MPs wait on Lac-Mégantic details before rail safety study

A majority of MPs on the House of Commons transport committee rejected the NDP's bid to launch an immediate study on rail safety, but adopted a motion to do one when at least some of the findings of the investigation into Lac-Mégantic are known.
MPs on the House of Commons transport committee voted Tuesday to put off a study on rail safety until after some of the findings into the Lac-Mégantic disaster are known. (Ryan Remiorz/Associated Press.)

MPs on the House of Commons transport committee voted Tuesday at a special summer meeting to put off a study on rail safety until at least some of the findings of the investigation into the deadly Lac-Mégantic crash are known.

The NDP tried and failed to get the committee to undertake an immediate study.

The meeting that brought MPs back to Ottawa for a few brief hours opened with the committee members offering their condolences to the people of Lac-Mégantic.

They then began debate on a motion from Conservative MP Jeff Watson that proposed a study be done on rail safety, but not until later.

Watson said the committee should wait for some of the findings of the Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, but not necessarily all. He said if the committee wants to show they're serious they should wait for some evidence. He also said doing a study now could take resources away from the various ongoing investigations.

"That doesn't mean there won't be a study," he said. The answer from this side of the table I think is not a no, it's a not yet." "We have to let the evidence show us the way forward in this."

Olivia Chow, NDP transport critic and vice-chair of the committee, said a study wouldn't impact the TSB's investigation into Lac-Mégantic and that the NDP wants to study past derailments and past recommendations on rail safety that haven't been implemented.

"I believe we have enough information before us," she told the committee. "There is no reason for us to wait."

The NDP's own motion called for a study to begin immediately that would examine previous recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board and from a 2011 audit by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. The NDP's proposed study also would have examined if two-men crews should be mandatory, the rules around hand brakes, and issues around tanker cars.

NDP wanted report by October

The NDP wanted to hear from witnesses, including Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and railway companies, in August and September and finish a report by October.

Chow pushed for her motion to also be adopted by the committee, saying that when Parliament resumes in late September the committee is supposed to study infrastructure. She said they have time between now and then to focus on rail safety.

But she didn't convince the Conservatives or the Liberal member of the committee, David McGuinty, and they voted down her motion. Several of them said it would be premature to do a study before the Lac-Mégantic work is done.

"It's unfortunate that the Liberals and the Conservatives want to take the summer off," Chow said following the meeting. "We as parliamentarians should work throughout the summer to make sure we can improve rail safety."

Conservative MP Mark Adler accused the NDP of playing "cheap politics" with the deadly crash in Quebec.

McGuinty said he voted against Chow's motion because the focus should be on what's happening in Lac-Mégantic. "It's not about delaying. It's about, in my mind, respecting the people of Lac-Mégantic and making absolutely sure they have everything they possibly need right now," he said. 

"We have to be very careful here to not to let this in any shape or form be drawn into partisan politics," he added.

Earlier in the day, Transport Canada announced an emergency directive to rail companies with six new measures they are required to follow. The department said the measures build on the safety advisories received last week by the Transportation Safety Board. The rules require any train carrying dangerous goods to have at least two qualified people on board to operate it and no locomotive attached to tank cars with dangerous goods can be left unattended.

Transport Canada officials said during a briefing that the Lac-Mégantic disaster has brought some industry practices to light that are of concern and they thought it would be "prudent" to issue the directive now. The measures will be in place until December.

"Those six are not enough. There is a lot more that needs to be done," Chow said in response to the new measures.