CALGARY. A day after some families affected by the Humboldt Broncos bus crash spoke out against potential changes to Alberta truck training regulations, the province’s transportation minister is reassuring them no decision has been made.
Ric McIver said a review is underway but it’s still ‘too early’ in the process to have even started consultations.
"Safety is our top priority," McIver told CTV News. "It always has been and let me also say I have tremendous regard and concern for the feelings of the families that were involved in the Humboldt tragedy and wouldn’t want to do anything to make them think we don’t care about safety.
"If they had that impression," he added, "that is unfortunate."
In March, Mandatory Entry-level Training (MELT) was put in place by the previous NDP government, to enhance safety in the commercial trucking industry in light of the Humboldt Broncos April, 2018 bus crash that killed 16 people and injured 13.
The Calgary driver’s inexperience and training were cited as contributing factors in the collision. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu pleaded guilty to 29 counts of dangerous driving and was sentenced to 8 years in prison.
McIver says he spoke on the phone Wednesday with Toby Boulet, whose son Logan was killed in the collision between the team bus and a semi-truck in Saskatchewan. Boulet had expressed frustration on Twitter upon finding out a review of the newly implemented regulations was being done.
"I can't see a load of grain being worth the same value as my son's life," Boulet said, in an interview with CTV News. "Or any son's life, or any daughter's life or anybody, anywhere.
Boulet thinks everyone should have to follow the same regulations.
"You can't convince me anyway, anyhow that they should be treated differently and modified licensing," Boulet said.
McIver described the conversation ‘positive’ , ‘respectful’ and ‘frank’ but wouldn’t give details about what was said.
He also acknowledged that members of the agricultural community have expressed the opinion that changes in training regulations will be a ‘hardship’.
The Alberta Federation of Agriculture submitted a proposal to the government to have an ‘F1 Driver Classificaiton’ in Alberta. A copy of the letter obtained by CTV suggests the ‘F1 Classification’ would be ‘geared to farm drivers transporting goods from farm to field and back again’.
"As Alberta’s largest producer -funded general farm organization, the Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) fully supports and acknowledges that safety training is important for all industries, including agriculture.
"However," it added, "MELT training in its current form presents a number of challenges for producers looking to hire part-time seasonal drivers who strictly transport grain from farm to field," stated the proposal, which listed training length and price as some of the challenges.
There’s no word on when the consultation process will be complete, but the McIver's office emailed a statement addressing the situation of MELT deadlines Tuesday.
"The previous government first extended the deadline for farmers, farm workers, and school bus drivers to comply with MELT certification on February 27, 2019," said Brooklyn Elhard, the press secretary for the Ministry of Transportation.
"Under that extension, farmers and farm workers were given until November 30, 2019 to take the pre-MELT knowledge and road tests to get a Class 1 driver’s licence, and school bus drivers had until July 31, 2019 to:
o take the pre-MELT knowledge and road tests to get a Class 2 driver’s licence
o get their S-endorsement training (additional safety training for school bus drivers)
"Because of the heavy backlog and lengthy wait times to take a driver exam caused by nationalization of the driver examination system, farmers and school boards faced a critical shortage of drivers just prior to the busy harvest and back to school seasons.
"Therefore, on June 28, 2019, our government extended the deadlines by an additional year."
Farmers and farm workers now have until November 30, 2020 to take the pre-MELT knowledge and road tests to get a Class 1 driver's license.
School bus drivers have until July 31, 2020 to take the pre-MELT knowlege and road tests to get a Class 2 driver's license, and get their S-endorsement training (additional safety training for school bus drivers).