McGuinty to reach out to 110,000 teens on Facebook fighting new driving laws
Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, November 25, 2008 2:21PM EST
TORONTO - A growing online protest against Ontario's proposed new restrictions on teenage drivers is a positive development because it means young people are actively engaged in an important debate, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.
A Facebook group was set up last week after Ontario announced drivers aged 16 to 19 with a G2 graduated licence would be restricted to only one other teen passenger, and the group quickly grew to more than 110,000 members.
"I'm really keen on hearing from these young people," McGuinty said.
"What do they think that we should do? If not this, then what? And what responsibilities are they prepared to undertake to provide us with some assurances that they will do what they need to do to keep our roads safe, keep themselves safe?"
The restrictions on teen passengers are part of a package of new rules for young motorists, which also include a zero blood-alcohol limit for all Ontario drivers aged 21 and under and licence suspensions for young drivers caught speeding.
A Facebook posting Tuesday by Rachel Lambert of St. Catharines was typical of the opposition to the new driving rules from young people, many of whom complained they would no longer be able to serve as designated drivers for teenage friends who party.
"This new law is ridiculous," Lambert posted.
"More and better options for drivers' education should be there first to try to make the roads safer, not attacking G2 drivers for carpooling."
McGuinty said he was open to the idea of holding public hearings on the new legislation, but admitted he would have to find a more modern way to reach young people than government committee hearings that look to kids like they were designed in the 1700s.
"If you've got that many young people who are really interested in this, they're not going to come to committee hearings," he said.
"I think we need to find a way to get on the Facebook. I think we need to find a way to engage them in a dialogue in a social network where they are."
However, the Liberals have already blocked access to Facebook from all Ontario government computers, and McGuinty wasn't prepared to say if he would lift the ban any time soon.
Transportation Minister Jim Bradley said he had been on Facebook to review some of the postings by the protesters, but still hadn't seen any arguments that countered the support for the new rules from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Ontario Safety League and police.
"People are interested in numbers, but I think just because the numbers are large doesn't mean that there wouldn't be some valid arguments that are there," Bradley said.
"But I'm interested in the quality of arguments which would counteract what every safety group has said to me about this. I'd like to know what those arguments are."
Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said the Liberals should have spent more time consulting members of the public -- and not just their so-called safety partners in police and the insurance industry -- before drafting the new driving rules.
"The only reason this caught them by surprise is they didn't really bother to ask any people," Tory said.
"If they'd gone and asked even a small sample of people they would have had some of these issues to chew on, they might have taken a tiny bit longer to do the bill a bit more thoughtfully."
The New Democrats pointed out the irony of McGuinty looking to use Facebook to reach out to young people when the social networking site is banned from government computers, and said the legislation on new driving rules was aimed at pleasing parents.
"The youth right across this province have said this is a preposterous and bad idea," said NDP critic Michael Prue.
"It's an idea for the parents, not the youth themselves, so parents can assuage whatever they have that they can't look after their child so the government can."