Raitt promises to help Lac-Megantic with reconstruction

New Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said Wednesday, while visiting Lac-Mégantic, that the federal government will help with its reconstruction but that it is difficult to say how much money it will contribute.

Newly minted Transport Minister Lisa Raitt offered no details on financial aid

Newly minted Transport Minister Lisa Raitt visited Lac-Megantic on Wednesday to get a first-hand look at the devastated community. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The federal government is promising to help Lac-Mégantic in its reconstruction efforts, but hasn't said yet how much financial aid it will contribute.

Newly appointed Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said Wednesday, while visiting the small community in Quebec's Eastern Townships, that she was there to get a first-hand look at the devastation and better understand its scope.

"You can count on the federal government to be supportive and that we will be here to help with reconstruction, and in whatever way the province and the municipality wants us to," Raitt said.

The new transport minister was asked several times how much financial help the federal government would contribute, but she would not say.

Raitt explained that the difficulty lies in quantifying what the needs are and that she would be meeting with the mayor of Lac-Mégantic and other officials to get a better grasp for the scope of the devastation.

"My door is open," Raitt said.

Colette Roy-Laroche, the mayor of Lac-Mégantic, said on Wednesday that she would ask the federal minister for financial aid to help with various infrastructure projects.

Raitt acknowledges lack of French

Raitt, who speaks little French, was accompanied by Christian Paradis, the member of Parliament for Mégantic–L'Érable, Que., who until Monday was the minister responsible for Quebec.

Paradis has been the face of the federal government on the ground since the accident, caused by the derailment of a train that was carrying crude oil.

On Monday, he was shuffled out of the industry portfolio and appointed minister for international development.

Raitt, who faced high expectations for her visit, came right out of the gate and addressed her lack of French head on.

"I admit my French is not as good as yours. However, I hope you'll see my sorrow and preoccupation for your well-being," Raitt said.

Her comments elicited a small chuckle from Paradis, who quickly regained his composure as Raitt forged on.

"This tragedy moved so many of us across the country, but so has the strength and the courage of the people in this community and those who are working to respond to its aftermath," Raitt said.

"You can be sure that the federal government will continue to assist the province and the municipality with what they need to help the community. Both are acting with skill and compassion and should continue to lead the response."

Raitt was also accompanied by Conservative MP Larry Miller, who serves as chairman of the Commons transport committee.

Investigations ongoing

Miller rejected an NDP request to have the transport committee meet during the summer to discuss rail safety, saying it was too early to discuss the matter given the ongoing investigations.

Raitt said officials from Transport Canada are on the ground cooperating with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the Sûreté du Québec, and others in their investigation to determine the causes of the tragedy.

The minister said their conclusions will help guide the federal government in rail transportation safety.

Raitt assured the community that the federal government would take the necessary measures to prevent a similar accident from happening in the future.

Mathieu Ravignat, the NDP member of Parliament for Pontiac, told CBC News while it was "a good thing" that Raitt travelled to Lac-Mégantic, he was disappointed that the federal transport minister came empty-handed.

"It seems to me that some clear, concrete measures could have been proposed," he said.

Ravignat said the federal government ought to review the way trains go through municipalities, and that it ought to consider phasing out certain train cars that have proven to be dangerous.

Raitt's visit comes a day after seven mayors from Quebec's Eastern Townships called for a meeting with her to discuss rail safety concerns.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has pledged $60 million in immediate and short-term aid. She has pushed for Ottawa to contribute because railways are a federal responsibility.

Following Monday's cabinet shuffle, Harper was asked whether it was appropriate to appoint Raitt, a unilingual anglophone, to transport given the crisis in Quebec.

Harper replied he had great confidence in Raitt and that she would serve all Canadians well.

The prime minister added that Denis Lebel, the minister for infrastructure, would be involved in the reconstruction efforts.