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Hopeful semi drivers rush for Class 1 licences prior to mandatory training

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Prospective semi drivers are rushing to get a Class 1 licence before Saskatchewan’s new mandatory training program comes into effect.

“We are receiving a lot of calls every day, almost 10 to 12 calls every day and most of them are farmers and immigrants,” said Regina driving instructor Rana Hameed.

“They want to get their licence as soon as possible.”

The province announced its plan for mandatory training on Dec. 3, 2018, after facing months of criticism in the wake of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

However, the province denied the crash prompted the mandatory training program and said work on it began in 2017. 

Data provided by Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) shows 1,122 people took the Class 1 test between Dec. 4, 2018 and Feb. 20, 2019 —  with a pass rate of 64 per cent.

That’s compared to 509 people who took the same test during the same time period, plus a day, the year prior.

Time and money a driving factor

Hameed is still running one- and two-week programs at Skyways Truck Driving School as March 15 approaches.

“The cost is one factor, the second factor is the time, so time is also money and it’s not easy for the people to afford this much time,” Hameed said.

Currently, the courses he offers cost about $2,500 to $3,000 but Hameed said the 121.5 hour mandatory training program will cost closer to $10,000.

Rana Hameed owns Skyways Driving School in Regina. Hameed said he gets about ten calls a day from people wanting to take training before the new rules come into effect. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

“I cannot afford to pay more than what it is now. That’s why we’re here,” said Abdullah Hirsi, who is taking a one-week course at Skyways Driving School.

Hirsi was on the hunt for job security when he decided to pursue trucking. He spent time working seasonal labour jobs and has faced layoffs. He’s optimistic about his future in the trucking industry, if he can get his licence. 

“In North America, it’s easy to find a job if you have a Class 1. It’s commercial, you can go everywhere.”

Mahdi Mohamed, 45, faced the same challenges with employment.  Mohamed said he’s trying for his test now because he won’t be able to pay for the province’s mandatory entry level training and he wants to find financial stability. 

“I want to make money to pay my bills and I have family here, that’s why I do it.”

Trainer says 1-week program is not enough

Hameed acknowledged the barriers the new training program will pose to hopeful drivers, but he also spoke about its benefits. There has never been a training requirement for semi drivers, although SGI says around 90 per cent of drivers took some form of basic training

“A one week program is not enough,” he said. Hameed lacks confidence in the drivers who hit the road with such basic training.

Hameed said there were also gaps on the exam itself, noting manoeuvres like the three-point turns were absent on the road test.

It’s been hard for Skyways Driving School to keep up with demand because of limited staff, but it’s also been tough for students trying to get a test. 

Saskatchewan’s entry level training will be required for all aspiring Class 1 drivers who apply for a test after March 15. (David S. Knee/CBC)

SGI informed Class 1 trainers on Feb. 19 they would be offering testing extensions for people who attempt to book a test before March 15, because it was unable to meet the demand.

There were no exam spots available prior to March 15 in any Saskatchewan city except Humboldt, which had just two remaining on Wednesday.

SGI says extensions are ‘fair and practical’

“Some people might call it a loophole. I’d rather call it being fair and practical with respect to meeting the needs of our customers,” SGI vice-president Kwei Quaye said of the accommodation.

He said the Crown anticipated people would rush for a commercial licence before the new rules kick in, and hired additional examiners, but its measures still weren’t enough to meet the demand.

Drivers who are granted the extension will only be given two chances to pass their exam before they are required to take the mandatory training.

Quaye acknowledged the prospective drivers who take the test prior to March 15 won’t be equipped with the skills taught in the mandatory training.

However, he said SGI is monitoring all those who obtained a Class 1 licence after the announcement in December for a 12-month period. 

Quaye admitted this approach is reactive, but suggested it would still help flag bad drivers early on.

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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