The new Ontario licence plates debuted this month, featuring the first major redesign since the province started adding slogans to them in 1973.
The blue plates — which are stirring up a controversy after social media users including an off-duty Kingston police officer claimed over the weekend that they can’t be seen at night — has the slogan “A Place to Grow.”
It’s pulled from the little-known provincial anthem “A Place to Stand, a Place to Grow,” presented at the Ontario pavilion at Expo 67. A film of the same name was also featured at the Expo.
The new plate replaces the white plate which had the slogan “Yours to Discover,” in use since 1982.
Before Ontario was yours to discover, “Keep it Beautiful” was the slogan between 1973 and 1982.
“Open for Business” is now the slogan that will appear on commercial plates used by trucks and other industrial vehicles.
The most recent change came with the election of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives.
“After 15 years of disastrous Liberal mismanagement — supported, frankly, by the NDP — we want to make sure people understand there is a new government. We are actually open for business,” Government and Consumer Services Minister Bill Walker told the Star in April 2019.
About 1.8 million new licence plates are issued each year and there are 12.9 million active registered plates, the province said in a news release last spring.
The plates are produced with prison labour through Trilcor Industries, which gets its name from the words “trillium” (Ontario’s provincial flower), and “corrections.” Ontario Correctional Services has been producing licence plates for the province since the 1950s.
“By providing inmates with the opportunity to work at meaningful jobs, the program provides cost effective, rehabilitative work experience for offenders,” the Ministry of the Solicitor General writes on its website.
“In the process, they learn valuable skills that will serve them well upon release. A regular work schedule teaches offenders accountability, responsibility and teamwork.”
It’s not the first time that the Conservatives have used licence plates to make a statement.
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The previous “Keep it Beautiful” and “Yours to Discover” slogans were also introduced by a Progressive Conservation government.
Between 1946 and 1972, in an era when motorists got new plates annually, Ontario’s plates alternated between blue and white. The Tories were in power for 42 years, between 1943 and 1985.
Former premier Bob Rae recently derided Ford’s government plan to change the plates.
“I’ve knocked on thousands of doors over four decades in public life,” Rae wrote on Twitter. “No one has ever, ever, ever demanded a change in the licence plate, and in particular no one has ever, ever, ever suggested we change it to an empty hot air political slogan.”