TORONTO, Ont. – An Ontario MPP is questioning the insurance premiums that small businesses and owner-operators are forced to pay if they want to hire truck drivers with limited experience behind the wheel.
New drivers are often left to begin their careers at larger fleets with established training programs and lower insurance costs, or find smaller employers willing to work with Facility Association – essentially an insurer of last resort.
The resulting premiums can be five times the price paid to cover other drivers, says Guy Bourgouin, MPP for Mushkegowuk – James Bay and NDP critic for training, trades and apprenticeships.
“The current insurance regulatory framework is killing these small businesses,” he said in the Ontario Legislature on Sept. 24.
“There are extreme situations like Peter LaRocque, in the riding of Timiskaming-Cochrane, who cannot hire his own 30-year-old son, even if he has completed the provincially mandated training, received 200 hours in-class and on-road training, and has operated a tractor-trailer for more than two years.”
LaRocque, owner of JPL Storage, has been campaigning to change the rules since 2018.
His son, Clyde Earl, is preparing to take over the family’s portable storage business that uses two tractors to deliver containers to driveways and construction sites. But insurance premiums have been cost-prohibitive – despite driver training through a course that went well beyond the 103.5-hour baseline established under the province’s Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) regime.
JPL Storage has just received the related $6,600 bill for Facility Insurance so his son can drive a 2010 International tractor without direct supervision.
The annual premium is about the same as the trade-in value for the truck itself, LaRocque says, and with the exception of 12 trips per year it restricts most work to a radius of 90 km.
“Our major market is 100 km away,” he adds. “Legally we cannot send him to Kirkland Lake himself.”
JPL Storage’s overall insurance bill essentially doubled to almost $13,000 after removing one truck and trailer off its traditional insurer and shifting it to Facility Association.
But now there’s no choice. Business has been booming, expanding almost 300% in the last year, and both trucks need to roll.
An unfair advantage
LaRocque says today’s insurance regime gives larger fleets an unfair advantage over small operations, and he questions whether the larger operations always offer better training and mentoring than a small family business.
“Don’t tell me someone is running three years with this driver,” he says of the larger fleet experience. “I’m in the truck with him and it’s my truck. I’m paying for it and I’m making sure he doesn’t make a mess of things.”
“Some of these insurance costs are crazy,” Bourgouin told Today’s Trucking, referring to one business that saw insurance premiums increase 30% last year and 10% this year. “The regulations and insurance make it very difficult for these smaller owner-ops to be able to continue.”
He believes the current approach to insurance is particularly unfair in remote settings such as logging operations where there are no larger fleets to do the work.
“Driving a truck in a bush and driving a truck on the highway are two different things,” he adds. “Some of these drivers have huge experience, and they could benefit the young truck driver coming up.”
Bourgouin has already spoken to the ministers of transportation and natural resources, and corresponded with the finance minister. Now he’s exploring the option of a private member’s bill.
The governing Conservatives say they support small businesses, he says. Supporting such a bill would give them a chance to prove it.