PMO dismisses NDP request for summer transport committee meeting on rail safety

Andy Radia

The NDP have called for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons Transport Committee to discuss rail safety following the tragic derailment and explosions in Lac Megantic, Quebec.

According to the Canadian Press, MP Olivia Chow — who serves as the committee's vice chair — is hoping for the meeting to be held in August.

The Toronto MP says she doesn't want the committee to scrutinize details of the Lac-Megantic accident, but rather focus on the larger issue of Canadian safety regulations.

Chow says potential witnesses could include the auditor general, and officials from Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board.

"I would ask the Transportation Safety Board to explain the various recommendations they've had in the past, and then ask Transport Canada why they're not doing them," said Chow.

The chair of the committee, Conservative MP Larry Miller, quickly dismissed the request as did the prime minister's office.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those affected by this tragic train derailment and subsequent fires in Lac-Mégantic. This tragedy is under investigation by the experts at the Transportation Safety Board and the Quebec Provincial Police. We will let proper authorities complete their investigation," Julie Vaux, the prime minister's press secretary, told Yahoo! Canada News, by email.

"Railway safety regulations exist to ensure the safety and protection of the public. If these regulations were not followed, we will not hesitate to take whatever course of action is available to us."

[ Related: Lac-Megantic slowly recovers from train disaster; will run again some day ]

According to CBC News, investigators are probing the the train's operator and whether they followed proper safety rules.

On Wednesday, Ed Burkhardt, CEO of Rail World Inc. — the owners of the train — suggested that the engineer hadn't properly applied all the emergency breaks.

As officials continue to investigate, however, some on the outside are suggesting that federal budget cuts and deregulation may have contributed to the accident.

The New Democrats seem to be leading that charge.

Last weekend, Thomas Mulcair chided the Harper government for budget cuts.

"We are seeing more and more petroleum products being transported by rail, and there are attendant dangers involved in that," the NDP leader said according to CTV News.

"And at the same time, the Conservative government is cutting transport safety in Canada, cutting back the budgets in that area."

[ Related: Portrait emerges of train engineer linked to Quebec derailment disaster ]

And on Thursday, a Quebec union leader told Reuters that he blamed the incident on inadequate federal regulations.

"After what we saw in Lac-Megantic... I mean, I don't want to panic the Canadian people, but if you live near a railroad track in this country can you really sleep peacefully at night?" Guy Farrell, deputy director of the Quebec steelworkers' union Syndicat des Métallos, said.

"For us, the important thing is that the government must tighten regulations now."

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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