COMMENT: MP says safer rail means safer communities
One of the most defining issues of the Conservative’s time in government is their constant march toward self-regulation for industry. In the past, Canada relied on strong public regulation and oversight to ensure risks are managed to protect the public. The move away from the time-tested method has been incremental and deliberate. We have seen it with food inspection, environment monitoring and safeguards, and have been reminded again about how our railways operate.
The recent derailment and tanker fire in Plaster Rock, NB that evacuated homes in that tiny community is the second event involving crude oil in Canada over the last six months. Most will recall the horrific Lac Megantic derailment that decimated the tiny Quebec town this past summer. In addition to these, an explosive derailment happened near Gainford, AB in October forcing nearly 100 people to leave their homes. I am also certain that the citizens of White River, ON will not soon forget the derailment and spill of crude oil which occurred in early April.
Clearly, self-regulation by industry is not working, but the federal government refuses to acknowledge this. When New Democrats suggested that the House of Commons Transport Committee hold emergency meetings last summer to look into the tragedy in Lac Megantic, we were told it was too soon. Six months later with tankers burning in New Brunswick, it seems that their delay came with a price.
As NDP Leader, Tom Mulcair said, it is only by the grace of God that nobody was injured in Plaster Rock. Surely the time has come for us to move towards more public oversight and away from the method that isn’t working as well as it should.
In addition to that, it is time to have a policy that informs communities when dangerous goods are being transported through their town. Canada is falling behind on tanker car technology. The new generation of rail cars introduced in the United States would help mitigate the effects of derailments, just like upgraded braking systems would help limit these occurrences.
It is important for Canada to have tough safety measure and public oversight in order to increase rail safety. The rail companies should not be setting their own criteria for rail safety. It is up to our federal government to set and enforce policy on behalf of all Canadians.
As a rule, rail is an inexpensive, environmentally friendly and safe way to move freight and people.
However, we do need to assert our right to oversee safety and give regulators enough teeth to ensure that rail companies will listen and comply. Although compliance with strong regulations may increase the cost to railway companies, in the long-term, it will save them money.
One would think that if the CEO of CP Rail can personally earn almost $50 million annually in salary, bonuses and stock options, his company (and others) should be able to find the resources to ensure the safety of our communities.