Ontario transportation minister Glen Murray says his ministry is reviewing the outsourcing of highway maintenance in the province, and may bring some services back in-house.
Murray, who spoke Wednesday on CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning radio show, says he expects changes will be made by the summer.
He was interviewed by host Lisa Laco about concerns over road-clearing by private contractors in northwestern Ontario this winter.
“I'm … looking with my colleagues to restructure that, so that we can create better jobs and more stable jobs, and potentially bring some of those services back in-house,” he said.
Murray said giving some functions to the public service would lead to more flexibility and help provide what he calls "a good balance" between outsourcing and insourcing.
"We're going to be doing that review in the coming months. I'm going to continue to talk to contractors. Our contractors, in most cases, have been quite responsive,” he said.
“Contractors who have recognized there is a problem have moved to improve it in some areas. There isn't anyone who doesn't think we could be doing a better job. This summer we'll be reviewing it and we'll make changes for the next season.”
Murray said there have been “major improvements” in other areas.
“There are parts of the northeast where we have been getting a lot of compliments where we had problems last year,” he said. “We are seeing better snow removal service. It's not even. I would say the biggest challenge we have had is between Thunder Bay and Kenora.”
The minister was expected to meet with northern road contractors on Wednesday.
Murray said the province’s snow removal budget was increased this year because of last year's challenges. However, even after adding snow removal vehicles, problems have still cropped up.
“I think it was another eight [snow removal vehicles] in Thunder Bay,” he said.
“[There was] a very significant increase in the number of crews and vehicles in Dryden and Kenora, [and] across the northwest. In some of those cases we got much better service. In other cases we had contractors that didn't perform.”
Murray noted that some contractors have already been fined for not clearing highways up to standards.
But he also said he's been hearing from municipal leaders in the northwest that this year's weather patterns made snow and ice clearing particularly difficult.
Murray apologized for the delay in getting more snow removal equipment onto the highways.
“We were quite frustrated and disappointed by that and I want to apologize to people ... particularly in northwestern Ontario,” he said.
“We thought we had it in place this year and obviously we came up short.”