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Truckers hoping to drive through change in Ontario’s north

Posted: May 22, 2018 by Elizabeth Bate

Shawn Poirier puts out signs for the Ontario general election.

TIMMINS, Ont. – The Ontario general election is well underway and getting a lot of air time, but no one would fault you if you hadn’t heard of the Northern Ontario Party (NOP), or its two truck-driving candidates.

The party, as its name would suggest, is only located in northern Ontario and prides itself on having no whip or central campaign to force candidates to stay on a single message.

That riding-first policy was part of what attracted Shawn Poirier and Gary Schaap to the smaller party. The two drivers each say the lack of party line to toe mean they get to focus on issues that matter to them and their potential constituents – concerns that are shared by those in the trucking industry.

While the party will never get enough votes to form a Government in Toronto – they aren’t even running enough candidates for that to be a possibility – being the party in charge isn’t the point. The candidates say by focusing on a few northern-specific issues, and being open to working with whomever is in power, there’s a greater chance to get things done.

Taking five weeks off from Grant’s Transport, where he hauls wood chips to canvass his riding of Timiskaming—Cochrane, Shawn Poirier says being a driver gives him a unique perspective that will help him at Queen’s Park.

“Basically, as a truck driver, you touch every job and domain in northern Ontario.”

Poirier says the introduction of electronic logging devices has highlighted the lack of available, safe truck parking.

While the problem is one that has long been an issue for the safety of drivers and the bottom line of fleets, Poirier says the lack of infrastructure – good roads and rest stops, among other things – are driving business out of the north.

“It’s a huge problem for us in northern Ontario. Communities shrinking until they become a small village or a subdivision.”

Repairing roads, paving commercial roads, and bringing back passenger rail are important to keeping northern residents connected to crucial services like hospitals, says Poirier.

Gary Schaap (right) is running for the Northern Ontario Party in Timmins.

Gary Schaap, the NOP candidate for Timmins, agrees with Poirier’s assessment of the parking situation.

Schaap hasn’t been able to take the time off from his job at Manitoulin Transport where he is a less-than-truckload (LTL) driver four days a week, but he makes time to speak to voters at the door whenever he’s not on the road.

“My goal is to get more pull-offs for truckers so they can pull-off to rest and more places [for drivers] to use the washroom.”

Schaap says the lack of rest stops for northern drivers is impacting the health of the environment. As he makes his twice-weekly run from New Liskeard to Thunder Bay, he sees jugs littering the side of the highway because there aren’t many places for drivers to use a restroom.

Waste on the side of the road isn’t the only thing the 13-year road veteran would do to help improve the environment. His wish list includes working with the government to switch to beet juice for de-icing, to protect animals and groundwater from the effects of salt.

For both candidates, a connection to the north means giving voters a voice where decisions are made.

“They [residents] say they have a politician show up every four years and then leave, and I want to change that,” says Poirier. “It’s going to be a tight race. Very tight.”

Seventeen years of trucking experience would see him making changes to driving regulations as well – moving the clock backwards on regulations surrounding rest and break periods.

“We have to fix the logbooks more so they’re more flexible. When you start hitting traffic or snowplows, your days get longer real quick,” he said. “We have to being back regulations we used to have. If you stop for 15 minutes, that should still count. That’s a break.”

Voters go to the polls on June 7.

 

This story has been updated from an earlier version.

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