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Public deserves details of bus boondoggle

Pop quiz: Do you believe that Yukon's parents should have known that, for the past two years, the territory's school bus operator was repeatedly flubbing the government's safety requirements?

Pop quiz: Do you believe that Yukon’s parents should have known that, for the past two years, the territory’s school bus operator was repeatedly flubbing the government’s safety requirements?

If you answered “yes,” we’re afraid that you are ineligible to work for the Yukon Party cabinet. Best luck finding a job elsewhere.

If you answered “no,” there’s a good chance you were somehow involved with the disgraceful decision to keep parents in the dark about these concerns. It looks like none of us would be any the wiser today, if the NDP Opposition hadn’t recently dug up documents with an access-to-information request that tells the story.

As we now know, the Yukon government warned Takhini Transport in August 2013 that it wasn’t living up to its contractual obligations. It issued a similar warning in July 2014, with a drop-dead date of August that year to come into compliance.

At the time, the government cobbled together a list of paperwork missing for the fleet’s drivers. It includes eight RCMP checks, 15 first aid courses, 23 defensive driving courses, 21 smart bus driving courses, 11 Yukon driver road tests, 13 assertive discipline training courses and seven drivers’ abstracts.

In all, the territory found 26 of the company’s 77 drivers failed to meet its requirements. That’s one-third of Yukon’s bus drivers, found out of compliance after territorial officials had given the company nearly a year’s warning to get in line.

The territory also found at this time that the company had failed to have its buses inspected and repaired by a certified mechanic. Takhini Transport similarly failed to obtain its occupational safety certification. At one point it also lacked adequate liability insurance. Heck, Takhini Transport wasn’t even able to produce a valid business license when the government asked.

Faced with this damning information, government officials had a decision to make last summer: cut Takhini Transport loose, or keep on with efforts to encourage the company to follow the rules. They chose to stick with the company.

Officials seem by-and-large to have tried to make good efforts to nudge the company towards compliance. But a report commissioned by the territory on Takhini Transport’s practices doesn’t always reflect well on government staff, either. At one point, the company asks the territory what, pray tell, “smart driver training” is. That prompted a reply from an official: “Trying to find Smart Driver information. It seems to have gone poof!” This doesn’t inspire confidence.

Nor does the decision by an official to tell the company that it’s all right if it wants to flout the requirement that buses on out-of-town runs carry one thermal blanket for every child. An official surmised that it would be fine for buses to simply be equipped for blankets for children facing the longest rides.

Even more disturbingly, at one point a government official agreed to let the company choose which vehicles would receive unscheduled inspections. Unsurprisingly, the company picked its newest models to receive scrutiny.

We still don’t know how Takhini Transport fared over the past year, except that in the end, something happened that led to the company being sacked this month, with government officials once again citing safety concerns.

Pause for a moment and consider the presumption that the reasons for Takhini Transport’s firing ought to be treated as some kind of state secret. In other words: Yukon parents don’t deserve to know what sort of safety concerns existed that led the territory to cancel the school busing contract. Because, you know, privacy.

This, despite the fact that precisely the same sort of information from previous years has already been pried from the government through access-to-information laws, and presumably the government faces the same legal requirement to release similar, more recent information.

It’s hard to believe there is legal justification for this secrecy. But being upfront about the problems that existed would run afoul of the Yukon Party’s prime directive: if you come across embarrassing information, hide it.