TORONTO — An Ontario minister is clinging to her talking points amid concerns that new licence plates are hard to read at night.
Minister of Government and Consumer Services Lisa Thompson said over and over again Tuesday that the new plates were made “employing new technology” and are better than the “Liberal plates” they replaced. She repeated those points when asked if the plates would make it harder for police to track down missing children and arrest drunk drivers.
Thompson’s Progressive Conservative government unveiled the new licence plate design last year and started issuing the new plates on Feb. 1.
A Kingston, Ont. police officer rang the alarm about the plates on Twitter Saturday.
“Did anyone consult with police before designing and manufacturing the new Ontario licence plates?” Sgt. Steve Koopman wrote. “They’re virtually unreadable at night.”
Thompson addressed the concerns during question period.
“Sticking with the status quo Liberal plate that was peeling and flaking was not an option,” she said. “I’m very pleased to share with you that we’re employing new technologies in Ontario plates that have been tested under a whole host of visibility conditions with successful reading results.”
NDP MPP Jennifer French responded, “I’m glad to know there’s new technology, but my eyes are pretty standard, and I should be able to read them as a driver on the roads … I thought Ontario was a place to grow, not a place to glow.”
French’s NDP colleagues erupted in laughter.
Thompson repeated that the “status quo Liberal plates” were “peeling and flaking.”
And then she brought the same messaging outside to reporters. For five minutes straight.
Reporter: “Is it more important for them to be able to be read by high-tech plate readers or by the naked eye?”
“The fact of the matter is, we are making sure that we have employed new technology that is already in use by other jurisdictions, as I said, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, 13 states. And we are confident in the plate that has been presented. They work.”
Reporter: “Is it appropriate for you to be calling the previous plates ‘Liberal plates?’ Does that mean your plates are Conservative plates?”
“Oh, OK. Well, the fact of the matter is, a number of Ontarians for a number of years expressed frustrations with the peeling and flaking plates that they had returned. So we knew that the status quo was not an option.”
Reporter: “Is this a thing to be politicized?”
“Well, the fact of the matter is the flaking and peeling plates have been around for a number of years. And the Liberal government at the time chose to ignore it. But we’ve moved forward. We have employed new technologies that other jurisdictions are using. And we have confidence in the testing that has happened to date in terms of readability. And we look forward to having Ontarians embrace the plates.”
Reporter: “Are you going to keep issuing them?”
“Well actually, what we’re doing is we’re celebrating a new design that employed new technology that has been proven in other jurisdictions. And we stand by our plates.”
Reporter: “The government is facing criticism that these plates are now putting [children who are the subject of] Amber Alerts in danger because drivers can’t read the plates at nighttime … What’s your reaction to that?”
“Well again, I want to share with everyone that we’re using modern technology that’s already been employed in other provinces and states. We are open to people’s feedback.”
Reporter: “What happens if there is a drunk driver on the 401 and a police officer cannot identify them because they cannot see their licence plate?”
“We have worked with our key stakeholders and our plates are readable. Thank you very much.”
UPDATE: The Ontario government now admits the new licence plates are problematic and will need to be recalled.