Ontario’s plan to get rid of blue license plates is to sit and wait

TORONTO – Premier Doug Ford’s government has a plan to get its blue plates off the roads, four years after discovering they are barely visible at night, and that plan is to sit back and wait.

The blue plates will simply disappear due to wear and tear, The Canadian Press has learned.

That approach has been in place since November 2022, according to a senior government official who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The decision was not publicly communicated until the province confirmed its address to The Canadian Press this week, after fighting for the release of records through a freedom of information request for more than a year.

“After carefully considering potential options for implementing a targeted collections program, the Ontario government has decided to phase out existing blue license plates,” Matthew D’Amico, press secretary for the Minister of Public Service Delivery and Services, wrote in a statement. Business, Todd McCarthy.

“While blue plates will remain valid, anyone wishing to change their blue plate can do so for free at a ServiceOntario centre.”

The government website still tells drivers that blue plate owners will “receive instructions” on how to replace them “at a future date.”

The province explored several options, the senior government source said, including exchanging plates by mail, but all options presented burdens on customers, risks such as theft and costs of between $2.5 million and $3 million.

The government had promised to get out of the blue license plate mess at no extra cost to taxpayers, so the decision was ultimately made to opt for natural wear and tear. There is no risk to public safety and no legibility issues with the Highway 407 toll plates, the source said.

Ford’s Progressive Conservatives had announced the new look in their 2019 budget, amid accusations of politicizing the plates by turning them a conservative blue.

Law enforcement officials expressed concern about the plates as they are difficult to read in certain conditions and officers must be able to see the plates legibly and clearly.

Joe Couto, a spokesman for the Ontario Police Chiefs Association, previously said chiefs wanted to see the plates off the roads “as soon as possible.”

The government did not approach the chiefs for comment on its natural phase-out plan, but Couto said they will continue to provide them with feedback if requested.

“We’ve told the government all along in terms of the blue plates that there are always concerns about the safety aspects and that’s the only thing we’re concerned about,” Couto said.

“How the government treats the plates is entirely up to them. If they choose evolution versus revolution, so be it.”

As of this month there are 124,000 blue plates on the roads, the government said, or less than one percent of active plates. In 2020, around 193,000 were initially issued.

NDP critic Tom Rakocevic said in the meantime, the blue plates on the roads continue to serve as a visual reminder of the mistakes and setbacks this government has had to make.

“Doing nothing is not a plan, and it has taken two years to announce their plan to do nothing,” he said. “They should be doing what they need to do to move forward and get these license plates off the roads.”

In November 2022, The Canadian Press requested documents through freedom of information laws about plans to replace the blue plates, but the government denied them for several reasons, including that they were advice to the government. He also denied the documents on the grounds that their disclosure would result in the premature disclosure of a policy decision that has been reached but has not yet been announced.

“The final policy decision regarding the specific options available to replace blue license plates will be made available to the public in the future,” the government wrote in August 2023 in submissions to the Information and Privacy Commissioner after The Canadian Press appealed. .

“The Ministry determines policy decisions and announces them according to its own established schedules…Disclosure of the information at issue in this appeal would prematurely reveal the Ministry’s pending policy decision, as the Ministry has decided that it does not yet wish to publish the pending political decision. political decision.”

Just two weeks after drivers began receiving blue plates, on February 15, 2020, an off-duty police officer in Kingston, Ontario, posted a photo of one at night in a well-lit parking lot showing it was “practically illegible.”

The minister of government and consumer services at the time initially insisted the new plates were fine, but soon after admitted there were problems and the province stopped issuing them in May of that year, reverting to the old white and blue design.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.

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