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Family-owned school bus companies say province is "biggest bully on the bus"
By Liz Dadson

Education

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Family-owned school bus companies are telling parents and trustees in rural Ontario that the biggest bully on the bus is the Ontario government.

The companies are telling their story through a new You Tube video, "The Biggest Bully on the Bus," which tells the story of family businesses that were "thrown under the bus" by provincial government policy that favours big business, and the lengths the industry is going to fight for safe, affordable student transportation.

To view the video, click here.

The video puts a human face on the casualties of the government's flawed policy for school bus contracts. It features some of the nearly 30 rural Ontario families that have already lost their businesses, and several others that have been forced to take their only customer to court.

Catherine Swift, chairperson of the board of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, appears in the video, and confirms that this change was not about economics but about politics. She believes former education minister, now premier, Kathleen Wynne should be held to account.

Lesa McDougall of Cooks School Bus Lines speaks from experience when she says, "Pretty soon, there won't be any family businesses left, and then what? You'll have two or three companies that are going to tell you what it's going to cost to get your kids to school."

That prediction came true last week when school boards in eastern Ontario were given notice by multi-national companies that they would "exit the market" if they did not get double-digit increases.

Starting in 2009 a new process for allocating school bus contracts was imposed by the Ontario government, states the Independent School Bus Operators Association. The consequences of this process for smaller community-based operators have been devastating.

The video shows documents obtained from Freedom of Information Requests and through production of documents in five lawsuits. The documents prove that the government promised that the process would be fair to companies of all sizes.

Through the litigation process, it has been learned that the government is using taxpayer money to fund litigation against these companies, even though school bus operators have already won in court five times, including a landmark injunction last year.

Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson said she finds the situation these independent school bus operators are in very troubling and worrisome.

"If the Liberal government can arbitrarily reach out and devastate their lives and businesses with so little thought as to the consequences of its actions, what sector will be next?" she said.

 

"It makes no sense that premier Wynne is announcing multi-million-dollar hand-outs of taxpayer money to large and well-established corporations to create jobs, when she is crushing these independent operators with the Request for Proposal model and putting people out of work.

"It is sad that small businesses have to go to court to protect their livelihoods and the government would rather spend $1.6-million in legal costs than sit down with these small independent business people and find a workable solution.

"When it comes to transporting our children, price should not be the only consideration."


Locally, Ross Young Bus Lines of Kincardine continues to operate, but its future is in jeopardy, not knowing when its school bus contracts will be undercut by large corporations.

A spokesperson said that the situation affects all small school bus operators as they try to come up with a lot of extra money to pay for a solicitor who is taking this case to court for them against the government.

Last year, Independent School Bus Operators Association members served 3,400 of the 18,000 daily school bus routes in Ontario. Many members are second- and third-generation businesses that have served their communities for years, providing safe, quality services at a fair price.



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