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Canada: Speed Camera Refunds Become Political Issue
Opposition parties in Manitoba, Canada make construction zones speed camera refunds an election issue.

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Speed cameras have emerged as a top political issue in the province of Manitoba, Canada. The ruling New Democratic Party (NDP) is standing by its controversial decision last week against refunds for motorists who were mailed photo radar tickets in so-called highway work zones when no workers were present. In January, a provincial court declared that such tickets violated the law (view opinion), but the NDP maintains that payment of a citation is an admission of guilt. The opposition parties are now making the most of the situation.

"The NDP government has claimed to have a Justice Department which stands for fairness and justice, and yet that claim was shattered yesterday when the minister said he would be neither fair nor just to those who were caught unfairly by his cash-grabbing photo radar," Liberal Party Leader Jon Gerrard said on Thursday.

The opposition pointed out that Manitoba's capital, Winnipeg, generated massive amounts of revenue from construction zone fines. The number of tickets issued jumped from 3000 in 2007 to 60,000 just twelve months later. Manitoba Premier Gary Doer refused to order refunds, insisting the basis for the court ruling was "a technicality."

"We side with the Winnipeg city police who argued that for safety reasons and for the proper deployment of police officers photo radar was a good tool for law enforcement in Manitoba," Doer said.

During a parliamentary question period in the legislative assembly, opposition critics presented the cases of dozens of motorists who claimed they had been unfairly ticketed.

"A woman with several children was given five tickets in the Bishop Grandin construction site -- before even receiving the first ticket in the mail," Progressive Conservative Party Leader Hugh McFadyen said. "In every case, 7:20 in the morning, no workers on site, traveling below the normal speed limit. Does [Mr. Doer] think it's appropriate to hold on to this person's money -- when the judge has already said that it was wrong for this American company to ticket her in the first place -- on behalf of this cash-strapped NDP government?"

Government officials, for the most part, ignored the jabs.

"The mighty Conservative Party can be the mighty pandering party all it wants," Doer replied.

Photo enforcement has proved to be a powerful electoral issue in Canada. In 2001, Liberal Party leader Gordon Campbell campaigned in the province of British Columbia with a promise to ban speed cameras. When election day arrived, voters threw out the incumbent NDP party and handed Campbell 77 out of 79 seats in the provincial legislature. As his first act in office, the new public safety minister outlawed photo radar on June 28, 2001.

Despite the political risk, a great deal of money is at stake with the refunds for the NDP government in Manitoba. A total of $43,994,765 CAD in construction zone ticket revenue remains uncollected.

"The NDP are sitting on more than $40 million of unpaid court-ordered fines, yet the people who received and paid photo radar tickets issued in construction zones while no workers were present are being told by the Minister of Justice they are out of luck," Manitoba Progressive Conservative Justice Critic Kelvin Goertzen said in a statement. "It's almost a disincentive for Manitobans to pay their fines because under the NDP, if the law is challenged, the only way you get your money back is if you didn't pay. Under the NDP's backwards and unfair policy, it might get even harder to get people to pay their fines."

In 2006, the Winnipeg City Auditor released a report that showed the number and severity of accidents increased significantly at the intersections where photo enforcement was used (view report).

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