The GNWT held a public meeting in Hay River on Jan. 23 to gather feedback on proposed mandatory entry-level training for new Class 1 and Class 2 drivers.
Steve Loutitt, the director of compliance and licensing and registrar of motor vehicles with the Department of Infrastructure, explained that a move towards such training was prompted in a number of Canadian jurisdictions by last year’s tragic collision between a transport truck and a bus carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team in Saskatchewan.
“Ontario is the only jurisdiction that had entry-level training for truck drivers prior to the Humboldt tragedy,” he said. “Since then, Alberta and Saskatchewan have both announced that they’re coming out with mandatory training programs and most jurisdictions like ours are doing the exact same thing.”
Loutitt said the government wants to make sure any change would increase safety and won’t create hurdles for Northerners.
“We’re very cognizant of the fact that we don’t want to create barriers for employment for people in the North,” he said, adding the government hasn’t made any decisions.
There was support for more training, but also concern about effects on employment among the half-dozen people at the Hay River meeting, especially after it was noted that 103 hours of training in Ontario cost $7,000.
The cost of training or the number of hours in the NWT have not been estimated.
Gail Marshall, the Hay River branch manager with Bassett Petroleum, noted the company already offers lots of training for its drivers, and would welcome mandatory entry-level training.
“We want to be safe,” she said. “I don’t want to have to go to somebody’s home because there’s been a tragedy. So we do want to be as safe as possible. And if this will help us to be safer, we’re all for it.”
However, Marshall also noted extra training costs would affect the company’s freight rates in an already very competitive market, and might make it even more difficult to find drivers.
Loutitt explained mandatory entry-level training would most likely not apply to drivers already holding Class 1 or Class 2 licences.
“Current Class 1 and 2 drivers in Ontario are exempt from the course,” he said. “We’ll be looking at something similar to that, although those decisions have not been made.”
Jerry Wald, chair of the School of Trades, Apprenticeship and Industrial Training at Aurora College in Fort Smith, cautioned that mandatory entry-level training might be misinterpreted by new truck drivers.
“They’re going to be under a false idea that, ‘Got my Class 1 now and we’re good to go,'” he said.
Instead, Wald said entry-level mandatory training should be just the beginning of more extensive training with an employer.
Plus, he said truck driving should become an apprenticeship program like many other trades.
Another suggestion at the meeting was for some sort of graduated licence for new truck drivers and bus drivers.
A report on the findings of consultations in Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Simpson and Yellowknife should be completed by the end of February.
Loutitt said legislation probably would not be implemented until the end of 2020 or early 2021 to allow industry a chance to adjust.