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Safety program for semi drivers ‘sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust’: author





Trucking experts say there’s a simple way to prevent some of the 2,000 highway deaths in Canada each year, but the federal government is allowing that solution to gather dust on a shelf.

“It’s the perfect solution that’s already sitting there, and it’s not going to cost a lot of money,” said veteran driving instructor Andy Roberts.

There are no national training standards for Canada’s 300,000 semi drivers. Calls to change that have grown louder since 16 people died in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash back in April.

CBC News has learned that curriculum has existed for years, and it was paid for by the federal government. Earning Your Wheels is a three-month semi-driving course, considered to be the gold standard by many in the industry.

It prepares truckers for all conditions including ice and snow, winding mountain roads and multi-lane freeways. It teaches them how to secure and haul their often massive loads, from logs to hazardous chemicals.

Veteran driving instructor Andy Roberts said the federal government needs to revive a semi training program that would save lives. (submitted)

The federal government financed its development several years ago, but isn’t using it. No one else is allowed to use it, either.

“They have the curriculum sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust, basically dormant,” said Roberts, a “master trainer” who’s graduated hundreds of drivers through his Castlegar, B. C.-based Mountain Transport Institute.

Concerns over ‘quickie courses’

The program’s origins date back to the late 1990s. According to Roberts and Pro Trucker Magazine editor John White, there was already concern back then over the lack of a national, uniform standard for truckers. The Broncos crash brought the issue into the public eye.

For less than $2,000, unethical schools would offer “quickie courses.” Anyone with their regular driver’s license could learn the bare minimum required to pass the relatively simple road test administered by each province.

With their new license in hand, they could drive anywhere in Canada—in any conditions with any size of load.

The federal government funded an organization to come up with a national standard. Many hoped it would also be made mandatory.

“Many of us have supported the idea for years,” White said.

Earning Your Wheels was the result: eight weeks of classroom, parking lot and road training, followed by a four week supervised apprenticeship.

It was made available to select trucking schools for more than a decade.

Program saved lives, says study 

A case study by the Conference Board of Canada heaped praise on the program. It said graduates were more competent than those who took other training, or no training at all. The program saved drivers and companies money because they were more efficient and skilled. But most of all, it said the program saved lives.

“The EYW (Earning Your Wheels) program has a direct impact on their safety performance records. Qualified drivers bring with them a measure of expertise and confidence that translates directly into fewer accidents,” stated the report.

Insurance companies, which evaluate risk when calculating premiums, apparently felt the same way. One said Earning Your Wheels is one of the few programs that meets every one of their safety criteria.

Pro Trucker Magazine Editor John White says provinces need to let the federal government set national semi training standards. (Pro Trucker Magazine)

“Not all training programs are the same,” states the website of Toronto-based Northbridge Insurance.

“This uneven approach to driver education and training is due largely to a lack of uniform federal and provincial regulations for truck driver training schools.”

Roberts helped the national officials update Earning Your Wheels in 2005. He and White said it was a great program, but there were three problems.

First, it wasn’t mandatory. That meant only 900 students across Canada took it in the first decade. An estimated 30,000 new truckers per year didn’t.

Second, the federal government continued to let provinces control the rules on training. That made any national standard impossible. In provinces like Saskatchewan, 10 per cent of new drivers took no training at all.

Third, they say the Harper government cut funding to the national group overseeing the curriculum in 2014. The national group folded. Earning Your Wheels was no longer offered.

They said the Trudeau government hasn’t seen fit to revive the course. Roberts and White hope that happens soon.

White is frustrated that politics, rather than safety, appears to be the main concern.

‘I blame…the federal government’: expert

“Each province unfortunately considers themselves their own little kingdom, I guess. They can’t get together and they can’t get a consensus of what a basic course should be for truck drivers,” White said.

“I blame that on the federal government. I believe the basic program should be federally operated.”

Things are changing slowly, they said. Ontario made training mandatory, and Saskatchewan and Alberta will do the same next year. But they noted those courses are less than a month long, and most provinces have no stated plan for training.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau was not available for an interview this week, said an official.

An official in his office has said in a previous email Garneau favours mandatory semi driver training, but declined to give details.

The statement said Garneau will raise the issue of semi training when he meets with his provincial counterparts next month.


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Dreessen: Ottawa has to shed its image as a town that doesn’t like fun





Ottawa has long held a reputation as a place that fun forgot. People who live here know that there is a lot to love about the city: its history, the Rideau Canal, proximity to parks and rivers, excellent clubs, museums and galleries all make Ottawa a great place.

More spontaneous fun things are harder to come by. We’ve created a process that makes it hard for small businesses to thrive and where the process is more important than the outcome.

In 2016, a local artist planned to give away free T-shirts celebrating Ottawa 2017 on Sparks Street, until the local Business Improvement Association (BIA) asked him to move, squashing a fun event to bring people together.

In 2017, business proposals to the NCC executive committee made a business case to open cafés at Remic Rapids, Confederation Park and Patterson Creek. In the summer of 2020, two opened; the Patterson Creek location, opposed by neighbours, has yet to see the light of day, though the NCC website indicates it may happen in 2021.

In each case, the cafés are only open for a few brief summer months. Despite the fact that Ottawa celebrates itself as a winter city, we can’t, somehow, imagine how people might want to enjoy a café in the spring or fall, or during winter months while skiing along the river or skating along the canal. Keeping public washrooms open, serving takeout and, yes, using patio heaters, could make these cafés fun additions to our city for most of the year.

