Less than a week after Alberta’s UCP government confirmed that some truck drivers would be permanently exempt from new training safety standards, the Alberta NDP was joined by family members of the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash urging the government to reverse that decision.
“The government certainly isn’t listening to the folks who are gathered here with me today,“ NDP Leader Rachel Notley said of the family members lined up behind her.
The new training standards — which also apply to school bus drivers — were put in place by the then NDP government after 16 people died and 13 others were injured when the hockey team’s bus was hit by a trucker hauling peat moss on April 6, 2018.
Many of those killed were from Alberta.
At the time, Notley said the new regulations proposed by the NDP government were supported by both sides of the Alberta Legislature.
“I’m very sorry for these people here that this has become a fight all over again.”
According to Notley, UCP changes would not require drivers who obtained their license between the announcement of the enhanced Mandatory Entry Level Training — or MELT program — in October 2018 and its implementation in March 2019 to complete the new skills test. Notley estimates that includes 6,800 drivers.
“My son Jaxon Joseph should be here today,” Chris Joseph said through tears. “The other 15 angels should be here today. The 13 that are injured shouldn’t have to deal with what they’re going through and the countless number of families that have gone through this, shouldn’t have to go through this.
The crash — found to have been caused by a driver with little experience and not enough training — prompted a number of Canadian provinces to introduce plans to launch MELT programs.
Before the UCP changes were made, drivers who acquired their licence between Oct. 11, 2018, and February 2019 had to take a MELT test to keep their licence. That will no longer be the case if those drivers have clean driving records.
Logan Boulet was one of the players killed in the crash. His father Toby is worried about the exceptions because the driver who caused the crash would have had a clean driving record at the time of the crash.
Toby Boulet couldn’t be at the media conference on Wednesday, but sent a statement to be read on his behalf by MLA Shannon Phillips.
“I am continually shocked that some in Canadian society are placing the value of a truck full of grain over my son’s life or any other life,” the statement read.
MELT requires new Class 1 drivers to complete more than 100 hours of driver training, often at the driver’s expense.
Premier Jason Kenney said he has heard from a number of trucking companies who said the new training regulations will be too expensive.
For many of the families gathered on Wednesday, the cost shouldn’t be an issue.
“Every time we put new drivers on the road with potentially dangerous loads, we’re flipping the coin for safety and we need to be better,” Shauna Nordstrom, Logan Hunter’s mother, said.
“We cannot undo the Humboldt bus tragedy, but we can work together to prevent another one from happening,” Notley said.
The families met with Transportation Minister Ric McIver on Wednesday afternoon.
“They expressed that they were not pleased with the exemptions. So we’re going to think about that,” McIver told reporters after the meeting. “We haven’t made a decision to do anything different yet, but I told them we would think about that and we will.
“Safety is our top priority in transportation. It always has and it always will be. That hasn’t changed and it won’t change now.”
McIver said he has tremendous respect for the Broncos families.
“They are good people, they care and all they want is a safer world for people who are the road,” he said.
“I agree with them on that. I hope to get advice from them in the future on how to do that.”
– With files from Phil Heidenreich, Emily Olsen and Heather Yourex-West, Global News and The Canadian Press