do once they have acquired the commercial driver's licence," said McDougall, who is a Kitchener-based trucker.
Ontario's commercial-driving licensing system is an outlier within Canada. Many carriers in Ontario run licensing tests for their own drivers, whereas in 2019 only "a handful of carriers in two provinces" were allowed to test their employees for a commercial driver's licence, the province's auditor general found in a report on commercial vehicle safety and enforcement that year.
"Many carriers — this is not all — but many carriers do not provide additional training to new employees before sending them over the road, and if they do it's often insufficient to ensure the driver is properly prepared to do the job safely," McDougall said.
McDougall's work regularly takes him on the road to British Columbia and back.
"I myself just drove and travelled through, on my way home from a trip to Western Canada, northern and northwestern Ontario over the past weekend and saw the extreme amount of carnage that gives the validity to our concerns," McDougall said.
In the early hours of the morning last Friday, a transport truck drove off Highway 11, crashing into two homes in Beardmore, Ont., about 200 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. Police are investigating the incident.
While recalling his most recent trip to coastal B.C., specifically his route through Ontario, McDougall said he encountered just one active weigh scale, where transport trucks stop for inspections.
From the scale that McDougall said was open near Barrie to the Manitoba border, a transport driver could pass up to nine separate inspection stations, depending on the route taken, a Ministry of Transportation map of the stations shows.
Inspections done at these stations are meant to ensure the truck, as well as operator, can safely continue driving.
"They were all closed," McDougall said. "So you're missing a lot of ability to monitor the drivers and them doing their job."
The NDP MPPs who hosted McDougall at Queen's Park, Thunder Bay—Superior North's Lise Vaugeois and Timiskaming—Cochrane's John Vanthof, each piggybacked on the same concerns.
Vaugeois highlighted the auditor general's 2019 report, which found that in the five years prior, commercial vehicle drive-test-goers passed tests run by carriers 95 per cent of the time, but only 69 per cent of the time at the government's DriveTest centres. Some of the carriers the Ministry of Transportation let license their employees had "a poor history of collisions," the provincial auditor found.
"What it means is that there are driving schools that are not adequately preparing drivers for the risks and the responsibilities on our highways," Vaugeois said.
Vanthof said that while "most trucking schools do a great job," there's a clear discrepancy between the government- and carrier-run training outcomes. "And it shows up, sadly, in accidents themselves," he added.
The auditor general's 2019 report found that 25 per cent of the 106 carriers that tested their own drivers ranked among the worst one per cent of companies for at-fault collisions.
"There's a conflict of interest there, I think from the get go. And the government needs to be either really monitoring what is going on, or perhaps requiring that those functions be separated," Vaugeois said.
Vanthof said the NDP's intention on Wednesday was to resurface issues with trucking safety with the government.
"For people like Travis (McDougall)... for people like us — in Timiskaming-Cochrane and Thunder Bay — Highway 11 and Highway 17, they're not just the Trans Canada Highway, they're our main street. If my kids, my wife, want to go for groceries, she's on Highway 11 with those truckers. So it's much more personal for us," Vanthof said. "Is the government looking at it? I certainly hope so."
A day earlier on Tuesday, while responding to Vaugeois in question period, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the Ford government is "continuing to review our (Ontario's) commercial licensing process to make sure that we're strengthening regulations to make sure our truck drivers have the training they need when they get out on the road, for themselves as well as for all drivers."
Speaking briefly with The Trillium around midday on Wednesday, Mulroney said "road safety is not a partisan issue, so I'll definitely look at what Lise (Vaugeois) is suggesting and see what we can do to continue to make sure our roads are as safe as can be."