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Families connected to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash are urging the Alberta government to back off plans to ease training standards for new semi-truck drivers in the agriculture sector, arguing the tighter licensing requirements imposed in response to the fatal collision are needed to keep roads safe.

The Humboldt Broncos’ bus crash, which killed 16 people connected to the Saskatchewan-based hockey team and injured another 13, pushed governments across the country to beef up training requirements for people wanting to obtain a Class 1 licence. Class 1 hopefuls in the Prairies must now complete more than 100 hours of classroom and driving instruction.

Alberta farmers argue the training hours and cost necessary to obtain a licence to drive big rigs will make it difficult to compete for labour and put too much financial pressure on their businesses. The province’s Agriculture Minister said he’s considering loosening those rules and Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday he is willing to treat farmers differently.

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Ryan Straschnitzki, a former Humboldt Bronco player, who was paralyzed and has since dedicated himself to sledge hockey, said while the new training programs may be costly and time-consuming, they are worth it.

“The better the safety, the more lives that can be saved,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “Keep it the way it is or even add more [safety regulations] at some point."

Toby Boulet, whose son, Logan Boulet, was killed in the crash, is a vocal opponent to rolling back Class 1 training standards for any future drivers.

Toby and Bernadine Boulet look at one another as they are recognized during an event for Green Shirt Day and National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week in Ottawa on April 3, 2019. Their son Logan Boulet had registered to donate his organs shortly before he was killed in the Humboldt bus crash tragedy.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

“This is disgusting news,” Mr. Boulet said on Twitter after The Globe and Mail first reported that the Alberta government was considering changes. “The present [Alberta] government has quickly forgotten about the Broncos.”

Mr. Boulet has reached out to Devin Dreeshen, the provincial Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, and Ric McIver, who serves as the Transportation Minister.

“I would love to hear [Mr. Dreeshen’s] views and the views of any other[s] who are placing the value of a truck full of grain over my son’s life,” Mr. Boulet said on Twitter.

Mr. Kenney made the case for creating a two-tiered system that would loosen the rules for newly licensed big-rig drivers in the agriculture sector.

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“Safety comes first, so we need to make sure that people licensed to drive, particularly long-haul trucks, have gone through rigorous training and licensing requirements,” he said.

“On the other hand, farmers who are taking their grain trucks to the local elevator or perhaps to a regional terminal, and they have a perfect driving record, and they’re just driving their own product, I think that some consideration might be given to them because they are not professional drivers in that case.”

Shannon Phillips, who represents the riding where the Boulet family lives, argued rolling back regulations means Mr. Kenney is unconcerned with road safety.

“It is unfortunate that Jason Kenney doesn’t care about the perspective of family members of the Humboldt Broncos,” the NDP member said. “There has got to be a way for him to address those safety concerns rather than throwing them out in the name of a red tape fantasy.”

The 2018 Broncos crash prompted an outpouring of support from across the country.

Alberta’s new mandatory training program for future Class 1 licensees costs up to $10,000 and demands 113 hours of classroom and driving instruction. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have similar programs and all three provinces extended the deadline for new Class 1 drivers operating on farms.

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With a report from Justin Giovannetti in Calgary

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