2 years after concerns were raised, when will Ontario’s blue licence plates be replaced?

It's been two years since visibility concerns were raised about the Ford government's blue licence plates. Officials eventually scrapped the rollout, but what's being done to replace the issued plates? Nick Westoll reports.

It has been two years since visibility- and safety-related concerns involving the Ford government’s blue revamped licence plates under certain conditions were raised and despite scrapping the rollout, a replacement plan has yet to be publicly announced.

“It’s fine to say that we have a pandemic and I can see that being a distraction, but it has been two years and road safety still has to matter,” Oshawa NDP MPP and transportation critic Jennifer French told CityNews in a recent interview.

“This is a government that has talked a lot about road safety in the past stretch and yet here’s an unfinished promise.”

The two-tone-blue plates with white lettering, along with the phrase “A place To grow” instead of “Yours to discover,” were unveiled during the 2019 Ontario budget and were handed out at ServiceOntario locations months later.

In all, a government spokesperson told CityNews approximately 218,000 blue plates were made. Of that total, around 193,000 plates were issued and approximately 175,000 remain in use today.

However, in early 2020, questions arose on social media over the new licence plates.

RELATED: Province scrapping licence plate redesign

A tweet on Feb. 15 of that year, along with a photo of one of the plates, by a Kingston Police Service traffic safety sergeant, Steve Koopman, went viral.

“This was taken off duty in a relatively well-lit parking lot with my headlights on. Did anyone consult with police before designing and manufacturing the new Ontario licence plates? They’re [virtually] unreadable at night,” he wrote.

Brian Patterson, the president and CEO of the Ontario Safety League, told CityNews there were several issues identified with the plates.

“So the quality of the light that’s hitting it whether it’s headlights or high beams, and if the vehicle is to your right or left and is passing you and is drawing your attention as a result of bad conduct – speeding, impaired driving et cetera – you’ve got a very short time to see it on either of those angles and then you can’t see it at all,” he said.

“It’s a huge deal. It is one of the main ways hardcore impaired drivers have been caught in the province for the past two or three years. Police have double-downed on the technology, we catch people, we get them into court quickly and they’re often so far above the impaired driving scale that there’s no question they are a hazard to the public and other road users.”

When the issue made its way to Queen’s Park on Feb. 18, former government and consumer services minister Lisa Thompson cited peeling defects on plates manufactured while the Liberals were in office while defending the blue plates.

“I can assure you that we have been exhaustive with our testing. We have tested in terms of readability, reflectivity and durability,” she told reporters.

A former spokesperson for the minister told CityNews at the time that law enforcement agencies and stakeholders were consulted on the “high-definition plate design” and involved testing that used “advanced plate reader technology under multiple visibility conditions,” noting the plates were “successfully” read.

The spokesperson said the government “seriously” reviewed feedback about issues surrounding the “readability to the naked eye under certain light conditions.”

At the end of February 2020, the government announced a temporary end to distributing the plates and in May of that year, the permanent end was announced.

RELATED: Ontario to temporarily stop issuing problematic licence plates

Sebastian Skamski, Ontario Government and Consumer Services Minister Ross Romano’s communications director, told CityNews on Tuesday the plates remain valid and officials continue “developing a process to allow Ontarians to seamlessly replace” the plates when the plan is ready.

He added additional information will be available “in the near future.”

“We continue to encourage Ontarians not to visit a ServiceOntario centre to exchange their licence plates at this time unless they are lost, stolen, or damaged,” Skamski said.

Patterson said he believes the government is working to address the issue.

“I think the province has the pieces in place to get it done, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was an announcement coming well in advance of the election,” he said.

Meanwhile, French called for a quicker replacement plan.

“On the face of it, the sort of vanity plates and the PC party blue and all of that is kind of an insult and that has bothered people and stuck in our craw the entire time, but fundamentally when you have licence plates that are meant to identify vehicles in the event of well when you need to need to identify vehicles and they can’t be read,” she said.

“They’re really only appropriate now for getaway cars, and let’s prioritize road safety here and make sure that we have appropriate, legible licence plates.”

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