TORONTO - Ontario's highways are not being cleared of snow as fast as they should be, leading to sometimes fatal consequences, the opposition parties charged Tuesday.
There are more highway closures and accidents in winter than ever before because the private contractors who clear the snow are not meeting standards set by the Ministry of Transportation, said Timmins-James Bay New Democrat Gilles Bisson.
"What's worse, we privatized the patrolling of the people who do the dispatching as to when you're going to put down salt and when you're going to plow," said Bisson.
"So the contractors are responsible for themselves to do the patrolling, something that the ministry quite frankly should be doing."
Highway 11 near North Bay looked more like an ice road in the far north than a major four-lane corridor after one recent storm, said Progressive Conservative Vic Fedeli.
"In my discussions with MTO and the contractor, I illustrated my personal experience on driving those roads, that they cannot possibly be meeting the standards set by MTO," said Fedeli.
"You simply have far too much snow and black ice on the highways, and we've asked them to explain the methodology in getting rid of the ice."
The Tories, who started the contracting out of snow plowing services when they were last in government, say having private operators isn't the problem.
"Whether it's a contractor or ministry staff that are plowing the roads or not, it's whether they're meeting the standards," said Fedeli.
"And I would say by all of the photographs and my personal experience driving on the highways, that those standards cannot possibly be met."
Transportation Minister Glen Murray insisted the province's standards for clearing snow off highways are being met, and blamed climate change for making the problem more difficult to deal with.
"We maintain standards for any contractors who are delivering snow plowing services, and those standards haven’t changed and they've been maintained," said Murray.
"We are going through a period of climate change and are getting very aggressive and intermittent snow, so the challenges are certainly greater than they were before."
Mayors and reeves from rural and northern Ontario didn't raise the issue of snow plowing when they met with Murray at their convention in Toronto this week, the minister told reporters.
"I'm spending all my time this week meeting with rural municipalities from Kenora to Cornwall, and the issue of snow removal being particularly worse or better this year has not come up," said Murray.
"Those contracts have penalties in them if contracts are not met."
The opposition complaints about poor plowing of highways came as Environment Canada issued a special weather bulletin about a mix of rain, freezing rain and up to 20 centimetres of snow expected across southern Ontario, from Windsor to Cornwall.
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