(Sault St. Marie, Michigan - February 23, 2010) - Three Bathurst mothers who fought for scientific testing of winter tires are claiming victory after New Brunswick's Ministers of Education and Transportation, announced today that the province will make winter tires mandatory on 21 passenger MFAVs.
Denis Landry’s and Roland Hache’s about face comes on the heels of Transport Canada's surprise announcement that it had conducted winter tire tests last week and was recommending winter tires all around on 21 passenger MFAVs.
New Brunswick provincial cabinet ministers, Denis Landry (middle) and Roland Hache (right) in a photograph taken in September, 2009. Landry and Hache announced today that they will, in fact, order winter tires on 21 passenger MFAVs after months of denying the need for such tires.
This is consistent with Transport Canada's recommendation as far back as November 4, 2009, that winter tires be fitted on these vehicles.
"The honour belongs to our boys," says Isabelle Hains, whose 17 year-old son Daniel was killed along with six other members of Bathurst High School’s basketball team and the coach’s wife in a tragic collision on January 12, 2008. “They didn’t have a choice. They were in an unfit vehicle with worn and scalloped tires.”
"But we question the timing of the announcement," Hains said, as it falls on the eve of well publicized international tire tests that the three mothers had initiated at Continental Tires state of the art testing facility in Sault St. Marie, Michigan tomorrow, Wednesday, February 24.
"The government has known since December that we were going to Michigan for these tests," says Marcella Kelly, whose 15 year-old son Nikki was killed in the Bathurst tragedy. “While we’re happy to see they’re going to implement these changes, we know it would never have happened if we had not kept up the public pressure. They had no choice but to concede.”
Kelly says that in a telephone conversation with the Minister of Education, Roland Hache in Michigan Tuesday afternoon, Hache denied knowing anything about Transport Canada's tire tests or its final recommendations until that morning.
"We find it hard to believe that a Minister of the Crown who is responsible for such a sensitive portfolio as the Bathurst tragedy claims ignorance of one of the biggest safety issues facing his Ministry," said Kelly.
"Since he didn't know, it reveals serious problems in leadership and communication at the Department of Education," she added.
Kelly explained that the mothers had just arrived at their destination in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan at twelve noon local time Tuesday when they were informed by various media from across Canada that the government of New Brunswick had announced it would follow Transport Canada's recommendations on winter tires.
"No wonder ordinary citizens don't trust the provincial government," said Kelly. "They don't even have the decency to call and advise us of these huge policy reversals that directly impact us as the mothers who sons were killed in the Bathurst tragedy," she said.
The mothers were also surprised to find out that Transport Canada had conducted tests last week at an undisclosed location.
"We can be honest when we say that we knew absolutely nothing about the tests that took place last week," said Ana Acevedo, whose 17 year-old son Javier was killed in the Bathurst tragedy.
Acevedo notes that a Coroners Inquest last May also recommended that winter tires be used on all vehicles transporting children to extra curricular activities. She said the mothers have been trying to get the province to implement changes since October 19, when they were shocked to discover that the 21 passenger MFAV operated by Bathurst High School was outfitted with mixed tires.
The mothers contacted veteran automotive journalist John Mahler, of the Toronto Star’s Wheels.ca, for technical advice and he supported their call for winter tires. Transport Canada’s tire expert, Nigel Mortimer, also supported the move when on November 4, 2009, he wrote to the Minister of Education and John McLaughlin, Superintendent of District 15, advising that winter tires were the safest for these vehicles.
Since then, the mothers and Transport Canada have been at odds with the Ministers of Education and Transportation whose paid engineering consultant, David Hoar, of Motion Design Associates in Fredericton, insisted that mixed tires were the safest for these type of vehicles.
"Don't tell us about safety," says Acevedo. "We know better than anyone else what happens when safety is not the primary consideration of governments and the bureaucrats who run the system," she said.
"What makes it even more insulting is that the Minister of Transportation had the gall to announce that they have 'invested' more than $5000 for 28 winter tires.
"To think that they made us go through all of this, after everything we've been through, for such a paltry amount of money," said Kelly.
The mothers intend to go ahead with the independent testing tomorrow in Michigan.