LILLEY: Plate story should have been positive, but ...

Motorists have complained that the new Ontario licence plates are hard to read at night. (Twitter)

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Call it the case of the plate that couldn’t see at night, or is that can’t be seen at night. Either way, the Ford government is promising to fix it.

Not, of course, before inflicting some unnecessary pain upon itself.

The relaunch of Ontario’s licence plates should have been a good news story for this government; instead, it was bungled.

The old plates didn’t last, they peeled, making them hard to see day or night. They needed to be replaced.

Ontario’s new licence plates as of Feb. 1, 2020. (ServiceOntario/Twitter)

The government put out a request for a new supplier and found a way to get a licence plate redesign and save the taxpayers millions per year even after the cost of the redesign was included. The plate is smaller, closer to the North American standard, and uses less metal and energy to create.

Oh, and the prisoners making the plates in jail will actually leave their incarceration with a transferable job skill.

All of those facts around the new licence plate mean little if the plate doesn’t work and can’t be read. Yet on Tuesday, as the story of the plates that couldn’t be seen at night bubbled up at Queen’s Park, the minister in charge, Lisa Thompson, went full-scale partisan.

“I’m sure everyone here today would agree with me, wholeheartedly, that the status quo, the flaking and peeling Liberal plates were not an option to stick with,” Thompson said.

What on earth are “Liberal plates?” The comment was simply foolish. Shall we call plates you can’t see at night, “Tory plates?”

On Wednesday morning, Thompson was singing a different tune.

“We have heard the concerns, we are listening and we’re continuing to work with the manufacturer, our stakeholders and the public to get this right,” Thompson said.

Isn’t that what she should have said from day one? Absolutely.

I understand that the government was a little hesitant to admit any fault on this issue. The complaints started on Twitter, not the best source of accurate information, and they may have wanted to confirm the facts first.

Still, saying you are hearing complaints and looking into them doesn’t mean you are admitting defeat, it means you are listening.

And it’s better than calling them “Liberal plates.”

I mean, the Ford government could have simply blamed this all on their contractor, 3M. They haven’t done that but it turns out Premier Ford has picked up the phone to express his displeasure with the company.

“Public safety is the top priority of our government. Premier Ford has personally spoken to the president of 3M on two separate occasions seeking an immediate solution to the issues identified with their product,” Ford’s office said in a statement.

For the record, 3M has produced licence plates for Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Saskatchewan plus 13 American states. They should know what they are doing.

In fact, on the company’s website, 3M boasts that their plates offer better visibility at night than traditional licence plates. They don’t mention that the claim doesn’t apply to plates made for Ontario.


So now, after the government shooting itself in the foot and looking foolish for doing so, they and 3M are promising a fix of sorts. What that fix will be remains to be seen.

“The Government of Ontario expects 3M to stand by their product. We are working with them on a path forward and will have more to say shortly,” the premier’s office said.

We can only hope that any costs associated with this are not borne by taxpayers. Barring that, maybe the Ontario PC Party should pick up the costs of this bungle.