With growing calls for clarity on the matter from parents of victims in the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy, Alberta’s transportation minister confirmed Thursday that some truck drivers will be permanently exempt from new training standards announced in the wake of the Saskatchewan crash that killed 16 people.
“A comparatively small number of individuals passed their Class 1 or 2 driver’s licence before the MELT (mandatory entry-level training) requirement came into effect (but after the intention of MELT was announced),” Transportation Minister Ric McIver said in an emailed statement. “These drivers played by the rules as they stood at the time. To be clear, MELT training was not even available for these select drivers at the time they passed their exam.”
McIver said those drivers are being treated the same as the “170,000 Class 1 or 2 drivers that the previous NDP government grandfathered.”
“Officials are reviewing driving records of those select individuals,” McIver said. “Drivers without a clean driving record will need to retest under the new MELT road and knowledge test.
Before the UCP changes were made, drivers who acquired their licence between Oct. 11, 2018 and February 2019 had to take an enhanced MELT test to keep their licence. That will no longer be the case if those drivers have a clean driving records.
“Regarding farm workers and school bus drivers, the NDP government first issued an extension, which the current government then extended to accommodate the start of the school year and harvest. The government will be consulting with key stakeholders on this matter, and safety will remain paramount.”
The issue of driver training came into the spotlight after the Humboldt Broncos hockey team’s bus collided with a semi-truck in Saskatchewan in April 2018. Many of those killed were from Alberta.
The crash, which was found to have been caused by an inexperienced and undertrained semi-truck driver, prompted a number of Canadian provinces to introduce plans to launch MELT programs.
MELT requires new Class 1 drivers to complete more than 100 hours of driver training, often at the driver’s expense.
Toby Boulet’s son Logan was killed in the Broncos bus crash. He has met with McIver about the exemptions and doesn’t believe the minister gave him an accurate picture of what is happening with the training.
“He only told me what I wanted to hear,” Boulet told Global News on Thursday. “I was led to believe that the consultation process was still in place, it was still going on. Well, it’s obvious many parts of that consultation process have been decided.
“There’s no middle ground on safety,” Boulet added. “You can’t have loopholes on driver safety and exemptions for Class 1 drivers.
“The middle ground is a compromise on how much it costs.”
Drivers and their employers may find the new training requirements expensive, but Boulet said he believes the government could address that through tax subsidies.
Boulet also said he’s concerned to hear that clean driving records are a factor in who’s eligible for a training exemption, because the driver who killed his son also had a clean driving record at the time.
On Wednesday, McIver was pressed to answer questions about the government’s position on MELT during question period at the legislature and by reporters after.
When a reporter asked if the government was easing plans to enforce MELT, McIver said “anyone driving a semi-truck is going to have to have MELT requirements in the future as they come forward.”
“The United States has required that Canadian truck drivers that go into the U.S. as of February next year are required to have a new qualification called MELT, and we’re getting ready to meet that requirement,” he said to reporters Wednesday. “There is in the neighbourhood of 170,000 drivers with Class 1 and 2 licences that are going up and down the road every day and my understanding is they won’t have to retest or take an additional test for the U.S. It’s new drivers that it will affect.”
Earlier on Wednesday, NDP MLA Rod Loyola said he believes the UCP is watering down plans to enhance driver training announced by the NDP government and that McIver should answer to families of the Broncos crash victims.
“Let me express my condolences to the victims of the Humboldt tragedy and then let me correct the record,” McIver said in the House. “The honourable member is wrong in what he just said.
“I would say to the families involved with the Humboldt tragedy, our government’s record will be better than the previous government…. We’re going to work hard at it… The new tougher MELT standards will be put in place, we have been busy hiring the trainers and examiners so that we can do that, but they (NDP) left us in a heck of a hole…. But we’re going to dig out, out of respect to all Albertans, but especially to the victims of of the Humboldt tragedy, whether they’re from Alberta or another place, we will get it done. The previous government did not.”
On Thursday, Loyola questioned McIver about the training standards in question period again and McIver again blamed the NDP for making it difficult to implement new training standards because they deprivatized the driver examination industry which McIver said resulted in a shortage of driver examiners.
Loyola accused McIver of trying to help trucking companies save money by providing exemptions. McIver responded by saying “MELT is here to stay” and that he had spoken to Boulet again earlier in the day to tell him what the government was doing.
–With files from Global News’ Emily Olsen and Heather Yourex-West