“We are asking Ontario to admit there is a problem, and to do something about it” says author of Highway 11/17 petition
Richard Deschamps is working with a team of people to make Highway 11/17 a safer road: “We are not going away,” he told Road Warrior News. Photo: Richard Deschamps
“My father was a trucker, and my uncle, too,” says Richard Deschamps.
“We grew up next to Highway 17; as kids, we would wait by the highway for transport trucks to drive by, so we could wave at them. They always blew their horn for us, of course,” he recalls fondly.
“Growing up, I don’t remember a time when I ever wanted to be anything else but a truck driver…but now, I am ashamed of Ontario, ashamed of the province I grew up in, to let Highway 11/17 become what it is now.”
In December 2021, a former co-worker of Deschamps’ was in a devastating accident near Thunder Bay: “He was travelling with his wife; they were involved in a head-on collision. The driver died, and his wife is still in hospital,” he sighs sadly. “I live in Quebec now, but I will always be an ‘Ontario boy.’ How can Ontario let this happen?”
He identifies two major issues that need to be corrected: truck driver training programs in which drivers are licensed in southern Ontario, and then allowed to drive in northern Ontario where they are completely unfamiliar with winter road conditions; and the physical maintenance and infrastructure of the highway.
“Basically, we are asking Ontario to admit there is a problem, and to do something about it,” he explains.
Deschamps, working with two of his friends, created a stir when he launched a petition in December entitled, “Working Together for a Better and Safer Highway.” The petition, on change.org, has received more than 12,000 signatures toward its 15,000 signature goal.
“Even OPP members have signed our petition,” Deschamps notes. “They can’t believe how often they get called out to these accidents: it’s every day. Every day.”
Deschamps’ group also supports a Facebook page entitled “Highway 11/17 Kills People,” on which drivers, their family members and people who live along the highways post photos and comments about the condition of the highways, recent accidents and appeals to government to do something about it.
“I know there are experienced, life-time drivers who are refusing to drive Highway 11/17,” Deschamps says with obvious disappointment. “So, you know what that means? You will have even more, even more inexperienced drivers running that road.”
When asked if the Ontario government would be responding to Deschamps’ petition, MTO sent this response:
“On July 1, 2017, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce Entry-Level Training (ELT) for new commercial Class A truck drivers to improve road safety. Class A applicants are now required to complete ELT, through an approved training provider, prior to attempting their Class A road test. ELT includes a minimum of 103.5 hours of instruction and covers the entry-level knowledge and skills needed to safely operate a large truck on Ontario’s roads. The training explains actions required for changing weather conditions including, winter and night driving and changing road surfaces,” Lee Alderson, Senior Issues Advisor at Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation told Road Warrior News in an email.
“As part of the ministry’s commitment to improve road safety, we regularly review our policies and practices to see if they are in keeping with current research findings and best practices worldwide.”
With regard to infrastructure improvements, in its Draft Transportation Plan for Northern Ontario, Ontario lists “advancing highway widening projects including sections of Highway 69, Highway 11/17 and Highway 17” as its first priority.
“We recognize that the North has unique transportation challenges,” says Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney in the plan’s message, listing “vast distances between communities, winter storms and the natural landscape” as three of the top issues.
Opposition MPPs including NDP member John Vanthorf from Timiskaming-Cochrane and Ontario Party member Rick Nicholls from Chatham-Kent-Leamington have both expressed support for Deschamps’ petition and the goals of his campaign.