WINNIPEG — A Manitoba Crown corporation has backed down from a plan that would have let some people get their driver’s licences without road tests.
Manitoba Public Insurance now says it has enough private driving instructors to fill the gap left by its striking unionized workers, who walked off the job Monday.
The announcement Thursday came three hours after the corporation’s board chair, Ward Keith, said the plan would proceed and could be done without compromising road safety.
The change was "a result of an overwhelming response from the driver education community," MPI said in a release.
"MPI is pleased with the positive response it has received from its driver education partners across the province, and their willingness to assist MPI in resuming driver testing services for our mutual customers," it said.
Under the earlier plan, graduates of the driver education program, which is aimed primarily at high school students but also available to others, would have been able to get a Class 5 licence — the common licence that applies to passenger vehicles — and skip the road test while the strike continues.
Other applicants would have continued to undergo a road test, handled by certified driving instructors brought in for the work.
Keith said earlier that forgoing tests could be done without compromising road safety because the driver's education program includes hours of practice on the road in addition to in-class instruction.
Political science professor Karine Levasseur, at the University of Manitoba, said the idea appeared to violate provincial regulations.
The idea was also criticized by some driving instructors, who said graduates of the program need a lot of road practice before getting their licence.
"I teach driver's ed kids and I would say 80 per cent of the kids, maybe even more, are not ready to go on the road without further training," said Neena Bedi, a private driving instructor in Winnipeg.
"Some of them are not sure about understanding the traffic signals and … most of them, it's their reflexes. Like if something happens — anything unusual, out of the ordinary happens — they don't know how to react."
MPI said in its statement that the Registrar of Motor Vehicles has the legal authority to waive testing requirements "and this option may be reconsidered in the future should the … strike action be prolonged, and in the event that using MPI-certified driver education instructors cannot adequately address current and future demand for driver testing services."
The strike of some 1,700 workers began after contract talks broke down over wages. Keith said the corporation has offered monetary benefits of up to 17 per cent over four years. But the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union said that figure is misleading because it includes non-wage benefits.
The Progressive Conservative government, facing an election set for Oct. 3, has faced a summer of labour discontent in the public sector. Workers at Crown-owned Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries went on strike earlier over wages and many government-run stores were closed before a settlement was reached last week.
Another branch of the MGEU, representing 11,000 civil servants, announced this week it is preparing to hold a strike vote. The government said Thursday it has offered the civil servants wage hikes of two per cent each year for four years, as well as benefit improvements and a signing bonus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2023.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press