Winnipeg councillor blames drivers of ‘lesser’ cars for trouble on icy roads

When it comes to Winnipeg, icy roads can be a minefield. Just ask Coun. Justin Swandel, who found himself on thin ice after seemingly suggesting residents who have trouble with road conditions should buy better cars.

The public works committee head said in an interview on Tuesday that city roads were safe unless you were driving "lesser" vehicles.

“I drove in this morning on Pembina (Highway). I drive a little Subaru and the cars I saw having trouble were two-wheel-drive, very small cars,” said Swandel, according to Global News.

“I think (streets) are safe if Winnipeggers adjust their driving conditions. And obviously the lesser of a vehicle you have, you don’t want to take your Yugo out doing 60 kilometres an hour on a 60 km/h road.”

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The reaction was unkind, with many accusing Swandel of blaming drivers for the bad driving conditions created by a failure in city snow clearing services.

Swandel, however, was quick to defend his comment. On CJOB 680 on Wednesday, he said the comments were taken out of context.

“You think? Absolutely. My message here is about safety and recognizing the vehicles you’re driving and the conditions you’re driving in,” he told the radio station.

Snow clearing has been a major issue in Winnipeg this winter. City streets are covered in ice and bordered by piles of snow. Officials have said issues stem from extreme cold and frequent snowstorms. The Winnipeg Free Press reports that plowing was delayed for five days last month because another storm was on the way. The result is often-treacherous conditions that continue to cause headaches for city drivers.

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Free Press columnist Dan Lett says many believe the city previously had a "Cadillac" level of snow clearing service, but has been paring down in recent years. Whether that is due to budget constraints is a matter of debate.

Meantime, weather-related driving problems do seem to be on the rise. Manitoba Public Insurance reported 20,000 collisions in December – a 15-year high.

This has surely contributed to the powder keg seemingly set off by Swandel's comments. Is it victim-blaming to suggest people with Yugos – a notoriously problematic car model – or other small cars are partially responsible for their own headaches?

No, frankly he's right. There are drivers across Canada who drive too fast in vehicles not equipped for poor winter conditions. They spin out, run through red lights and slam into snow banks. They create danger for other drivers. They should be reviled.

But the easier target is a government perceived to be dropping the ball on snow clearing and blaming drivers for their woes.

(Photo courtesy of CBC)

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