Members of Parliament who sit on the transport committee are interrupting their summer breaks and returning to Ottawa today for a meeting on rail safety, in the wake of the derailment and explosion that devastated the community of Lac-Mégantic, Que.
Olivia Chow, NDP transport critic and vice-chair of the committee, officially requested the meeting last week with the required support of three other MPs. Chair Larry Miller, a Conservative, had five days to set up a meeting according to procedural rules.
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The committee is meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. ET on Parliament Hill and the NDP will be pushing the other members to agree to undertake a study on rail safety. Chow and Quebec NDP MP Robert Aubin will speak to reporters at 3:30 p.m. to lay out their expectations for the meeting.
Transport Canada is also scheduled to announce new rail safety rules at 2:30 p.m. ET.
The motion being proposed by the NDP is to undertake a study on rail safety that would examine some of the following issues:
- Transportation Safety Board recommendations that haven't fully been implemented by Transport Canada.
- The audit findings from a 2011 report on the transportation of dangerous goods.
- The use of two-person crews and he call for clear rules on hand brakes.
- Phasing out and replacing unsafe tanker cars.
The NDP is proposing the committee hear from TSB officials, Transport Canada officials, railway companies, and Transport Minister Lisa Raitt throughout August and September and prepare a final report by October.
The Conservatives could use their majority on the committee to quickly shut down the NDP's request to study rail safety and it's not clear how much of Tuesday's meeting will be public.
MPs could choose to move the debate over whether to grant the NDP's request for the study behind closed doors. If the committee agrees to proceed with a full study and MPs move on to the selection of witnesses, that process usually takes place in camera.
The Conservatives haven't given any signals that they will agree to the NDP's request. Miller said on Friday he thinks a study on rail safety would be "premature" given that the investigation into the Lac-Mégantic crash is ongoing.
The NDP argues that the study wouldn't focus specifically on what happened in the small Quebec town but rather on rail safety generally and on why past recommendations to improve it have been ignored.