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‘These are loaded weapons’: Documents show mandatory semi training would save lives

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Scott Thomas knows what it’s like to lose a child on Saskatchewan highways — his son, Evan, was killed in the April 6 Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

What Thomas doesn’t understand is why the provincial government still allows new semi drivers to hit the road with no training.

Seven months after the crash, training remains optional despite the government’s own internal documents saying more people will die until it becomes mandatory.

“These are loaded weapons…ticking time bombs,” Thomas said after reviewing the documents.

“They’re putting their heads in the sand. I don’t understand why.”

CBC News obtained the internal emails and memos through a Freedom of Information request. They cover communications among Saskatchewan Government Insurance senior managers in the weeks following the Humboldt crash. CBC News shared the documents with Thomas and others.

A memorial made of hockey sticks, crosses and Canadian flags is seen at the crash site of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team near Tisdale, Sask. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The months of inaction are confusing, hypocritical and shameful, say Thomas, driving instructors, and even an employee within SGI’s driver safety division.

“Open your eyes, smell the coffee and see what’s going on around you because there is more and more people dying on these highways,” said Swift Current veteran driving instructor Reg Lewis.

The government could make an announcement as early as next week about semi driver training, SGI auto fund chief operating officer Penny McCune said in an interview Monday. She declined to say whether training will be made mandatory.

“Definitely, it’s an option we’re exploring,” McCune said.

Calls to improve road safety after bus crash

The Broncos tragedy spurred a global outpouring of support for the small Prairie city, the team, and the families of those killed and injured. Hundreds placed flowers, stuffed animals and messages at the crash site. Memorial services were broadcast on national television. And donors from 80 countries pledged more than $15 million to families through an online campaign.

At the same time, there were calls to improve road safety. Many demanded the Saskatchewan government make training mandatory for semi drivers. New drivers are required to take a written and road exam, but hundreds have passed it and hit the roads with no training.

Mandatory training would save lives, advocates said.

Senior SGI officials appeared to agree, at least privately.

In an email chain April 18, SGI’s director of driver development and safety Shay Shpak asks her boss, SGI vice-president Kwei Quaye, if he still wants to see a report on mandatory training.

“I captured some thoughts (pros and cons) based on our last conversation,” Shpak wrote.

On SGI letterhead, a two-page summary headlined “Commercial Truck Training – Optional or Mandatory” is shared.

Under the mandatory category, several benefits are listed. Mandatory training would increase public confidence in the industry, make Saskatchewan drivers more employable in other provinces, and be easier to implement than a complicated incentive program. Saskatchewan could also borrow heavily from Ontario, which already makes training mandatory.

But one point stood out for those who reviewed the documents. SGI believes mandatory training would mean fewer people killed or injured.

“Better quality drivers are safer driver = fewer fatal/injury/property damage collisions,” states the document.

One of the “challenges” listed was the cost of mandatory training. However, it states SGI would save money with fewer accident claims. And one floated alternative — optional training with incentives — would be complicated and expensive.

Former semi driving instructor Mel Meikle says the Saskatchewan government has known for months that mandatory training will save lives but has not acted. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Quaye emails back one minute later:

“Thanks, shay. no need [to review the document] we are working towards mandatory … this is a mandatory, mandatory project.”

The next morning, driver safety manager Kathryn Garton confirms SGI is making semi training mandatory.

“Since we’re doing mandatory training, I need to redo the project proposal.”

Four days later, on April 23, Garton emails Shpak the new proposal with details.

On April 25, the CBC reveals in a story more than 200 Saskatchewan semi drivers on the road have no training. Calls for mandatory training grow.

On the morning of April 26, SGI emails a memo to all Saskatchewan driving instructors announcing mandatory training. It cites the public attention on the issue following the Broncos crash, and says they have support from driving schools and the industry.

The memo promises a plan by early 2019, with full implementation shortly after.

“We are all united in wanting to make our roads as safe as possible,” states the memo from SGI driver education liaison Joanne Moldenhauer, copied to Shpak and other senior officials. “This is good news for the province and the motoring public and we believe this initiative will increase traffic safety on Saskatchewan roads.”

CBC News published the memo. Local and national industry officials praised the government for the move.

However, SGI reverses its position the next day. Kwei and others apologized for any “confusion” caused by the memo.

By April 30, things also change internally.

“I basically just removed the mandatory language and beefed up the consulting process,” Shpak says in an email to Quaye and Garton.

By May 9, the word “Mandatory” has been changed to “Standardized.” Details of the new plan have been redacted in the package sent to CBC News.

The reason for the change isn’t stated in the documents. More than a dozen other emails are itemized in the package sent to CBC News, but have been partially or fully redacted.

A separate CBC request for SGI correspondence with outside parties has not yet been received.

The wreckage of a fatal crash outside of Tisdale, Sask., is seen in April. Sixteen people were killed and 13 others injured. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Driving instructor Reg Lewis and former instructor Mel Meikle think they know the reason.

They said many farmers work at least part-time as semi drivers, and some are reluctant to spend the time or money on training courses. The government relies on that rural support, so may not want to upset a key demographic, they said.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” said Meikle.

They note the government has known for more than seven months that mandatory training would save lives. They point to last week’s fatal semi collisions involving a motorist near Wakaw and a volunteer firefighter near Rosetown. RCMP investigations into those crashes are ongoing.

Other provinces and training

Ontario already has mandatory training. Alberta is starting in January, citing the Broncos crash in its announcement. Other provinces say they’ll also bring it in.

CBC News also spoke to an SGI employee in the driver safety division. The worker, who spoke on condition their name was not used because they feared they’d be fired, said staff are also shocked there is still no mandatory semi driver training. The employee said they don’t know why government officials are “dragging their feet.”

McCune said she hasn’t encountered anyone opposed to mandatory training. She agrees mandatory training saves lives, but said there are many other factors involved.

She said the upcoming announcement will lead to safer roads, but wouldn’t give specifics. McCune said she doesn’t want to “steal the thunder” of those making the announcement.

She said the emails and memos sent by senior SGI officials in April wrongly implied a decision on mandatory training had been made.

“We make recommendations to the government. It is not our place to make that call,” she said. “Definitely, the staff got a bit ahead of this.”

Thomas said he is clinging to the hope that his son’s death will make the roads safer for others. He said reading the “hypocritical” government emails, and the months of delays, have broken his heart all over again.

“You lose a level of faith in the people who are supposed to be taking care of us, governing us,” Thomas said.

“This is something we can control. Do something.”

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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