Three northern Ontario government ministers skipped a vote yesterday on a bill called Making Northern Ontario Highways Safer Act.
The private member's bill from NDP MPP Guy Bourgouin sought to improve winter highway maintenance on Highways 11 and 17 in order to reduce the number of winter closures and collisions on Northern Ontario roads. It was defeated by 59-38.
Bourgouin’s bill, Making Northern Ontario Highways Safer, 2019, would have ensured that Highways 11 and 17 are maintained with the province’s strictest requirements for snow removal. By classifying the northern highways the same as all 400 series highways and the QEW, snow must be removed within eight hours of the end of a snowfall.
Bourgouin’s bill would bump up Highways 11 and 17 to Class 1 in all of their sections, whether two or four-lane and eliminate vehicular traffic specifications.
"Doug Ford’s northern ministers Greg Rickford, Ross Romano, and Vic Fedeli all skipped the vote, preferring to toe Ford’s line rather than stand up and protect northern families," said Bourgouin in a release.
“The Ford Conservative government has shamelessly put a price on the lives of people that tragically die and get injured on Northern Ontario highways every winter. While the Liberals privatized and de-regulated winter highway maintenance, Doug Ford’s Conservatives are taking us from bad to worse by voting down a bill that could have improved the quality of our roads, and saved lives.
"Northern Ontarians will remember their unforgivable decision to support Doug Ford over northern drivers who will continue to risk their lives this winter.”
Meanwhile, in response, Fedeli emailed a statement to BayToday but did not address the issue of missing the vote.
"Our government recognizes that the winter months pose significant challenges for drivers. That’s why we have some of the highest winter maintenance standards in North America.
"Highways 11 and 17 are major highways providing access across northern Ontario. The current winter service level is based on the number of vehicles that use the highways in the winter, their proximity to cities, and the fact that they are part of the Trans-Canada network.
"Over the past few years, MTO has worked to enhance the quality of its highway winter maintenance across the province.
"We have strengthened the oversight of our private contractors and we have worked with contractors to add equipment to clear truck climbing and passing lanes, freeway ramps, and shoulders more quickly."
"The Ministry of Transportation will continue to review the factors used to determine service levels for all types of highways in northern Ontario and will develop a report on impacts of potential changes," concluded Fedeli.
See a video clip of the vote here.
The Liberals also promised to make northern roads safer when they were the government in 2015. Better snow clearing and the ability to see the condition of highways were among promises made by Steven Del Duca, then Ontario’s Minister of Transportation.
Fedeli was skeptical anything would change at the time.
"We'll believe it when we see it," Fedeli told BayToday. "I think the proof will be the condition of the highways this winter. They're adding $5 million to an area where … the root problem was (caused) in 2009 when they changed the way the contracts were administered to save $36 million and they put people's lives at risk."
See related: How Ontario's highways are cleared in winter