07.08.2013 09:49 AM

Lac-Megantic: the latest victim of government deregulation?

The photos, and the stories, coming out of that Quebec town are truly astonishing. We should pray for the people there, and collectively push for a comprehensive investigation of the cause.

But after doing some research, I’ve formed some of my own conclusions. A taste of tomorrow’s Sun column:

Given the immensity of the destruction in Lac-Megantic, however – and given the possibility that as many as four dozen people may have been killed when crude oil on board detonated – it is too soon to start guessing about what did, and what didn’t, cause the catastrophe. A sad procession of probes, inquests and commissions of inquiry will determine who, and what, is culpable. Rushing to judgment serves no one in Lac-Megantic.

But of the many railway disasters that have taken place in this country in recent years, we need not be so patient. In those thousands of documented cases, from coast to coast, one thing emerges – again and again – as a cause. It is cited a reason for hundreds of deaths, injuries and accidents, no matter who is in power, and no matter where the railway disasters take place.


Over the past two decades or so, government has systematically withdrawn from overseeing what happens on our 50,000 kilometres of rail tracks in Canada. The result has been death for citizens and railway workers, damage to the environment, and billions in lost property.


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    Michael S says:

    As I said elsewhere, the elephant in the room is that pipelines are a far safer mode of transport for oil than rail could ever be.

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      The Doctor says:

      Yet enviros have declared pipelines public enemy No. 1. I agree, painting one mode of petroleum transport as evil while giving all others a free pass is a stupid way to do public policy.

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    Elizabeth says:

    Apparently there’s the risk of larger oil spills with pipelines, although maybe not so much risk of catching fire.

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    Elizabeth says:

    A bit of history on the railway from Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323899704578589460837041312.html The Star has an aerial diagram.

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    patrick says:

    Well, maximizing profit is the most important thing and it is always will be about what the market will bare for private profit. The question will be are the deaths and environmental destruction be what the market (or “society” if you want to use the leftist, pinko, socialist, leftard, communist, tree hugger, government teat suckers, urban elitists, la dee das in crocs, propaganda term for the word) will accept for deregulation.

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      robin says:

      Patrick, “society” has the right to step in to inspect and regulate private activity since it is the taxpayer, that is, “society”, that always has to bail out private corporations when the markets fail, such as, the financial melt down due to subprime mortgages and deregulation in the US. If private shareholders, businesses and corporations would cover the actual costs of market failures and disasters caused by private operations then deregulation might be defensible. However, the human costs, lost lives, injuries, communities devastated, etc., would still warrant government regulations and inspections for safety. The derailment, explosion and intense fire in Lac-Megantic is a horrific reminder that prevention through public inspections and regulations not only saves money, it saves lives. The challenge is: when regulation and inspections work, there are fewer, possibly no, major incidences; then, narrow-minded capitalists argue that it is a waste of money to inspect and regulate so much since, get this, “there haven’t been any major incidences.” It’s impossible to quantify what doesn’t happen but don’t deceive yourself, government regulation, inspections AND enforcement works. The costs pale in comparison to the costs that residents of Lac-Megantic have already suffered not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars of costs yet to be incurred to investigate, clean up, rebuild and compensate the many survivors and the families of those innocent people whose lives were incinerated in a flash fireball of intense heat. I don’t believe any smart modern “market” would accept deregulation at that price.

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        deb s says:

        well said! thats the thing that frustrates me the most about capitilistic ideology. profits before people. However as you stated…if those shareholders and market mavens actually had to take on the cost of their failures, these corporate pirates would become the captains of regulation. It would make economic sense. Instead the govt gets bribed to allow such deregulation to occur and the politicians allow the legal agreements to work in favour of corporations.
        the enbridge (and all oil company) deals are not investigated thoroughly by mainstream journalists, or they would be able to announce clearly to the public who pays for oilspills when they occur and why that is. Enbridge and other corporations get a pass, because the politicians(many who are lawyers) allow them to.

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          patrick says:

          We have fallen so far that I can write something that I think is horrific, death vs. cost, plus string together a list of silly slanders “la dee dahs in crocs” plus suggesting the absurdity that “society” is a “propaganda term” and be taken seriously.

          Sigh. I thought “la dee dahs in crocs” was funny.

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            robin says:

            Patrick, over 40 people were incinerated alive in a flash fireball at 1:00 am and you are trying to be funny? I don’t think our interpretation of your disingenuous submission is the problem. Have you read The Four Agreements? Be impeccable with your word, especially at a time of human tragedy and suffering. How many years did it take before this joke became acceptable: “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?”

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      davidray says:

      I’m buying horse futures.

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      Elizabeth says:

      “bear” for profit. sorry but augh – it’s all over the place.

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    Elizabeth says:

    Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/07/08/lac_mgantic_explosion_train_derailment_a_local_risk_due_to_old_technology.html

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      frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

      From the article:

      Last month, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada called for better safety technology on the country’s railways after releasing a report on the derailment of a Burlington Via train in 2012. Among improvements safety officials demanded was “positive train control” — a fail-safe technology that automatically stops trains moving at unauthorized speeds.

      “If there was positive train control applied to (the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway) line, it could have made a difference,” Gormick said. “Many technological advances can be applied, but the railways don’t have the earnings for it . . . And we’ve got a gutless government that won’t do anything about it.”

      …..nuff said…..

