Ontario official in hot water, but how does it affect truckers?

| 1/6/2006

As the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario prepares a report on a proposal for mandatory speed limiters on all trucks in the Canadian province, the transportation minister himself has found himself in hot water over a separate issue.

Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar’s department has been pooling opinions and data since December 2005 on an Ontario Trucking Association proposal for mandatory engine governors on trucks to be set at 105 kilometers per hour, the equivalent of 65 mph.

However, as the information and opinions on speed limiters came forward in late 2005, a separate sector of the government was finalizing a report on a possible violation of the Member’s Integrity Act in regards to Takhar’s personal business.

The Integrity Act debate is no longer about whether Ontario ’s minister of transportation violated the rules. The debate is about what happens next.

With Takhar under fire, the Ontario ministry’s report on speed limiters – reportedly to be released by the end of January – could take on residual effects. There has been no official word from MTO about the report, except that one is coming together.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty – which is comparable to the governor’s post on the state level – has said he will not fire Takhar, despite charges by the Integrity Commission that are similar to conflict of interest.

The commission recently concluded a seven-month investigation, claiming Takhar did not separate far enough from his former business, Chalmers Group, when he was elected to the provincial legislature and received McGuinty’s appointment to the cabinet in October 2003.

That’s something McGuinty, provincial leader of the Liberal Party, and his political opponents in Canada ’s other two major parties have to sort out. Several McGuinty opponents are calling for Takhar’s job.

The investigation stemmed from Takhar’s relationship with his former business, Chalmers Group, a manufacturer of off-highway suspension, where he was president and CEO until the 2003 election.

Commissioners concluded that Takhar continued to visit and consult with his former business after being elected to office. The Integrity Act prohibits such a close management connection. Takhar’s wife is the current CEO at Chalmers Group.

Takhar, the commission concluded, used Chalmers CFO Joseph Jeyanayagam as his 2003 campaign treasurer, which wouldn’t have been a big deal if he had used proper methods for disclosing the relationship, the Toronto Star reported.

Ontario politicians and Canadian newspapers fueled the debate.

The Integrity Commission does not have the authority of penalty. That is up to the premier. But McGuinty brushed it off as nothing more than “a lack of judgment” by Takhar, the Star reported.

Takhar’s conflict issue and McGuinty’s political pressure have to run their course. In the meantime, other areas under the Ontario ministry’s jurisdiction, including the speed-limiter issue for truckers, will have to run their own course.

The Ontario Trucking Association proposed mandatory speed limiters last summer and made a formal proposal to MTO in November of 2005. It’s not only about trucks operating in Ontario , but it has a wider scope that includes a call for speed limiters in all of North America .

The proposal gained momentum but has been highly scrutinized by owner-operator associations including OOIDA and the Owner-Operators’ Business Association of Canada.

So for now, all eyes are on MTO and how the government will handle these situations.

– By David Tanner, staff writer