Conservative transport chair calls rail safety meetings ‘premature’

Conservative MP for Bruce Grey Owen Sound walks through the Foyer of the House of Commons following Question Period in Ottawa, Wednesday June 6, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld. The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – The Conservative chair of the House of Commons transport committee says it’s too soon for MPs to reconvene to discuss rail safety, as suggested by the NDP in light of the fatal train crash in Lac-Megantic, Que.

“What is the committee going to meet about? We have no results out of the investigation,” said Larry Miller, who represents the Ontario riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound.

“I think it’s very premature to call the committee right back down in the middle while both the police and Transportation Safety Board (are) doing their assessment of the accident.”

Miller, who was out of the country until Thursday night, said he has yet to receive an official request from the NDP. If he does, the 12 committee members will have to fly back to Ottawa to discuss it.

Toronto MP Olivia Chow, vice-chair of the committee, told the Canadian Press Thursday she wants the committee to focus on the larger issue of Canadian safety regulations and that the meetings should be held no sooner than August.

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Chow was not available for an interview Friday but replied in a statement: “I am working with the Chair of the Committee to determine the best way for MPs to come together to improve rail safety. Stay tuned.”

Miller said it’s possible the committee will study the Lac-Megantic crash in the future, but he doesn’t see the need before the House resumes in September. He said he spoke with Chow on Friday and “I think she realizes as well this is premature right now.”

“We have to wait and see what caused this. Was it human error? Was it negligence by the company? Could there have been a regulation in place that could have stopped this?” he said.

“This is a terrible tragedy, I can’t imagine the families, and what have you, what they’re dealing with. But we can’t change what happened but what we can do is try to make sure if there’s things that government can do, to put in place to see that this never happens again, then of course we should consider that. But at this point we just have to let the investigation take its course I think.”

In a 2011 report, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, inside the auditor general’s office, pointed to long-standing weaknesses in the government’s oversight of the transportation of dangerous goods.

Transport Canada was supposed to address all the recommendations by April this year, but has not yet met all of its commitments.

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Miller said the fact that Transport Canada hasn’t met the recommendations is “another issue altogether.”

“It’s not connected to this train derailment,” he said.

“I don’t have any details on it. I have no idea whether what you’re talking about there would have had anything to do to say, stop this derailment. I don’t believe so but I need more information before I really discuss that.”

–  with files from the Canadian Press

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