SPECIAL REPORT: Ontario government fast-tracking speed-limiter bill

| 6/12/2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008 – Legislation that would make speed limiters mandatory on all heavy trucks is on the fast track in Ontario, Canada.

The Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on Justice Policy showed no letting up in advancing Bill 41 from committee on Thursday, June 12. The bill goes back to the full Legislature for the third reading and final vote as early as Monday, a committee official said.

Member of Provincial Parliament Frank Klees, a committee member representing the Progressive Conservative Party, is opposed to a mandate.

Klees introduced several amendments to no avail. One would have exempted U.S.-based truckers doing business in Ontario from being required to set speed limiters on their trucks at 105 km/h – or 65 mph.

“Predictably, they haven’t accepted one amendment,” Klees told Land Line. “At a time when we are challenged with economic pressures as it is, why would the government proceed with legislation that is going to hurt the Ontario economy?”

Klees said a Liberal Party majority in the Legislature and on the committee means the Liberals have the power to fast-track legislation.

News of the bill’s speedy movement through committee is not sitting well with owner-operators and others who were given short notice to prepare testimony and only 10 minutes to present their cases during a public hearing Thursday, June 5, in Toronto.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association continue to explore options for fighting the bill, taking exception to the intent of Bill 41 and the haste by the government to push it through.

“The whole proceeding was a farce because the government already had their mind made up before they went in,” Rick Craig, OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs, told Land Line.
“They completely ignored, denied and voted down any amendment no matter how rational it was.”

Ontario Transportation Minister James Bradley, a member of the Liberal Party cabinet who introduced Bill 41 in March, initially agreed then declined requests by Land Line for an interview. A Bradley spokeswoman, Nicole Lippa-Gasparro, answered Land Line’s questions by e-mail on the minister’s behalf, including one about the bill being on the fast track.

“The sooner the government implements speed limiter legislation, the sooner the province of Ontario can enjoy the environmental and safety benefits associated with this Bill,” Lippa-Gasparro stated. “As well, the ministry wants to take advantage of an opportunity to harmonize our program with Quebec, to minimize any unnecessary burden to industry.”

A few burning questions remain. Klees, the Conservative lawmaker, is among those openly questioning why speed limiters should be implemented while the trucking industry itself remains divided on the issue.

“You have people in the industry that say speed limiters are going to make highways safer and then you have those that are saying speed limiters will create safety issues,” Klees said. “All I’m seeing is a contradictory argument on this issue.”

Klees also raised the issue of police enforcement out on the highways, which Lippa-Gasparro addressed in her e-mail to Land Line.

“This is an effective enforcement tool to optimize speed compliance and allows police resources to focus on other speeders and aggressive drivers,” she said.

Member of Provincial Parliament Peter Kormos, who represents the New Democratic Party on the Ontario legislative committee, has a name for the process in which the majority government fast-tracks legislation.

“I’ve been here 20 years, and I call this a slam, bam, thank you kindly approach to passing legislation because it pays lip service only to public hearings,” Kormos told Land Line.

“My concern is that the government is hell-bent on rushing this bill through.”

Kormos also questions the need.

“We find that the evidence supporting the proposition is weak at its best whereas the evidence in opposition to the proposition to speed limiters at 105 is strong and significant,” he said.

Kormos said his party is siding with owner-operators in questioning the need to regulate truck speed through a setting in the electronic computer modules.

“If you believe in speed limiters, then every vehicle should have limiters, including Porsches and motorcycles and buses,” he said. “It’s just not fair, nor does it achieve any of the objectives the government is seeking to achieve.”

Land Line posed another question to the Ontario ministry to ask why science on speed differentials and highway safety was not being taken into account.

“The Ministry has reviewed all available research on speed differentials and is confident that the implementation of this Bill will enhance road safety and deliver environmental benefits,” Lippa-Gasparro stated. “Currently, many U.S. and Canadian carriers are using speed limiters to control fuel costs without impacting traffic flow on Ontario highways. As well, given the widespread use of speed limiters by industry today, there is already a natural speed limiter differential.”

Those who attended the legislative committee hearing June 5 or are privy to where large motor carriers stand on the issue of speed limiters say the arguments about safety and the environment come as no surprise.

The Ontario Trucking Association and its president, David Bradley, demonstrated little restraint in their attempts to quash opposing viewpoints of owner-operator groups or lawmakers.

During Thursday’s committee proceedings, Klees read aloud part of a letter he received from Bradley calling it pointless for anyone to try to amend the bill. Klees stated on the record that Bradley’s letter referred to Bill 41 as OTA’s bill and not a government bill.

“I’ve had many chastising e-mails from the proponents of this bill,” Klees told Land Line, adding that taking a position on this issue was “risky business.”

OTA first began lobbying for government-mandated speed limiters in November 2005. Earlier this week, OTA officials issued a press release to state that opposition to the bill at the committee stage would be futile.

“In the end however, it should be noted that the hearings provided few if any fresh insights into the debate over speed limiters,” the OTA president stated. “After three years of debate and discussion, meetings and hearings, all of the arguments, both pro and con, have had a thorough airing. All of the presentations essentially rehashed the old arguments one last time, and it was clear that one day of hearings was more than adequate to ensure that all sides had a chance to be heard, one last time.”

OOIDA officials and other owner-operator groups continue to charge on despite the claims being made. OOIDA officials stated at the June 5 public hearing that the Association had retained legal counsel to explore possible legal challenges.

Meanwhile, officials in other Canadian provinces, with the exception of Quebec, continue to wait on a study by Transport Canada about the possible effects of speed limiters on safety and the environment before officials decide whether to follow Ontario’s example.

The Quebec government already has a law on the books to make speed limiters mandatory, but officials said prior to the Ontario bill being introduced that they would wait for the rest of Canada before enforcing the rule.

– By David Tanner, staff writer