The Ministry of Transportation has penalized maintenance contractors clearing provincial highways in northwestern Ontario for not meeting winter maintenance standards.

In an email to CBC News, ministry spokesperson Annemarie Piscopo confirmed the three area highway maintenance companies have been fined this winter. The companies are Transfield Services in Kenora, Carillion Canada Inc. for Thunder Bay East and Integrated Maintenance and Operations Services (IMOS) for Thunder Bay West.

Piscopo said the MTO can't reveal how much the penalties amount to, because it's a contractual matter — but she described them as "significant financial consequences."

winter driving

Highway maintenance was a hot topic at a recent meeting of the Rainy River District Municipal League. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)


Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

The fines come as no surprise to the people who attended a recent meeting of the Rainy River District Municipal League, where highway maintenance was a hot topic of discussion.

“We [had] several guest speakers and this was probably the most interesting of all,” said Atikokan mayor Dennis Brown.

“There's a lot of concern about that, about the roads this year … with the number of accidents and the casualties and the tragedies.”

According to Brown, some of the fines have been in the six-figure range.

One of the highway contractors told CBC News the company is not allowed to comment on road maintenance issues.

Email to CBC News from Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Northwestern Region:

The safety of the people travelling on Ontario highways is a responsibility that the ministry takes very seriously. Our winter maintenance standards have been developed based on extensive experience and are consistent with the best practices of highway authorities inNorth America.

While our contract requirements and models have changed over the years, our standards have not. The ministry monitors the contractor's operations to ensure they are meeting the requirements of their contract and our high standards for winter maintenance.  Through the use of automated vehicle locaters (GPS), ministry staff routinely monitor equipment response times and equipment route times. Snow accumulation, time to achieve bare pavement conditions, radio logs, and police call reports are also monitored to ensure maintenance standards are met.

If we find that an operational requirement is not met, we impose financial consequences and compel the contractor to review and modify their operations to ensure that requirements are met in the future.

The majority of reviews are conducted on a random basis and can include a broad range of items before, during and after the winter event, including: when were plows or spreaders deployed, what operations were conducted through the storm (plowing, spreading, clean up), anti-icing in advance of the storm (if conditions were appropriate for anti-icing), documents and information recorded by the contractor. 

Other factors are considered such as driver behaviour, weather information and the highway layout. We do monitor contractor performance and do apply significant financial consequences when we find contractors have not performed as per the terms of the contract.

We have applied consequences this winter season to all of the AMCs in this region.

While individual payment issues cannot be disclosed publicly, they are administered according to the contract documents. We do not release specific information on financial non-conformances or the specific amount of consequences imposed on contractors, as this is a contractual matter between the Ministry and the contractor.