MLA criticized for comments made at Hinton train crash memorial

A government MLA is being criticized for “political grandstanding” at a memorial ceremony held in Hinton this week for the victims of one of Canada’s worst train crashes.

“We were just totally angry ... it was an opportunity for political grandstanding," victim's daughter says.

In 1986, 23 people died after a CN freight train crashed into a VIA passenger train in Hinton, Alta. Investigators suspect the CN crew fell asleep. (Karen Sornberger/Edmonton Journal/CP)

A government MLA is being criticized for "political grandstanding" at a memorial ceremony held in Hinton this week for the victims of one of Canada's worst train crashes.

A plaque was unveiled in the town on Monday to remember the 23 people who died in 1986 when a freight train and a VIA passenger train collided near Hinton.

Michael Peleshaty, the engineer of the VIA train, was one of those killed.

His daughter, Wendy Shevalier, attended the ceremony and said she was outraged by the speech delivered on behalf of West Yellowhead MLA Eric Rosendahl.

"It was a beautiful ceremony," Shevalier said. "They had 23 roses that they were calling up, if there were family or friends to lay the rose. So, I was able to take my 14-year-old daughter up there, who has never had the pleasure of meeting her grandfather. So [she] and I went and laid the rose, which was for her, of course, very special."

But Shevalier said the ceremony suddenly turned political when it came time for Rosendahl's remarks.

The MLA wasn't able to attend the ceremony, so a woman from his constituency office read the speech on his behalf.

Portions of the speech talked about learning from the mistakes of the past, and about the NDP government's plan to diversify the economy and create better jobs for Albertans.

When she heard that, Shevalier said she "saw red."

"We were just totally angry," she said. "It was an opportunity for political grandstanding. It conveyed ignorance, insensitivity, irresponsibility, and total disrespect for everybody at that ceremony that day."

MLA apologizes for statements made at memorial

Rosendahl's office told CBC News on Friday the MLA would be unavailable for comment, because he underwent surgery three days ago.

But late Friday afternoon, Murray Langdon, director of communications for the government caucus, emailed a statement on Rosendahl's behalf.

"I would like to apologize for comments delivered on my behalf on Feb. 8," the statement said. "On that day, my constituency assistant spoke in my absence at the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the 1986 railway accident near Hinton."

Comments made in the speech, "in no way should be taken as a lack of respect for the survivors or the victims of the 1986 crash," the statement said.

For her part, Shevalier said she wasn't exactly waiting for an apology from Rosendahl.

"If we had a nickel for every apology from a politician that our family received at the time of the accident," she said, "we'd be a rich family."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.