More recently, Jerk on Wheels, a food truck with excellent Caribbean chicken and two locations, has run intro trouble. The one on Merivale Road continues, but the Bank Street location in Old Ottawa South has to close. According to social media posts from the owners, despite the business having all permissions in place, local restaurant franchises of Dairy Queen and Tim Hortons have objected to its presence.

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Ottawa businesses frustrated with slower pace of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen plan compared to other provinces





OTTAWA — As Canada plots its roadmap to reopening, each province is choosing their own path to reopen the economy and lift the COVID-19 restrictions.

Some are moving towards loosened restrictions at a faster pace than Ontario, which is frustrating for business owners who say they are ready to receive customers safely.

Patio season is upon the city, and at Banditos Restaurant on Bank Street, owner Matt Loudon is staging the large outdoor dining area to prepare for the summer rush. But the patio will have to remain closed until at least June 14, when it is expected Ontario will move into Step One of the three-step Roadmap to Reopen plan

“I hope they push it up a little bit,” says Loudon. “It’s beyond frustrating all the other provinces are opening up before us, we’ve been locked down longer than anybody else.”

Loudon, who owns two restaurants, says their outdoor seating has always been safe and that they have invested in added measures like sanitization stations and personal protective equipment for the staff. Indoor dining will continue to remain off limits in Ontario until Step Three. When patios do open, tables will be limited to four people. 

Unlike British Columbia’s four-pronged approach that began May 25. Residents in the province are now allowed to dine both inside and out, with a maximum of six per table, not restricted to one household.

Quebec will enter into its first step Friday, where outdoor dining will be available for two adults and their children, who can be from separate addresses per table. This applies to red and orange zones in the province. The curfew will also be lifted. 

In Gatineau, hair salons opened their doors to customers last week. Ten minutes away at Salon Bliss in Ottawa, all owner Sarah Cross can do is hope she can reopen sometime in July.

“Most people think that government funding covers all the bills but it’s far from it,” says Cross. Her upscale salon has nine chairs and over the course of the pandemic, in order to comply with regulations and keep staff and patrons, safe, only three chairs can now be filled. She says the hardest part is that the rules constantly change and vary in each region, adding it doesn’t make sense how one is better than the other.

“Our livelihood is dependent on what the decisions are made and if they were aligned with one belief system then I think they would have the trust of the public to follow these protocols.”

Many Ontario business owners say it’s not only a matter of necessity they open, but can do so safely. Infectious disease physician Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti agrees, and says the province needs to expedite its timeline.

“Especially with the fact that we are in the post vaccine era,” says Chakrabarti.

“It’s important for us to remember that we have been following this case count very closely for the last year and certainly we’ve had some experiences with opening things, especially with the second and third waves we have to remember that as we go forward now vaccines are a huge difference maker to the situation. Cases may go up but that doesn’t mean the most important thing will go up which is hospitalizations.”

Chakrabarti says while people will still get infected with COVID-19, with the reduced risk of hospitalization in large numbers there is no reason to restrict the community. He says while it’s not time for packed stadiums, it’s also not time for lockdowns and Ontario should re-think its strategy.

“We have to faith in the vaccines. We have seen in the other parts of the world like Israel, the U.K.,and the U.S. our neighbours to the south,” says Chakrabarti. “They are very safe and effective and our ticket out of this pandemic. We really should be taking that.”

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$2.9 million tax break for Ottawa Porsche dealership receives the green ligh





OTTAWA — Ottawa city council has given the green light to a $2.9 million tax break for a new Porsche dealership in Vanier.

Council voted 15 to 9 to approve a grant under the Community Improvement Plan initiative to build a Porsche dealership at the corner of Montreal Road and St. Laurent Boulevard.  The project by Mrak Holdings Inc., a.k.a. Mark Motors of Ottawa, would be built at 458 Montreal Road.

Under the Community Improvement Plan approved by Council, business owners can apply for a grant equal to 75 per cent of the municipal tax increase attributable to the redevelopment. A report says the goal of the Montreal Road Community Improvement Plan is to “stimulate business investment, urban renewal and property upgrades in the area.”

Coun. Catherine McKenney was one of nine councillors who opposed the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“I agree with the Community Improvement Plan, but I know and what people see here is that this application does not meet the criteria,” said McKenney about the CIP proposal for the Porsche dealership.

“A car dealership, no matter whether it’s Honda, or a Porsche or a Volkswagen, it does not first off belong on a traditional main street. This does not the meet the criteria of a CIP, it will do nothing for urban renewal.”

Approximately 70 people gathered at the site of the proposed Porsche dealership Tuesday evening to oppose the tax grant.

Coun. Diane Deans told Council she doubted any councillors who supported the Community Improvement Plan when it was developed in 2019 thought it would support a luxury car dealership.

“I don’t think it fits. I don’t think a clear case has been made that this incentive is required for the Mark Motors project to move forward at all,” said Deans. “I don’t believe there’s a clear community benefit.”

Coun. Riley Brockington, Deans, Jeff Leiper, Carol Anne Meehan, Rick Chiarelli, Theresa Kavanagh, Keith Egli, McKenney and Shawn Menard voted against the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“It will lead to a $17 million investment on Montreal Road, it will create about 20 jobs in that neigthborhood,” said Mayor Jim Watson.

Watson noted auto dealerships were not excluded from the Community Improvement Plan when approved by committee and Council.

A motion introduced by Watson was approved to use property tax revenue generated by the redevelopment for affordable housing.

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