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Editor’s Take: Truck licensing snafu needs fixing

Not just anyone should be able to jump behind the wheel of a semi-trailer and go rolling along a public road.

After all, these rigs can carry staggering amounts of weight — for example, a Super-B can carry 42 tonnes of grain in a single load. To put that into perspective, it’s the equivalent of 14 of the largest Ford F150 pickup trucks in a single vehicle.

They’re also physically large. More than once I’ve noted that trucks these days are significantly larger than the first house I lived in.

Operating something that large and heavy on the highway is an awesome responsibility, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The job of the operator is to ensure that everyone else they encounter on the road gets home safely.

Just how high the stakes can be came into sharp contrast in the late winter of 2018, when an undertrained and inexperienced driver on his first week of operating a rig unsupervised blew a stop sign, causing the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.

The result has been new far more stringent standards for driver training. That’s as it should be. What isn’t as it should be is the way our provincial licensing body has dealt with the rollout of these standards.

In this province it appears Manitoba Public Insurance has dropped the ball, failing to build any additional capacity to meet these new demands. It’s failed to add any more testers to meet the demand ahead of the deadline, or to offer more testing slots, pushing many past the deadline date.

Farmers claim they’re being discriminated against and that there’s little sign that MPI has been listening to them during consultations. Commercial truckers are being favoured for the few available openings and as harvest approaches, they fear the lack of licensed drivers will hamper their operations.

As KAP representatives Les Felsch and Chuck Fossay put it, the issues they raised were ignored as two farmers’ voices were lost amongst the chorus of as many as 30 representatives of the trucking industry and trucking schools at meetings.

Those groups have their own axes to grind, according to Fossay. One sees it as a way to get someone else to train their drivers. The other sees the new requirements as a government-mandated windfall they can charge each driver up to $9,000 for.

It’s unfortunate but true that even amidst tragedy there will be those who seek to find advantage in the chaos. One can’t blame government for wanting to act on the training shortfall. There’s ample evidence that inexperience was the key contributing factor to the Broncos crash.

But one can expect the government response to be reasonable, measured and properly executable. It shouldn’t favour one group over the other, no matter how loud the voices become in advisory meetings. It should recognize the realities the affected sectors face, including the seasonality of some industries.

One of the clearest signs of just how little the needs of agriculture factored into decision-making is the Sept. 1 deadline imposed for the shift, followed by rapid overbooking of the July and August testing slots. It essentially ensured that farmers would find themselves locked out of qualifying new employees to operate the equipment as harvest approaches.

KAP vice-president Jill Verwey noted in the article that their operation near Portage la Prairie has three individuals who haven’t been able to schedule a road test.

Farmers do have some extra consideration in the form of a one-year extension that would allow them to be licensed to operate farm-plated trucks only within the province. But that does nothing to address the immediate issue that there’s not a testing slot to be found at any price.

If MPI is going to continue to be both licensing body and insurer — a situation that in many ways is tantamount to being judge and accuser both — it must be required to be fair and to provide adequate levels of service. How the organization decided to impose these new requirements without dedicating any further resources to the implementation is baffling.

Perhaps this startling level of unaccountability can only be chalked up to the bureaucratic fog of being the only game in town. When one has absolute power, it can be easy to simply assume the customer needs to fall into line.

It’s often said driving is a privilege, not a right. That’s true, but perhaps a tad oversimplified. It neglects the facts. Facts such as at times it’s a necessity to keep the economic wheels turning and at the bare minimum the government cannot throw up roadblocks, intentional or otherwise, to those making a good-faith effort to meet the requirements.

MPI and the provincial government need to take steps now to correct this oversight.

About the author

Editor

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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