Q&A with Transport Minister Lisa Raitt on Lac-Mégantic disaster

Newly-appointed federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt speaks to CBC's Daybreak about federal funding for the town, the safety of single-man operations and possible changes to regulations.

Raitt says everyone involved in Canadian rail safety should review operations

Newly-appointed Transport Minister Lisa Raitt visited Lac-Mégantic on Wednesday. (Radio-Canada)

New Transport Minister Lisa Raitt toured the disaster site in Lac-Mégantic, Que. yesterday and described it as a unforgettable scene. But, despite a $60-million commitment from the province, the federal government has not yet announced how much it will pledge to help the town rebuild.

Raitt spoke to CBC Montreal's Daybreak this morning about determining how much the town needs, the safety of single-man train operations and possible changes to federal regulations.

Q: The province has pledged $60 million, they’ve been able to come up with an amount. What’s taking you guys so long

A: They have, as first responders there with municipalities, they’re really the ones that are dealing with the material on the ground. For us, it’s about truly discussing with them what the appropriate amount. It’s not about it’s not going to be there. It’s absolutely going to be there. It’s a matter of making sure that we understand what is that has to happen.

You know, I talked to the mayor yesterday and she is an incredible woman and they’re trying to determine as well how they 

'Everybody in Canada involved in rail should be taking a look at everything you do to ensure safe passage of passengers and goods on rail systems in Canada.'—Transport Minister Lisa Raitt

move forward on their economic development and discussions are still happening there and those are the kind of pieces that have to be discussed with Minister label, minister Paradis, myself, the prime minister, in order to make sure that the plan that is wanted by the municipality is the one that goes forward and that is funded.

Coming up with a dollar amount is something that I understand is wanted, but we are going to be there and quite frankly it’s about making sure that we do the right thing in terms of getting the community together again and getting their operations up and running.

Q: What do you make of the response so far of the company involved, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, and particularly its chairman, Ed Burkhardt?

A: I followed this from afar when I was not the minister of transport. My previous experience as minister of labour, I have had close contact with both union and management at our two large railways, CN and CP, have had great relationships, understand their commitment to safety.

I have not had a conversation with anybody MM&A and what I am learning is through my officials and the media. They are managing this crisis in their way. Our responsibility, quite frankly, is to make sure we investigate and if there has been any wrong doing or breaking of the rules, we will ensure that we will use every tool we have-- that people who have responsibility for this will have accountability for this.

Q: One issue that people have raised in regard to this is that fact that the train that derailed had a one man crew. MM&A is one of only two railways in Canada that got permission from Transport Canada to operate that way. . . Would you consider outlawing all together one man crews on freight trains?

A: You’re right to point out that there is only two in Canada currently that have this operation in place.

Transport Canada, the role that they have, we have now, is guidelines in place for companies to follow when they’re going to be moving to single person operations. As part of this investigation, the Transportation Safety Board is going to be looking at this and Transport Canada of course is reviewing their rules and seeing whether or not the company, MMA, was following the rules and regulations around single person operations.

 I think it’s safe to say that when you’re faced with such a disaster like this, everyone in Canada who is involved in rail safety does take a step back and goes back and reviews absolutely everything they have in place to ensure that you are doing the right thing.

This is an accident that is still one that people in the railway industry are looking at and wondering what happened and that’s why we have investigations ongoing to learn what happened.

From our point of view, all good companies in Canada should be reviewing all of their rail safety mechanisms and their processes and their training to ensure they’re doing everything they can to operate in culture of safety and Transport Canada is doing the same.

Q: Canadian Pacific sent out memo to staff recommending change already. They say it’s because of pending changes expected from Transport Canada. Are you already at work on new regulations?

A: Everybody in Canada involved in rail safety, if you’re in the safety field — I spent three and half years in safety and labour Canada — you should be taking a look at everything you do to ensure safe passage of passengers and goods on rail systems in Canada. We’re doing the same at Transport Canada and if there is going to be any orders coming from Transport Canada, I’ll be the one the one that will be announcing them.

As for Canadian Pacific, I’m very pleased to see they’re taking a look at theirs and as I said, I spoke to CN this week and they’re doing the same.