February 1, 2019
By Derek Clouthier, RED DEER, Alta. – News that Canada’s transportation ministers will implement a national standard for entry level driver training (MELT) is being heralded as a step forward from one woman calling for stricter regulations for Class 1 drivers.
Pattie Fair lost her husband in 2017 after a head-on collision between two semi-trucks. Fair’s husband was traveling to Airdrie, Alta., to pick up a load of hay. Emerging from one of the tunnels on the Trans-Canada Highway between Revelstoke and Golden, B.C., another truck entered his lane and collided head on, killing Fair’s husband, Stephen Babij.
“I decided that I was going to try and make a difference and make our roads safer, because this happens all the time,” Fair said of her efforts following the accident. “Then the Humboldt tragedy happened, and my heart broke for those folks.”
It had been about a year after losing her husband that the Humboldt collision occurred. It was then that Fair decided to launch a petition calling for more stringent government regulations for commercial driver training.
She visited with several industry organizations, gathered information, and educated herself on the issues surrounding commercial driver training.
Fair’s petition launched Jan. 14, and after 11 days being active, it was the sixth most signed petition out of all 50 registered in Canada.
“It’s definitely something that Canada is supporting and Canada wants,” said Fair. “I’ve received a lot of support from the industry, which really surprised me. Drivers themselves want this.”
As of Jan. 28, Fair’s petition had 3,102 signatures.
The petition calls for regulation to the Class 1 driver’s licensing process, funding to be available to those looking to acquire their Class 1 licence, a graduated licensing system, and for information to be collected on licensing schools and commercial drivers.
Though she was pleased to hear the news about a federal MELT program, Fair said much more needs to be done.
“To be honest with you, I was a little disappointed on Monday,” Fair said on learning of the federal MELT program. “That was kind of my first reaction, that all we’re going to do is a national standard, but then I thought that we have to stay positive, we have to pull together, and this is a starting point.
“The MELT program is only one of the components. I definitely would like to see this be a graduated licence. I don’t care how much classroom training you have, receiving a licence and then going out and pulling 63,000 kg, it needs to be a graduated licence.”
Echoing sentiments from many in the trucking industry, Fair also wants to see the commercial driver profession be recognized as a skilled trade. She said professions like welders, mechanics, and even hair stylists are considered skilled trades, and are therefore eligible for student loan funding.
“I’ve asked politicians, ‘Are you more concerned about a bad haircut or the safety of our roads?’” said Fair. “Let’s get things in perspective. How many people are killed by a hair stylist? And we regulate them? If anyone should be regulated and considered a skilled trade it should be commercial Class 1 licence holders.”
Fair said it is disheartening a tragedy like Humboldt has to happen for governments to make any headway on a MELT program, but maintains a positive outlook.
“I think we all need to pull together at this time and make it happen,” she said. “I’m hopeful that the federal minister is going to support this more than just a national standard for entry level training. I’m hopeful it doesn’t stop there. We shouldn’t have to have tragedies like (Humboldt) to motivate people and get attention. This is happening daily…we live in Canada and have the resources to ensure this doesn’t happen…let’s use them.”
Over the past few months, Alberta and Saskatchewan had announced their own respective MELT programs, both intended for implementation this spring.
Chris Nash, president of the Alberta Motor Transport Association, said Alberta Transportation told the association its provincial program would meet the National Occupational Standards (NOS), so the federal government’s announcement “should have little impact on Alberta’s MELT program.”
The same is true for Saskatchewan’s MELT program. Susan Ewart, executive director of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association, said she was working to determine what if any impact a federal program would have. Saskatchewan’s program also follows NOS for truck driver training.
Further east, Terry Shaw, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, said they are looking at the national MELT announcement as a call to action.
“We are simply looking at this as a call to all provinces that may not have publicly stated support for MELT or haven’t stated a timeline for MELT implementation that they need to adjust their positions,” said Shaw. “With that understanding, we are simply going to continue our work toward MELT in Manitoba.”
Dave Earle, president and CEO of the B.C. Trucking Association, said though his province has not yet committed to the timing of MELT, a program is coming that will align with NOS.
“We’re anticipating being involved throughout the process, but we won’t know until that is kicked off,” he said.
Fair said she appreciates the effort provinces have put in to implement individual MELT programs, but feels it should be a regulation that comes from the federal level.
“I just don’t see it being very effective,” she said of provincial MELT programs. “We need to have more of a federal program that covers all of the terrains across Canada. Saskatchewan and B.C. are two different worlds.”
To view Fair’s petition, visit https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-2005.