NDP calls for Commons committee to sit this summer on rail safety

Meetings wouldn't scrutizine details of Lac-Megantic disaster

OTTAWA – The NDP is proposing the House of Commons transport committee reconvene this summer to discuss rail safety, possibly holding a forum in Lac-Megantic, Que.

MP Olivia Chow, a vice-chair of the committee, says all four NDP members on the committee have said they’re prepared to meet.

She’s hoping for consensus from all committee members, including Conservative chair Larry Miller, who has been travelling outside the country. He wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The Toronto MP says she doesn’t want the committee to scrutinize details of the Lac-Megantic accident, but rather focus on the larger issue of Canadian safety regulations.

Daniel Paille, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, has also sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper requesting a special Commons committee meeting to examine rail safety, particularly the movement of dangerous goods in urban settings.

Chow says the Ottawa meetings should be held no sooner than August. And the New Democrat says she wants to get a sense from local officials first whether a forum in Lac-Megantic would be useful for the community.

“Eventually the community will need some kind of forum where they could get the answers to their questions and get the rules and regulations clarified,” said Chow.

“When that time would be, I don’t know, but certainly not now.”

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.

In a 2011 report, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, inside the auditor general’s office, pointed to long-standing weaknesses in the government’s oversight of the transportation of dangerous goods.

Transport Canada was supposed to address all the recommendations by April this year, but has not yet met all of its commitments.

The Transportation Safety Board has been calling for mandatory voice recorders aboard trains for a decade, including last year after a Via Rail passenger train jumped the track in Burlington, Ont., killing three.

The TSB also recommended at the time the implementation of automatic braking systems, to avoid runaway trains.

David McGuinty, a Liberal vice-chair of the transport committee, did not respond to a request for comment.