REGINA – The Saskatchewan government is promising to make highway intersections safer following the deadly bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team.
The government made the pledge Wednesday in the throne speech that opened a new session of the legislature. Plans for the fall sitting include bolstering commercial driver training and bringing in a strategy to reduce collisions at highway crossings.
Premier Scott Moe said the training predates the Broncos crash in April, but has been a focus ever since.
“We will be looking to move forward with a new course, a new training standards and parameters in the very near future,” Moe said.
The Broncos were on their way to a junior hockey playoff game when their team bus and a tractor-trailer collided at a rural intersection. Sixteen people died and another 13 were injured.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
The government says a preliminary review of more than 900 intersections has been done and $700,000 is to be spent to clear sight lines and improve safety.
“Saskatchewan has been working closely with other western provinces to improve commercial driver training and ensure consistent standards between provinces,” the government said in the throne speech read by Lt.-Gov. Tom Molloy.
The province has increased the budget for safety initiatives such as turning lanes, lighting, guardrails and rumble strips and is committing to spend more in next year’s budget.
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the government has a poor record when it comes to driver training and highway safety.
“There were a number of recommendations … on how to improve safety at intersections by using roundabouts and they chose not to follow those recommendations,” Meili said.
Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, welcomed the increased focus on highway safety and hopes it will prevent another bus accident.
“If there’s a way to improve the sighting of the marking of the crossings in rural Saskatchewan, we’d like to be part of the consultations to probably help with that as well,” Orb said.
The government said it still plans to balance the budget by next year after increasing the provincial sales tax earlier this year. But Moe said that isn’t going to be easy.
“There are still some difficult decisions that will have to be made this coming year, but we remain committed to balancing that budget despite some of the economic headwinds that we may be heading into.”
Saskatchewan plans to cut its deficit this year to $365 million, down from $595 million last year.
The government said it also aims to apologize to those affected by the ’60s Scoop in which about 20,000 Indigenous children were seized from their birth families and relocated to non-Indigenous homes from the 1950s to the late 1980s.
Alberta and Manitoba have already apologized for the apprehensions which stripped the children of their language, traditions and family ties.
The province said it’s also following through on a promise in the spring to introduce legislation to expand parental leave to 63 from 37 weeks and to add an additional week of maternity leave.
Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, pointed out there wasn’t anything new for teachers in the speech. He said there’s a growing frustration among teachers that there has been no increase in funding.
Maze said he was looking for some action from the government.
“I know it’s not a budget, but at the same point, it would have been nice to see some sort of commitment to our schools and our classrooms and unfortunately we didn’t see it.”