Provincial Certification in Ontario: What Should Towing Companies Prepare for?

The towing industry in Ontario is doing its part; now it is time for the government to do theirs.

by Dennis Roberts, director, Provincial Towing Association of Ontario (PTAO)

Ontario is moving towards the end goal of improving professionalism in the towing industry in the province and weeding out the bad apples, cracking down on the arson, shootings, and lawlessness that has crept into the industry.

After gathering input from the various stakeholders on the state of the industry, a task force facilitated the passing of the Towing and Storage Safety and Enforcement Act (TSSEA) by the province in June 2021. Subsequently, the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) was assigned the responsibility of developing a certification and licensing framework to ensure effective oversight of tow operators, storage operators, and tow truck drivers.

In line with this objective, the Ministry of Transportation has begun to implement requirements for tow operators (companies), storage operators, and tow truck drivers.

In January 2023, as part of the three-phase introduction of the Act, tow companies were brought further into full commercial vehicle operators registration (CVOR) compliance. Several previously enjoyed exemptions were removed, while others remained under review. In July 2023, the MTO introduced three different types of certificates: tow operator, vehicle storage operator, and tow truck driver. These certificates will be mandatory for tow operators and vehicle storage operators effective January 1, 2024. By July 2024, all tow truck drivers will be required to have their certificate to legally operate a tow truck.

Since July 2023, an online application can be made to participate in the program. The application can only be submitted online and requires applicants to submit a Criminal Record & Judicial Matters Check (CRJMC), also accessible online. The CRJMC must be no older than 90 days from the date of the certificate application, and the same CRJMC can be used for all three certificates, if needed.

Now (of course) nothing in life is free. The proposed fee schedule as of July 2023 is as follows:

(The Criminal Record & Judicial Matters Check cost me $41.00.)

It is my understanding that the provincial government has said that this program must be revenue neutral, meaning tax dollars cannot be used to operate the program. This means that if the cost to operate the program increases, so will our certificate fees. One small consolation is that the MTO has waived the fees for all certificates until July 2024.

The online process is relatively painless and not overly time consuming. It took me longer to set up my Ontario government account than it did to complete the application. None of the questions seemed out of line or too Big Brotherish to me.

As of now, there is no information on how or who will enforce the certificate requirement. Whether it will be tied to your CVOR, or your driver’s license, I suspect it will be part of the MTO enforcement officers’ mandate, but this is still uncertain.

Also unclear is whether the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) will continue to require companies to submit applications to the OPP to be eligible to do OPP towing. I am sure of one thing; if we are required to continue to submit OPP applications and the MTO is getting money from us for their certificates, it might not be long before the OPP will require us to pay for their application as well.

Also coming into effect in January 2024 are new requirements including customer protection and standards of practice. Neither of these have yet been released, but I am pretty sure we will not see any support for the towing industry.

I am all for cleaning up the industry and elevating the level of professionalism, but when will the industry see some support from the government? All levels of government agree that the issues within the industry are because of a few bad apples. Everyone agrees that the vast majority of towers are professional, honest, and hard-working people. Yet, when we ask for some support with abandon vehicles policy, we get nothing but double talk and comments like, “You have to take the good with the bad.”

When we ask for help with the issue of insurers questioning the charges on our invoices, and threatening us with court action if we do not cave into their demands for discounts, we get nothing. And when will we get some help in accessing the information we need to contact registered owners within the 15-day requirement?

I will say this. I welcome these new certificates, because once we are all certified, if we start to work together, there is a good chance that we will gain some traction on these very real costs to our businesses.

A very smart woman I know who has worked tirelessly for the towing industry on the east coast has always maintained that if towers are required to pay a government for a license or certificate to operate their business, it is de facto a contract, and therefore it implies responsibility on the government’s part for the payment of work completed under that contract. I believe that this is one of the reasons why the OPP has hesitated in charging us for their application process. The OPP has even gone so far as to say that their application is not a contract, but simply an offer to dispatch work to your company.

As it has been noted countless times—towers are the only service that responds to requests for service by law enforcement agencies without knowing the scope of work, whether or not the owner will/can pay, if there is insurance to cover the job, and whether or not the insurer will pay. We do jobs that no other workforce would try or be allowed to do, frequently putting ourselves in danger to complete a job, often not knowing if we will be duly compensated. We do all of this to clear a roadway that we neither own nor have control of, and we are often told what to do (and to do it faster) by someone we do not work for. And if this were not enough, the provincial agencies in charge of workplace safety often seem to turn a blind eye to our workplace and the ways we complete our jobs.

So with certification, and our collective efforts to raise professionalism in the industry, let’s hope that the government, in good faith, puts similar effort into helping towing companies deal with the perennial issues I’ve reiterated above. 🍁