MTO  challenged to collect millions in snowplow contractors fines

ONTARIO—While over $3.2 million in penalties were assessed to the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) winter roads contractors in the 2015-2016 Ontario winter season alone, only $693,000 has been collected by the government, a representative of the MTO told the Recorder last week.

“While the ministry does not disclose the value of financial non-conformance penalties applied to individual contractors, we can report that for the 2015-2016 winter season, $3,255,000 in penalties were assessed to MTO’s contractors across Ontario,” said Gordan Rennie, regional issues and media advisor of the MTO northeastern region, told the Recorder November 2. “At this time, the amount collected is $693,000 and the remainder is under discussion as per the contracts.”

This comes after CTV News Toronto reported on October 31 that contractors have struggled to keep Ontario’s roads cleared of snow in the last few years and have had fines imposed on them because of this. However, the private companies have been able to refuse to pay because the contract they have with the province allows them to continually launch appeals on the fines. Three of the private companies have been requested to take part in arbitration to come to a settlement with the province on the fines. However, they have rejected this offer.

Mr. Rennie told the Recorder, “Ontario’s roads are among the safest in North America. We are committed to keeping Ontario’s highways as safe as possible during winter weather conditions.”

“We have committed an additional $24 million annually for improved winter service levels,” said Mr. Rennie. “To meet the new service levels, contractors have added 158 pieces of equipment since 2013-2014, including 42 pieces in Northern Ontario.”

“As part of our contract oversight for area maintenance contracts, ministry staff review service provider compliance to contract requirements. Any non-conformances are identified and in some cases could lead to a financial consequence being issued to the contractor,” said Mr. Rennie. “A non-conformance might be waived if the circumstances that led to the non-conformance were beyond the care and the control of the contractor—for instance, a collision or congestion that prevents a plow from completing its route. In some cases, non-conformance penalties may have been reduced if the contractor committed to changes to their operations to improve performance. Contractors also have the right to challenge or dispute the penalties. Under the contracts, there is a defined process for contractors and the ministry to review outstanding financial consequences.”

Mr. Rennie explained, “we want to ensure that we are keeping our contractors accountable—this means taking a comprehensive approach to winter maintenance that is not purely penalty-based. Since the release of our Winter Maintenance Action Plan, we have already seen significant improvements from our contractors and we expect the same this season.”

“At this time, the amount collected is $693,000 and the remainder is under discussion as per the contracts,” added Mr. Rennie.