Reported by Rocco Frangione

Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof wants the Ford government to treat Highways 11 and 17 as Class 1 highways the same as it does the 400 series highways in Southern Ontario.

The demand follows the recent closure of Highway 17 east of Nipigon because of snow.

Vanthof says Highway 11 between Cochrane and Nipigon was also closed because of snow.

The New Democrat stays every time the highway is closed, transport trailers are stopped dead in their tracks which brings millions of dollars of economic activity to a standstill.

He says the NDP pushed to have both these areas of the Trans-Canada Highway designated as Class 1 highways.

Vanthof says this would result in better winter maintenance.

But he says instead, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli told the media the north doesn’t need class one highways.

Vanthof says while everyone agrees safety is important on highways he adds the answer is not to close Highway 11 or 17 every time it snows.

He says the solution is to run more plows when it’s snowing.

Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney says Ontario has a very good record with highway safety and maintenance and one of the priorities of the ministry is to keep standards as high as possible.

However, Mulroney says some times when it snows the highways need to be closed for safety reasons.

She adds highways are then re-opened as quickly as possible when safety is no longer a factor.

Mulroney also says there are portions of Highway 11 and 17 that are considered Class 1 highways and further says the standard for Class 1 highways is exceeded on other sections of Highways 11 and 17.

Meanwhile, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli says the government is spending an additional $40-million on winter maintenance in Northern Ontario when compared to the winter of 2015-16.

He says it was the Progressive Conservatives who showed that the former Liberal government, with help from the NDP, cut $36-million from winter road maintenance.

Fedeli says the NDP should quit playing politics and stop voting against highway improvements the Ford government is putting forward.

Fedeli equates Vanthof’s and the NDP’s opposition to government highway improvements as voting against Northern safety.

On the issue of Vanthof’s statement that Fedeli told the media the north does not need Class 1 highways, Fedeli says “that’s absolute nonsense”.

“I never said that and I wish John would retract that,” Fedeli said.

Fedeli says the reality is the NDP was asking for less services than what Northern Ontario now receives.

He says it takes about an average of seven hours to get to a bare road in the winter and the NDP was asking for an eight-hour clearance rate.

Fedeli says “this is all about the NDP trying to change the page from the fact they voted against every northern improvement that our government has brought forward.”

“They voted against highway safety, highway maintenance, expansion and new highways,” he said.

“They vote against us because they have no plan of their own.”