When I was just a young lad back home, there was a lovely lady who lived down the street from my family. She was always bright and cheerful. My brothers and I used to say she was old, but looking back, she was likely younger than I am now. But, as they say, it is all in the eye of the beholder.
I was thinking of her the other evening when I was out for a walk to clear my mind after a tough day in the Legislature. As I walked briskly along, I was trying to decide whether or not I was enjoying the onset of the winter season. It was then that something our kindly neighbour said years ago came to mind. I remembered one day when my Mom asked her in passing how she liked the weather. Our neighbour smiled and said, “Well, since I can’t do anything about the weather, I decided a long time ago that I may as well try to find something good with whatever we get. That way, my day goes better, and the time passes faster.”
There is one thing Northerners know is that winter comes every year, like it or not. Personally, I choose to make the most of it and enjoy the frozen lakes, icy columns forming on highway rock cuts, sledding and watching kids having fun making snow angels, snow forts and snowmen.
As much as most Northerners love the winter months in general, we also know that we have to be prepared and use common sense. So while we can love it, we also know enough to give winter the respect it deserves. Long-time Northerners know that, first and foremost, we have to use common sense when set out travelling on our highways. Since I was first elected a decade ago, winter highway maintenance is still one of the most common issues my Northern NDP colleagues have to deal with year after year.
After dealing with Ontario winter highways for over a hundred years, you’d think that the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) would have what keeping our roads clear and safe down to a science. But, unfortunately, such is not the case.
Days ago, NDP MPP John Vanthof (Timiskaming-Cochrane) raised the issue of winter highway maintenance on behalf of all Northern NDP MPPs. In the House, John blasted the Ford Conservatives for failing to keep Northerners safe on our highways. He pointed out that just recently, portions of Highways 11 and 17 were shut down for over 24 hours during Northern Ontario’s first snowfall. The winter accident and death toll have officially started.
John Told the Premier and Transportation Minister what it is like to travel on Northern highways. “It’s absolutely bone-chilling terrifying to be on a northern highway that hasn’t been cleared. In Northern Ontario, there are no places to park, no places to stop, and you’ve already been on the road for several hours when you find out the road is closed.”
Families in Northern communities depend on having safe highways to travel to school, work and medical appointments. Travelling is a fact of life for us. Northerners need and deserve to know that the roads they need to travel on will be clear and safe this winter. All of us want our loved ones back home safely each day.
The Ford government has had over three years to make our highways safe. The NDP presented the Conservatives with a viable plan that would vastly improve winter travel on Highways 11 & 17. Those two highways are our transportation lifeline because they also bring us food, medicine, gas, and many other essentials. Those two highways are two of our main travel routes, just like all of the 400 series in Southern Ontario. Contractors are required to have bare pavement on class 1 highways within 8 hours of the end of a winter storm. Highways 11 & 17 are class 2 highways and don’t have to show bare pavement for 16 hours from the storm’s end.
For these reasons, New Democrats proposed legislation that would upgrade the two highways to be class-1 for winter maintenance equal to the 400 series. But unfortunately, the Ford Conservatives would have none of it and voted solidly against the bill. They outright ignored their own MTO winter maintenance statistics as well as statistics from the OPP. The statistics showed that deaths involving commercial vehicles on Hwys 11 &17 have risen by 40 percent. The government’s callous response to Northern Ontarians was that those roads are ‘good enough.’
My office received complaints about a troubling winter storm response situation in Dubreuville recently. Weather conditions made the closure of Hwy 17 necessary, which is at times unavoidable. However, there was a definite breakdown in communications. The municipality and residents of Dubreuilville were not notified of the closure. Community members left town via Hwy 519 and were taken aback that 17 had been closed. This put travellers unnecessarily at risk.
As I said, here in the North, our highways are our lifelines. We don’t have multiple alternate routes that we can take to get around. Contractual requirements, procedures, regulations and saving a buck all have their place when it comes to keeping our roads clear and safe in winter. But above everything else, doing what is necessary to keep our transportation lifelines open and ensuring all travellers get to the destination safely day in and day out trumps everything.
Northern Ontarians need and deserve better winter maintenance service than we have had to tolerate for years.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député