SAULT STE. MARIE — Mushkegowuk-James Bay New Democrat MPP Guy Bourgouin delivered a brief address at The Water Tower Inn Tuesday, calling on Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government to address safety on northern Ontario highways.
Bourgouin said the need for timely clearing of snow on northern highways is crucial, expressing frustration his private member’s bill, entitled Bill 125, Making Northern Ontario Highways Safer Act, 2019, was voted down by the Conservatives in the Legislature Nov. 7.
“I was disappointed for the people of northern Ontario,” Bourgouin said, speaking to SooToday.
“We’ve seen too many people die on these roads. In my riding alone, two of the mayors lost family members.”
“Most of us know somebody who has lost their life or had critical injuries on these highways and to see a government choose its own party over safety (is disappointing),” Bourgouin said.
Bourgouin’s bill proposed classifying Highway 11 and Highway 17 under a Class 1 designation, which is the same designation southern Ontario’s 400 series of highways and the QEW highway currently have.
“That would mean more plowing, so the highways would be down to bare pavement within eight hours (as opposed to 16 hours) after a snowstorm,” Bourgouin said.
“It makes a huge difference when you live in isolated communities, when you have to go to work, when you have to go to school, when you have to go to medical appointments. In the last snow storm, in Kapuskasing, it was closed for a day and a half.”
Speaking to SooToday Nov. 15, days after Bourgouin’s bill was defeated, Sault MPP Ross Romano said Class 1 and Class 2 highways differ, Class 1 being urban four lane highways with higher volumes of traffic, Class 2 highways located in northern and rural areas.
“There are guidelines for a Class 1 highway to be cleared of snow, down to the pavement, in eight hours, a Class 2 highway in 16 hours. These are guidelines,” Romano said.
“(But) we in Ontario, on Highways 11 and 17, as shown by statistics from the Ministry of Transportation, independent of any political body, reduce our roadways down to the pavement seven hours after snowfall, on average. So we’re doing it one hour better than a Class 1 highway’s guideline. We’re already surpassing the guideline for a Class 1 roadway,” Romano said.
However, Bourgouin and the NDP don’t buy that.
“The Conservatives say it’s an average of seven hours. When a committee asked the Minister of Transportation and another government official ‘where did you get that average of seven hours?’ they couldn’t answer. They couldn’t give us an answer and said they would give us an answer later. We’ve been hounding them and we still haven’t received an answer.”
“They’re throwing numbers out there. Anybody who lives up north knows that average of seven hours is not the case. If you play with numbers it can be misleading. If the snow plow goes out there when there’s only two inches of snow, yes the average goes down. That’s math. But we need plows when snow storms are there, that we plow the roads within eight hours so we can get back to work,” Bourgouin said.
“Highway 17 and 11 are sometimes the only corridors we have to get out of isolated communities. To say seven hours is misleading for the people of northern Ontario.”
Bourgouin spoke of the highway plowing issue in Thunder Bay Monday, and planned to travel to North Bay for another speech after his stop in the Sault.
“I’m hoping to build momentum so the government does the right thing. I can’t bring my bill back until a new government comes in. But they’re in power now, they have a majority and they can do the right thing for northern Ontario, so hopefully this government will realize they need to do something about the safety of our roads. Hopefully they do the right thing for next winter.”