TORONTO — The latest model of Ontario's licence plates will need to be replaced once the manufacturer has fixed "a problem" that makes them difficult to read in the dark, the Progressive Conservative government said Thursday.
House leader Paul Calandra said the government is disappointed the defect appeared just weeks after the new model, manufactured by 3M Canada, was introduced. He said the government expects the company will foot the bill for the repair and replacement of the plates.
"Are the licence plates a problem? Absolutely," Calandra said. "We procured something from 3M, we expect them to fix the problem. We bought something and we want them to fix it."
In a statement Thursday afternoon, the government said 3M is currently working on a new "enhanced licence plate" which is expected to be available in less than three weeks. People who have already have the new plates will receive the enhanced version in the mail, the government said.
Approximately 49,000 of the new plates have been distributed to Ontarians, and an additional 134,000 are currently in Service Ontario locations, the government said.
"Ontarians will continue to receive the current plate, launched on Feb. 1, through Service Ontario locations until an enhanced plate is available," Consumer Services Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement. "We want to reassure Ontarians that the current plate does not pose a risk to public safety."
The problem was first raised over the weekend when an off-duty Kingston, Ont., police officer posted a picture of an unreadable plate in a well-lit parking lot at night.
A number of groups have expressed concerns about the impact the problem could have on public safety, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
The CEO of the Ontario Safety League said Thursday the new plates are a public safety issue because police depend on the people using them to identify impaired or dangerous drivers.
"If I can't read the plate, what really critical information am I going to provide to the police?" Brian Patterson said.
The province should stop issuing the new plates and switch back to the previous design until the problem is solved by 3M, Patterson said.
"I don't think it's insurmountable to say, 'We're going to stop issuing,'" he said. "I'm sure they have the prior plates available."
The Progressive Conservatives revealed the new plates in the 2019 budget, saying the government spent $500,000 on a consultation on branding, but had a new contract for licence plate production that saved $4 million.
Opposition politicians criticized the Ford government for changing the plates to include a blue design like the Progressive Conservative party colours and an "Open for Business" tagline on commercial models, which echoed one of the premier's election slogans.
After initially defending the plates and insisting they had passed rigorous testing earlier this week, the Ford government backtracked Wednesday and acknowledged there was a problem with the new models.
3M Canada said it has committed to providing the new enhanced plates to the government so that they can tested by law enforcement.
"We stand behind our products and continue to actively provide solutions to the Ontario government," the company said in a statement.
NDP transportation critic Jennifer French pressed the government during debate Thursday, asking why the faulty plates ended up on the road in the first place.
"Safety should always be a priority, even in the face of exciting new vanity plates," she said. "Ontarians deserve to know how this happened, what is being done about it and when it will be fixed."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press