During the past decade-and-a-half, according to the Ontario Road Builders’ Association, the winter maintenance standards for Ontario highways have been adjusted several times in such a way that contractors are able to meet the standards and the Ministry of Transportation can hold them to this while, in fact, less frequent snowplowing, sanding and salting is being carried out, supported by the current standards, then was the case nearly 20 years ago when the bulk of this work was done by MTO staff.
In Northern Ontario, safety concerns have been expressed by many organizations such as the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities.
If elected, how will your government deal with these concerns and the change in MTO standards that they reflect?
Continued privatization of winter road maintenance has resulted in more road closures and heightened the risk to motorists. The NDP has a plan to put safety as the first priority over profit. The NDP will deliver 200 more snowplows and trucks to improve winter road safety. Northerners are experiencing more closures than ever because roads are not being cleared in a timely manner. As Northerners we know we have to travel longer distances to get to services and we face longer and harsher winters which makes it much harder to get around. The Liberals have lowered the standards in the new performance based contracts and it is unfair that they are putting a price tag on safety.
Earlier this year the NDP put forward a motion to establish a Select Committee on Winter Road Maintenance and Contracts. I can tell you that over the winter months my office has been flooded with complaints concerning the dangerous road conditions throughout Algoma-Manitoulin and Northern Ontario. Many of you took photos of the roads you were travelling and sent them in. New Democrats launched the Northern Road Report in 2011 and have continued to collect information and complaints. We routinely took these photos and complaints and presented them to the Minister of Transportation as evidence of the broken road maintenance system in Ontario.
In February of 2014, MTO announced financial discipline for four contractors in Northeastern Ontario and three in the Northwest. While we welcome this sort of accountability and penalty given for failing to provide service, we believe that measures need to be taken to ensure that this doesn’t continue; especially when people’s lives are at risk.
Currently, the province hires contractors to plow and salt the roads; however, the province doesn’t tell these contractors how many trucks to use or how many employees they should have but judges their work on whether or not the roads are cleared and the plows are running. The province has different standards for different classifications of roads. Those classifications range from “Class 1” to “Class 5.” Classification of the road will determine the timeframe for clearing and salting.
As Northerners we understand that we will face harsher winters and inevitable snowstorms. It’s unacceptable when the Liberal government continues to contract out to companies who fail to provide the service. Too many people have lost their lives in tragic accidents. Too many first responders have witnessed the carnage resulting from poor road conditions, and too many families have lost their loved ones. New Democrats will ensure that our province’s winter road maintenance system is working, contractors are fulfilling their obligations, and most importantly that you and your family are safe.
When it comes to roads, whether it is building good roads or making bad roads good, the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals have made sure there is red tape at every turn to tie up projects in unnecessary bureaucracy.
As part of Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan, that load will be lightened by reducing red tape by a third within the first three years of taking office.
Those who tender contracts to build or maintain our roads, and ratepayers who have to finance them, know that time is money.
The Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA) will no doubt recall the two-year delay in trying to build a bridge across the Thames River in Middlesex County due to the MNR’s relocation of 48 endangered mussels, whose welfare had to be monitored by scuba divers.
The cost of that delay for ratepayers of that municipality was $135,000 at a time when all town councils were under incredible budget pressure.
Back then, the Ontario PCs tabled an amendment to the Endangered Species Act that would ensure all environmental concerns are addressed before tendering.
But, once again, the Liberals and the NDP rejected that amendment.
The further north you go, the worse it gets.
Under the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals, the winter maintenance standards have been adjusted and tweaked so many times that it is nigh impossible to know what rules apply on any particular day in our communities. Throw in the demands of our winters, coupled with budgeting restraints put on our collective communities, and snowplowing, sanding and salting becomes a crap shoot.
What we have in Queen’s Park today are too many southern Ontario views being applied to the North with predictable outcomes.
But there is another big issue when it comes to roads and road maintenance. And that’s jobs, and getting qualified people to do those jobs.
It wasn’t that long ago that ORBA’s former executive director, Rob Bradford, criticized the Liberal government’s sudden brainchild, the Ontario College of Trades, as doing nothing to address the critical shortage of trades people who have the expertise to handle 21st-century road work.
In fact, it increases the shortage by demanding ridiculous 5:1 journeyman-apprenticeship ratios.
Under an Ontario PC government, the College of Trades will be abolished.
The North can’t take any more economic hurt. According to recent Statistics Canada numbers Northeastern Ontario has lost 38.7 percent of its manufacturing jobs during the Liberal-NDP alliance, while the Northwest has lost an astounding 80.25 percent.
Remember those debilitating numbers when you go to vote on June 12.
When you assign too many responsibilities to the provincial government you are under the risk of neglecting some of the core responsibilities and roads/infrastructure is one of them. The most recent Liberal budget that was defeated is an example. The new Ontario Pension Plan would remove a responsibility of individual citizens and add it to the roster of things the Ontario government does. Obviously it becomes harder to manage and budget for real necessities.
Road maintenance would be one of those. It should be at the top of the government’s list of things to do. Local residents know best if the roads are up to standard or not (instead of the MTO), so we would prefer local supervision of roads and highways, because that is the best way to determine the needs of local communities. If local residents do not think that winter maintenance is adequate we would direct more funding there as we shrink the size of government everywhere else.
Once more funding is directed in these areas, a closer evaluation of tender bids is required, and businesses bidding on government tenders needs to be evaluated to determine if they are first capable of meeting contract obligations, as we have had issues in which contractors have not been able to complete their tasks.
I share the frustrations and concerns over how area maintenance contracts were being managed with respect to winter road maintenance and standards not being met. When our safety is called into question, action needs to be taken.
The Tim Hudak plan to fire 100,000 government workers will certainly not help monitor existing contracts or give the government the ability to return winter road maintenance to the direct control of government. I would like to see the inspection of the highways and the authority to call out necessary equipment returned to direct Ministry of Transportation control and see contracts with the private sector reworked to meet the standards of road conditions that we all deserve.
If the existing contract holders are not able to keep Algoma-Manitoulin residents safe on our highways I will lead the fight to undo the contracting of highway maintenance entirely and return road maintenance to the Ministry of Transportation.