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    Mark Bourrie says:

    All of our differences aside, good argument/piece that is important to my family. Both of my brothers are locomotive engineers who have seen this up close. You are definitely right on this.

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    Mark Bourrie says:

    Correction: my brothers-inlaw

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    Roland says:

    How many layers of regulatory inspection is needed? The rail companies must do regular inspections as do provincial authorities. Why add federal inspectors to do more redundant inspection?

    The accident was not the result of inadequate regulation; it appears to be one of operational negligence or mechanical failure. Trying to hang it on the federal government is just a low form of political propaganda and opportunism.

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      Ted B says:

      The rail companies are almost a sovereignty unto themselves. They inspect but there is no accountability. Just look at what just happened in Calgary.

      Provincial authorities have very little jurisdiction over rail companies since it is constitutionally a federal jurisdiction. What provincial inspections are you referring to?

      As Warren points out, none of us know what happened yet. It is too early to know in this case. But it certainly is the case that federal train regulation is on the decrease and that train wrecks are on the rise, just like federal regulation of meat and foods has decreased while incidents of food poisoning and disease has gone up. Cause and effect? Coincidence? I think we need to inspect that question and it is incidents like these that bring to light what is really happening in government.

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      doris says:

      “Why add federal inspectors to do more redundant inspection?”
      Because the companies skimp on inspections, that is when they are not being falsified to be compliant. Only independent inspections work. Why did the meat industry kill a dozen people last year and get away with it because the corporate sector has what it wants – llittle or puppet oversight. Deregulation is cheap and leads to higher risks, the question is are we willing to write off 40 people for more corporate earnings?

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      Lynn says:

      In response to your query: Several, these corporations would sell you bitumen for breakfast cereal if they could get away with it and list nutritional ingredients to “prove it”. It is proven again and again that most corporations would beat kittens and puppies to death (and lie about it when caught) if they could boost the bottom line and the rail industry is no different. Provincial inspectors in some provinces should not be inspecting outhouses so lets not pretend that they have a clue or authority when problems are found and the results speak for themselves. And btw, How has that meat inspection self regulation working out? I hope that we do not see a similar food scare this summer in that well regulated industry.

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    Sean says:

    Warren, take a look at what lessons have been learned from previous similar incidents. I can all but guarantee that almost nothing has been acted upon.

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    Rene says:

    CBC News reports that the final destination of this rail shipment of crude oil which destroyed much of downtown Lac Megantic was destined for Irving Oil’s Saint John refinery. So who decides the routing of such hazardous shipments, and routes them through populated areas ? There was clearly negligence by the rail carrier involved, police are investigating as well as accident investigators from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

    On the latter issue, such hazardous rail shipments have increased exponentially over the past few years, whereas the Transportation Safety Board only has a staff of 220 to handle investigations into all air, marine and rail disasters Canada-wide, and their website indicates there is a hiring freeze and no current jobs available with the TSB…

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      smelter rat says:

      All rail lines go through populated areas.

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    po'd says:

    Those of us who were around to see the beginning of the end of safe railway regulation and practices by the Mulroney government, knew this day would come.

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    Anne says:

    How true PO’d. I was there ( yes, worked for the federal government- waiting for sneers) in the 80s when we held fast against challenges to regulations and standards by seeing this possibility but they fell by the wayside at last. This was not unforeseeable; this was most clearly a decision to play with the odds in the interest of greed. I hope the people behind this have eternal nightmares. But then, they wont think it had anything to do with them.

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      po'd says:

      They won’t care Anne, that’s their nature. And you are absolutely correct on the odds point. What it comes down to in the end is, these people who died are merely collateral damage to crony capitalists.

      Let industry minimization and political ducking begin. 🙁

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    Neal says:

    “Since self-managed safety was put into place, it has been a disaster for Canadians. Lives have been lost; we’ve seen environmental devastation,” he said.
    Safety Management Systems (SMS) came into force in 1999 after the Liberal government of the day amended the Railway Safety Act.
    The policy change ended the oversight role of Transport Canada.

    Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/deregulation-a-disaster-for-rail-safety-report-1.242963#ixzz2YV5E3T00

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    Michael S says:

    I will not be lectured on petroleum use by someone whose emails read “Sent from my iPhone” which is made of plastics and arrived in Canada from China by air freight.

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      po'd says:

      Chihuahua’s are fond of ankles

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    Bruce A says:

    Uh-oh, people are “committing sociology” by raising such inconvenient questions about “root causes” and deregulation. Commenters at The National Pest are outraged!

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    MikeLondon says:

    The idea that businesses “police themselves” is just not good, whether it’s the food industry or railways. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like that’s the reason we have government; to oversee for the public good.

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      Nic Coivert says:

      That exactly is what good government can be for, legislation and regulation, to protect the public and its individuals, not corporations and there dividends.

      If the Cons ever get into the Charter it’ll become the Charter of Corporate Rights and Freedom from Litigation.

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    Nic Coivert says:

    If the Federal Government won’t regulate the movement of crude by freight they aren’t going to regulate a pipeline either.

    The tankers they are using to ship the oil in have already been declared unsafe by Canadian inspectors, 3 years ago, the Feds ignored the waring. The inspectors said they are prone to explosion if there is a spill whereas proper tankers are much less so. The Megantic train was also too long, too many cars, too close to town, but this was acceptable in the eyes of the company which was self regulating.

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