News From The Park

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As Christmas approaches each year, we find demands and pressures on our days and nights escalate with each passing day. Even our kids experience the same thing at their own level. As such, we learn to take it in stride as a social norm, and in some ways, while we might complain, deep down, we enjoy the traditional challenge of meeting such demands.

Speaking of trying to fit things in, for some time, I have been trying to find time to visit a good friend to catch up. So I finally made it a point to drop by for a coffee. As soon as I got there, he quickly took me into his rec room to show me some improvements he’d made at his wife’s behest. Unfortunately, his pumped-up chest and broad, beaming smile were short-lived. His wife walked in and pointed out that, while the final product was excellent and took considerable effort, ultimately, the real talent was hers in that she never wavered in her commitment to seeing the job through all delays and excuses. I had to agree that that is where the real talent lies. We all enjoyed the chuckle at my friend’s expense as the whole truth came out.

I share this story with readers because, after years of relentless pressure from the NDP, the Ford Government has finally recognized the importance of Highways 11 and 17 to Northerners. For years, the NDP tried to help the Government understand that Hwy 11 and the TransCanada are as vital to Northerners as the high volume 400 series highways are to Southern Ontarians. These highways are vital lifelines for Northern Ontarians. They bring us food, medicine, and essential products such as gasoline and fuel. We count on these roads daily to get our loved ones back and forth to work, school, medical treatment, and many other travel needs.

Burned into my memory is the day I stood in the legislature, appealing to the Government to improve winter highway maintenance standards. Burned into my memory is standing there reading out headline after headline after headline about deaths and injuries that happened on Highways 11 and 17 in recent months — many of which could almost certainly have been reduced or avoided altogether with improved clearing standards.

MPP Guy Bourgouin and the NDP, on several occasions, presented a bill called the Making Northern Ontario Highways Safer Act. Bourgouin’s bill proposed classifying the major Northern highways the same as all 400 series highways and the Queen Elizabeth Way. Each time it was presented, the bill was defeated. Defeated by the same Conservatives who previously cried foul on the Liberal Government for lack of action. When the Conservatives killed the bill, Bourgouin stated, “The Ford Conservative government has shamelessly put a price on the lives of people that tragically die and get injured on Northern Ontario highways every winter.”

As most readers now know, the Ministry of Transportation says they plan to implement improved winter maintenance standards for Highways 11 and the TransCanada, which are now classified as Class 2 highways. Currently, Class 2 highways must be cleared to bare pavement within 16 hours of the end of a storm. If the Conservatives follow through on their announced plan, they will add a new winter maintenance standard for Hwys 11 and 17, requiring those two highways to be down to bare pavement within 12 hours of the end of a storm – a reduction of 4 hours. That is significant.

Clearly, New Democrats join with Northerners, extremely pleased to see the Government finally doing the right thing. However, while this does represent a significant improvement, it does not provide the equivalent safety and service standards enjoyed in other regions of Ontario.

It is incredibly galling that Premier Ford’s Conservatives can’t seem to pat themselves on the back hard enough, congratulating themselves on such an outstanding achievement. How many times did they first turn their backs on Northerners?

When in opposition, the Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli called upon the Liberal Government of the day to improve Northern winter maintenance standards for major highways. Mr. Fedeli said that MTO should “undertake the evaluation and potential reclassification of all provincial highways to ensure adequate road maintenance and to ensure that contractors consistently maintain provincial highways to the standard that ensures continued public safety.”

But in more recent days, as a member of Premier Ford’s cabinet, Minister Vic Fedeli stated that the Government recognizes that the winter months pose significant challenges for drivers and proudly believes Ontario has some of the highest winter maintenance standards in North America.

Unfortunately, despite Mr. Fedeli’s words above, it has definitely taken far too long for the Ford Government to act. Worse is that when given the opportunity to support Bourgouin’s bill to improve Northern highway standards, Conservative cabinet members, including Vic Fedeli of Nipissing, Ross Romano of Sault Ste. Marie and Greg Rickford of Kenora-Rainy River (all Northern ridings) were conveniently absent for the bill’s second reading. Conveniently absent, I say, because had they been present, as Conservatives, they would have had to vote against a bill that would have helped to save the lives of the constituents they represent. How can a politician possibly defend such an act?

So, just as my friend’s wife took pride in her unfailing determination to encourage her husband to see their renovations through to completion, New Democrats are proud of our determination to see these potentially life-saving improvements to our major Northern highways. New Democrats will always be proud to take the voices of Northerners to Queen’s Park.

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 by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha MPP/député

Algoma-Manitoulin

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