Political repercussions of deadly train crash grow amid calls to back off - Macleans.ca

Political repercussions of deadly train crash grow amid calls to back off


OTTAWA – A push for parliamentarians to meet this summer to assess railway safety has more to do with partisan politics than with Quebec’s horrific train crash, the chairman of the House of Commons transport committee said Friday.

Conservative MP Larry Miller was responding to calls from the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois to convene committee hearings as early as next month in the wake of the Lac-Megantic disaster.

“Right now is not the time to play politics and I just don’t think the committee can accomplish anything,” Miller said in an interview from his riding in Owen Sound, Ont.

“It’s one thing to stand up and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to meet and we’re going to do this.’ That’s all fine. But there has to be something concrete that we can actually do or it’s just a waste of everybody’s time.”

Like it or not, whether offensive or defensive, last Saturday’s deadly derailment set off political repercussions in Ottawa almost immediately.

Those reverberations are only likely to grow as the immediate human tragedy recedes from what Wendy Tadros, the chair of the Transportation Safety Board, said “may well be the most devastating rail accident in Canadian history.”

Twenty-eight people are confirmed dead and another 22 are missing and presumed dead as police and investigators continue to comb through the aftermath of the 72 runaway tankers of crude oil that levelled the town centre.

The tragedy postponed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s much anticipated cabinet makeover, which is now expected to take place early next week.

Instead of visiting Rideau Hall, Harper was in Lac-Megantic last Sunday surveying the wreckage.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair had already beat Harper to the street and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau followed soon after.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has been to Lac-Megantic twice, garnering applause and hugs the second time around after announcing $60 million in funding and denouncing the railway company’s American CEO.

Plans to remodel Harper’s front bench were shelved as the Conservatives moved to ensure they had a continuous and high-profile presence on the ground in the Quebec town.

But with so many cabinet ministers either having announced their retirement or waiting on the sidelines for their next assignment, all major government decisions have been deferred — including action linked to Lac-Megantic.

The government has now been without a public safety minister for five days. Sources say Harper is ready to fill that void and go through with his earlier plans for a wholesale cabinet overhaul.

New Democrats, meanwhile, earned widespread ire for leaping to link the crash to purported government funding cuts. Mulcair attempted to douse the controversy, but the NDP has not stopped pointing a finger at Ottawa.

NDP MP Olivia Chow, a vice-chair of the committee, says all four New Democrats on the committee are willing to begin hearings in August — not to assess the crash specifics but rather to look at broader rail safety concerns.

Chow says potential witnesses could include the auditor general and officials from Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board.

“I would ask the Transportation Safety Board to explain the various recommendations they’ve had in the past, and then ask Transport Canada why they’re not doing them,” said Chow.

Daniel Paille, leader of the four-seat Bloc Quebecois, has also requested a special Commons committee meeting to examine rail safety, particularly the movement of dangerous goods in urban settings.

But Miller says politicians need to get out of the way and let police and transportation safety investigators do their job.

“If there’s something that points toward Transport Canada, of course we’ll have to deal with that,” he said of the Commons committee.

“But that’s not clear at this point and it seems to be that there may have been negligence with the company. But again that’s just initial thoughts that I’m just repeating what I’m hearing.”

On Wednesday, Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of U.S.-based Rail World Inc., which owns the runaway train, blamed the engineer for failing to set the hand brakes properly before the accident.

“He said he applied 11 hand brakes,” Burkhardt said. “We think that’s not true.”

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the unmanned train — all but one of its 73 cars laden with oil — hurtled down a 11-kilometre incline, derailed and exploded in the centre of town.

Investigators are looking into a fire on the same train just hours earlier. A fire official has said the train’s power was shut down as standard operating procedure, disabling the train’s air brakes.

“The long and short of this is we need to let them conduct this (investigation) and we’ll go forward from there,” Miller said.

An independent government report in 2011 pointed to long-standing weaknesses in Ottawa’s oversight of the transportation of dangerous goods.

Transport Canada said it would address all the recommendations by April this year, but has yet to meet all its commitments.


Political repercussions of deadly train crash grow amid calls to back off

  1. The CEO should not have said one employee is safer than two employees; as if every lapse of one employee is 100% correlated in the other or others. He should not have said he was talking with insurance companies for days 1st. Sounds like a weasel.

