What if Rail Safety was taken as seriously as Terrorism?

The federal government needs to do better at tracking and evaluating some of its program spending to ensure taxpayer dollars are being well-spent, Auditor General Michael Ferguson found in his spring report released today, and one of the most striking examples is that it can’t account for $3.1 billion in anti-terrorism funding.”

  •  Canada can’t account for $3.1B in anti-terror funding, AG finds, By Meagan Fitzpatrick , CBC News Posted: Apr 30, 2013 10:05 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 9:58 PM ET

In 2013, the Globe and Mail, in reporting on the Auditor-General’s report noted that “Transport Canada completed just one quarter of planned railway safety audits during a recent three-year period, leaving a majority of smaller railways without proper oversight” (Federal railway oversight lacking ‘in all aspects,’ Auditor-General’s report warns by Kim Mackrael, Ottawa — The Globe and Mail, Published Tuesday, Nov. 26 2013, 10:28 AM EST) That was just months before 47 people died in Lac-Mégantic because of a derailment of a train that was transporting crude oil.

In that same report, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson stated that there were weaknesses “in all aspects” of Transport Canada’s oversight of rail safety practices. The audit noted that inspectors were poorly trained, that there were not enough auditors and that follow-up with companies was limited. So it should not be a surprise that we have had two derailments in Alberta and three more derailments in Northern Ontario in 2015. The only surprise is that no one has died.

If one wants to take a look at the present government’s attitude it would be summed up by the word “indifference”. Labour Ministers in this Harper Government have been more worried about keeping trains running then the safety of those trains. Let us not forget that Labour Minister Kellie Leitch was about to force back-to-work legislation on CP Rail and the Teamsters Union rather than let both parties negotiate a settlement. (CP Rail, Teamsters union agree to arbitration, by Laura Payton, CBC News Posted: Feb 16, 2015 12:26 PM ET Last Updated: Feb 16, 2015 7:37 PM ET) Given that one of the issues was whether “CP employees can work up to 12 hours” on trains – thereby putting employees and communities at risk – one can see that safety is, not on the Harper Government’s mind.

Think about the Transportation Ministers’ actions. Ms. Lisa Raitt could have acted swiftly to ban DOT 111 transport cars because Transportation Safety Officials across North America have been pushing for the ban for 20 years, but she didn’t. In fact, it took over a year to come up with the ban and provide transportation companies with a 3 year compliance period. So companies have until May 1, 2017 to conform. (Minister Raitt announces steps to further strengthen railway, Oct. 29, 2014 – Ottawa – Transport Canada, Press Release.) What is even more interesting was that there was no legislative reform of the current system. We didn’t see a move to establish a two person crew on all trains, establish maximum hours or other more prescriptive approaches. Consequently, it is fair to say that the death of 47 people only led to a few regulatory changes.

Compare and contrast that reaction to the murders of two noble and heroic soldiers on Canadian soil. Five months after the deaths of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, the Harper Government has some of the most restrictive legislation seen since Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives shredded the War Measures Act. Police will now able to arrest someone and hold them for seven days, if they suspect that the person in question will carry out a terrorist attack. As we have seen in the Charlie Hebdo shooting, this strategy won’t work but police will be able to do it anyway. Police will be able to search communications, conduct surveillance and act in ways that they have already abused. In other words, all of these powers were taken away from the RCMP in the 1980’s because of abuse. Now we are going to give CSIS many of those powers back. Really, is our memory so short that we don’t remember that two Premiers were surveyed by the RCMP? Since 2001, we have spent billions of dollars to prevent terrorism. We spend more on the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, CSIS, CSEC and other security forces to protect us; while at the same time, we have cut Transport Canada’s budget.

Over time, many of us have forgotten that the priority of Government is to protect all of us and the difficulty in governing is marking hard choices. Sometimes, it is just as important to deal with the mundane issues of governing like ensuring railway safety; as it is to deal with the more “eye-catching” issues like terrorism. Consequently, at the end of the day, we have to assess a government’s success not just on the “noticeable” issues but all of them. So the question is, does the death of 47 people fall by the way side, while we go to war because of the death of 2? This is an important question and it is a question every citizen should ask.

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