By Cole Parkinson
Municipal District of Taber council is hoping to get a better understanding of the Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program as the exemption for ag drivers officially expired last month.
The MELT program requires 113 hours of training, including classroom and on-road time for Class 1 (tractor-trailer) learner licence holders and Class 2 (bus) licensing, which is for 50 hours of training and any drivers that have had a full Class 1 licence for less than one year, are required to complete the program to obtain that class of licence again. During council’s regular meeting Feb. 23, councillors once again discussed the program and the effects it could have in the municipality.
“The exemption for ag drivers comes off on (Feb. 28). We’re definitely in a time crunch here and the province doesn’t seem to be moving on this,” said Coun. John Turcato. “We’re going to be in a real pickle here come spring and fall because I know of a number of people that can’t even get in to get their tests done. So with the backlog, I’m surprised they haven’t extended this and I think it’s imperative upon them to do that. It needs to be extended to allow for the ones in the system to get tested. There’s a number of them who completed it and now as soon as that exemption comes off, they now have to get the $10,000 fee to get their licence. Some of them already received all of their training, but that would be gone and now they’re just waiting for tests.”
For a Class 1 licence, 40.5 hours of the MELT program is designated for classroom time, 15.5 hours for yard training and 57 hours of practical training. The Alberta government did introduce a cap of $10,000\ for the Class 1 MELT program and the exemption only applied to Class 1 drivers that only operate for farming use, and only upon a review of the drivers’ history.
“I’ve known some people with this and they passed the original and then they do the MELT program. It sounds like it’s a completely different ball game once they start to do the MELT testing,” stated Coun. Leavitt Howg. “I think there needs to be almost a difference between commercial driving and the ag driving type thing when it comes to logbooks and things of that nature. When you have to do your minimum of 100 hours of testing for driving and book work, it’s different. A lot of people will know how to drive the truck, but maybe not the interpreting, reading and writing and just doing tests, in general, that way. If there was like a weekend course, like there is for first aid, for the written version of this MELT program. But for someone to first spend $10,000 for the testing plus more than likely have to take time off work for that too, it gets pretty pricey to do that. There’s a way of doing this.”
In order to get some clarification on how the province is going to move forward with this, a suggestion was made to invite some MLAs to attend a meeting virtually.
“Maybe we should take a different approach to this. Maybe we should invite Minister (Ric) McIver and transportation down, and invite our local commodity groups to a Zoom meeting or something to have a conversation. From what I’m hearing, he’s telling people he hasn’t heard many concerns, so he doesn’t think it’s an issue. Maybe we need to address that. There are concerns,” said Coun. Brian Brewin.
Turcato once again stated his desire to see a resolution soon instead of in the middle of harvest.
“I understand why this came out, but think it’s become very challenging and I think we’re going to have huge problems in the future here, there’s no question. This needs to be addressed sooner than later,” he said.
“I also think we’re at a disadvantage that we live in an area with irrigation and the amount of product coming off per acre is a lot higher than other areas. We’ve got four or five times as much trucks coming off per acre. The need is greater,” added Brewin.
“I think we should probably work with the local ASBG (Alberta Sugar Beet Growers), PGA (Potato Growers of Alberta) rather than duplicate what they are trying to do,” suggested Reeve Merrill Harris.
A motion to work with local groups and to get a meeting with Minister McIver to discuss the MELT program was carried unanimously.