Transport Canada is under the gun

Tease the day: The department responsible for ensuring safe railways has a tough job ahead

Don’t blame oil for the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic

Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

Transport Canada, the massive federal department tasked with ensuring safety on Canada’s roads, rails, and waterways, has a big job staring it in the face. In the wake of the massive rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., Transport officials have to convince anyone watching that they’ll figure out what went wrong, do whatever they can to prevent future tragedies, and give people confidence that railways are safe for any humans and freight onboard any train across the land.

This kind of lede, published in this morning’s Toronto Star, doesn’t help the cause.

Despite repeated warnings of potential dangers from freight trains carrying crude oil and other flammable cargoes, the federal government has been slow to tighten up safety standards on rail lines.

Brian Stevens, a Canadian Auto Workers national representative, told the Star that federal rail inspectors aren’t as thorough as their provincial counterparts, a claim that makes government cuts to rail safety—they’re spending $33.8 million this year, down $3 million from a year ago—more worrisome.

Maybe the department has a handle on the situation, and Lac-Mégantic was simply a terrible confluence of events that required everything to go wrong all at once. But Transport Canada has a monster task on its hands, and every story that questions rail safety makes the department’s job that much more difficult.

What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with Lac-Mégantic, Que., businesses hoping to restore rail service through the town as soon as possible. The National Post fronts former security watchdog Arthur Porter’s interest in investing millions of dollars in an Ontario gun manufacturer. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with recommendations that Toronto’s public school board tighten spending across the board. The Ottawa Citizen leads with the Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation of the staffing on the train that derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic. iPolitics fronts the importance of protest movements in Brazil, Turkey and Egypt. leads with businesses near the devastated core of Lac-Mégantic reopening for business. CTV News leads with vigils planned today in Lac-Mégantic. National Newswatch showcases a Toronto Star story that reveals a number of angry letters that Canadians sent to the prime minister in the wake of the Wright-Duffy expense scandal.

Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Aboriginal relations. Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak says his province’s chiefs unanimously oppose the Assembly of First Nations’ ongoing treaty negotiations with the feds. 2. Drugs. An RCMP report says 10 Canadians with ties to the drug trade have been shot in Mexico since 2008, a byproduct of Canadians cutting out American middlemen.
3. DND spending. The Parliamentary Budget Office says the Department of National Defence didn’t spend $2.3 billion of budgeted funds last year, part of a longer trend in the department. 4. Toronto. Residents have adopted environmentally friendly practices that have reduced water consumption by 10 per cent since 2005—a $350-million drop in city revenue.
5. Pigs. Thousands of pigs in almost a dozen American states are dying from a virus that’s similar to human stomach flu—and almost always fatal once a pig is infected. 6. Luxembourg. A juicy spy scandal involving secret tapings, unathorized surveillance and illegal luxury car sales has brought down the prime minister, who served for 18 years.

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