  2. Giving $150B to oil and fanance was useless decade

  3. So there are 9 different dangerous goods classifications in the TDG Act, #9 is a catchall but I don’t think crude oil falls under any of them at present. Fuel oil is #3. It annoys me CBC and everyone else is explicitly and implicitly stating crude oil is considered by Transport Canada to be a dangerous good.
    There is an old model of railcar that is known to be dangerous as it spills easily in a crash. It is 67% of USA oil cars but 83% (I think) of Canada’s. This model is illegal to presently make but we have grandfathered existing cars an immunity.
    Where the old rail car model is used in concert with crude oil, I’m sure this is a dangerous good that should be regulated as a dangerous good at least in populated areas and sensitive ecosystems.
    You see, wealth and jobs are not created by the oil industry or the finance industry. They are created by developing new products, products that create pleasure, and products that add lifespan. It is necessary to transfer wealth from oil and finance to other sectors of the economy, owned by oil and banks if desired. R+D is part of said products, but basic manufacturing seeks to make new products. Oil is oil is oil forever until it runs out or the climate changes enough or switch to recyclable thermoplastics. Finance I suppose could help people budget and invest better but is really marginal returns when gets bigger and richer: Canada’s banks did the best in the world and all they can really do is output dividends for pensioners (who can text while waiting in a hospital que).
    I want a nation who went through daycare, who have a fed with surpluses able to give provinces money for medical R+D and university research programmes…it would’ve been Canada under a Liberal decade. We are running deficits under big oil and had surpluses under the leftwingers; we don’t need oil revenue as rich people in Cgy’s oil skyscrapers and T.O.’s bank skyscrapers don’t R+D or manufacture.

    • I got one hr of work this summer from a public university researcher. You companies should have hired me a tiny bit when I cared about taking out a cdn gf to dinner. I’ve had a big bear take my food, a mommy dump my water, and scariest of all an adorable cub walk past the only rental unit I can afford. I’m not your cdn corporate friend anymore.

    • We had a liberal decade, remember? Majority governments to boot. They did next to nothing to invest in R&D or manufacturing, sold off what was left of Petro-Canada, and downloaded to the provinces. Time to think beyond the Liberal-Tory Coalition.

  4. Lac-Megantic, Quebec (CNN) — Canadian authorities
    have found evidence that a criminal act may have led to a train crash in
    Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed at least 15 people, provincial police
    Capt. Michel Forget said Tuesday.

    There have been many
    questions about the crash and explosion that wiped out a swath of the
    town 130 miles east of Montreal. As of Tuesday evening, 35 people were
    still missing, Forget said.

    Authorities offered no further details about the case but said it was not caused by terrorism.

    “I will not speculate on the elements that we have recovered,” Forget told reporters.

    • Human error perhaps…but no al Qaida, so relax.

      • Police ruled out human error today.

        • I’m glad for the sake of the engineer….but they’ve also ruled out al Qaida so relax.

          • Thanks for your concern, but I am quite relaxed.

            No al Qaida, more likely recently fired employee or eco-nut.

          • Seems unlikely. No group has claimed responsibility, and it was an out of the way place to do anything. Probably equipment failure.

  5. “NDP Leader Tom Mulcair had already beat Harper to the street”

    Amazing how fast he got there, huh? Seems like Mulcair would sell out his own mother if it could get him votes in Quebec.

    • Remember: Crack and comment boards don’t mix.

  6. Gimme a break. The rail disaster had nothing to do with oil or the construction of the tankers. It had all to do with not putting on hand brakes and/or leaving the huge train alone on a hill! There have been billions of cargo miles put on trains without incident and when there has been a derailment, it was caused by human error 95% of the time. Same here. Human error. I worked in a chemical plant where I had to load or unload much more dangerous products into or out of tankers than this. I had to apply the brake and chock the wheels on every car I touched. The engineer in this case should have done the same.

  7. Oh boy all the politicians showed their faces….. Big deal…. What are they going to do about safety on the railways???????????????? I’ll tell you. NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Politicians get paid off by these corporation to keep quiet and let the companies run there own ways.

    Put me in charge of canadian safety standards…. And Companies will change….. And I don’t give out free lunches or free rides. Yes it will hurt their pocket books big time.