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‘These are loaded weapons’: Documents show mandatory semi training would save lives

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Scott Thomas knows what it’s like to lose a child on Saskatchewan highways — his son, Evan, was killed in the April 6 Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

What Thomas doesn’t understand is why the provincial government still allows new semi drivers to hit the road with no training.

Seven months after the crash, training remains optional despite the government’s own internal documents saying more people will die until it becomes mandatory.

“These are loaded weapons…ticking time bombs,” Thomas said after reviewing the documents.

“They’re putting their heads in the sand. I don’t understand why.”

CBC News obtained the internal emails and memos through a Freedom of Information request. They cover communications among Saskatchewan Government Insurance senior managers in the weeks following the Humboldt crash. CBC News shared the documents with Thomas and others.

A memorial made of hockey sticks, crosses and Canadian flags is seen at the crash site of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team near Tisdale, Sask. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The months of inaction are confusing, hypocritical and shameful, say Thomas, driving instructors, and even an employee within SGI’s driver safety division.

“Open your eyes, smell the coffee and see what’s going on around you because there is more and more people dying on these highways,” said Swift Current veteran driving instructor Reg Lewis.

The government could make an announcement as early as next week about semi driver training, SGI auto fund chief operating officer Penny McCune said in an interview Monday. She declined to say whether training will be made mandatory.

“Definitely, it’s an option we’re exploring,” McCune said.

Calls to improve road safety after bus crash

The Broncos tragedy spurred a global outpouring of support for the small Prairie city, the team, and the families of those killed and injured. Hundreds placed flowers, stuffed animals and messages at the crash site. Memorial services were broadcast on national television. And donors from 80 countries pledged more than $15 million to families through an online campaign.

At the same time, there were calls to improve road safety. Many demanded the Saskatchewan government make training mandatory for semi drivers. New drivers are required to take a written and road exam, but hundreds have passed it and hit the roads with no training.

Mandatory training would save lives, advocates said.

Senior SGI officials appeared to agree, at least privately.

In an email chain April 18, SGI’s director of driver development and safety Shay Shpak asks her boss, SGI vice-president Kwei Quaye, if he still wants to see a report on mandatory training.

“I captured some thoughts (pros and cons) based on our last conversation,” Shpak wrote.

On SGI letterhead, a two-page summary headlined “Commercial Truck Training – Optional or Mandatory” is shared.

Under the mandatory category, several benefits are listed. Mandatory training would increase public confidence in the industry, make Saskatchewan drivers more employable in other provinces, and be easier to implement than a complicated incentive program. Saskatchewan could also borrow heavily from Ontario, which already makes training mandatory.

But one point stood out for those who reviewed the documents. SGI believes mandatory training would mean fewer people killed or injured.

“Better quality drivers are safer driver = fewer fatal/injury/property damage collisions,” states the document.

One of the “challenges” listed was the cost of mandatory training. However, it states SGI would save money with fewer accident claims. And one floated alternative — optional training with incentives — would be complicated and expensive.

Former semi driving instructor Mel Meikle says the Saskatchewan government has known for months that mandatory training will save lives but has not acted. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Quaye emails back one minute later:

“Thanks, shay. no need [to review the document] we are working towards mandatory … this is a mandatory, mandatory project.”

The next morning, driver safety manager Kathryn Garton confirms SGI is making semi training mandatory.

“Since we’re doing mandatory training, I need to redo the project proposal.”

Four days later, on April 23, Garton emails Shpak the new proposal with details.

On April 25, the CBC reveals in a story more than 200 Saskatchewan semi drivers on the road have no training. Calls for mandatory training grow.

On the morning of April 26, SGI emails a memo to all Saskatchewan driving instructors announcing mandatory training. It cites the public attention on the issue following the Broncos crash, and says they have support from driving schools and the industry.

The memo promises a plan by early 2019, with full implementation shortly after.

“We are all united in wanting to make our roads as safe as possible,” states the memo from SGI driver education liaison Joanne Moldenhauer, copied to Shpak and other senior officials. “This is good news for the province and the motoring public and we believe this initiative will increase traffic safety on Saskatchewan roads.”

CBC News published the memo. Local and national industry officials praised the government for the move.

However, SGI reverses its position the next day. Kwei and others apologized for any “confusion” caused by the memo.

By April 30, things also change internally.

“I basically just removed the mandatory language and beefed up the consulting process,” Shpak says in an email to Quaye and Garton.

By May 9, the word “Mandatory” has been changed to “Standardized.” Details of the new plan have been redacted in the package sent to CBC News.

The reason for the change isn’t stated in the documents. More than a dozen other emails are itemized in the package sent to CBC News, but have been partially or fully redacted.

A separate CBC request for SGI correspondence with outside parties has not yet been received.

The wreckage of a fatal crash outside of Tisdale, Sask., is seen in April. Sixteen people were killed and 13 others injured. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Driving instructor Reg Lewis and former instructor Mel Meikle think they know the reason.

They said many farmers work at least part-time as semi drivers, and some are reluctant to spend the time or money on training courses. The government relies on that rural support, so may not want to upset a key demographic, they said.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” said Meikle.

They note the government has known for more than seven months that mandatory training would save lives. They point to last week’s fatal semi collisions involving a motorist near Wakaw and a volunteer firefighter near Rosetown. RCMP investigations into those crashes are ongoing.

Other provinces and training

Ontario already has mandatory training. Alberta is starting in January, citing the Broncos crash in its announcement. Other provinces say they’ll also bring it in.

CBC News also spoke to an SGI employee in the driver safety division. The worker, who spoke on condition their name was not used because they feared they’d be fired, said staff are also shocked there is still no mandatory semi driver training. The employee said they don’t know why government officials are “dragging their feet.”

McCune said she hasn’t encountered anyone opposed to mandatory training. She agrees mandatory training saves lives, but said there are many other factors involved.

She said the upcoming announcement will lead to safer roads, but wouldn’t give specifics. McCune said she doesn’t want to “steal the thunder” of those making the announcement.

She said the emails and memos sent by senior SGI officials in April wrongly implied a decision on mandatory training had been made.

“We make recommendations to the government. It is not our place to make that call,” she said. “Definitely, the staff got a bit ahead of this.”

Thomas said he is clinging to the hope that his son’s death will make the roads safer for others. He said reading the “hypocritical” government emails, and the months of delays, have broken his heart all over again.

“You lose a level of faith in the people who are supposed to be taking care of us, governing us,” Thomas said.

“This is something we can control. Do something.”

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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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Real Estate

5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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