There’s plenty of blame to go around in the Lac-Mégantic train derailment and explosion — blame for the company’s lax safety culture and standards, blame for the way the engine was left unstaffed, blame for insufficient oversight.
All those factors were raised in the Transportation Safety Board report on the crash, which killed 47 people in the small Quebec town last summer.
But of the 18 major factors that the board determined caused the crash, factors that the board disclosed in its report on Tuesday, perhaps the most significant are the last three.
Why? Because while most of the factors are specific to the Lac-Mégantic crash, the last three have to do with the general weakening of government oversight.
To put it bluntly, those three factors are the ones that, if left unaddressed, could be the source of future accidents.
Here they are:
“16. Despite being aware of significant operational changes at Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, Transport Canada did not provide adequate regulatory oversight to ensure the associated risks were addressed.
“17. Transport Canada Quebec Region did not follow up to ensure that recurring safety deficiencies at Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway were effectively analyzed and corrected, and consequently, unsafe practices persisted.
“18. The limited number and scope of safety management system audits that were conducted by Transport Canada Quebec Region, and the absence of a followup procedure to ensure Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway’s corrective action plans had been implemented, contributed to the systemic weaknesses in Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway’s safety management system remaining unaddressed.”
There are plenty of people who dismiss government oversight of businesses as red tape and needless bureaucracy.
From fish farming to highway transport to heavy industry, you can always find someone willing to grouse about the costs of living up to government standards.
Businesses, they claim, have a vested interest in safety; safety makes financial sense, and no reasonable business person would knowingly cut corners on safety, because the financial risks are too high.
Unfortunately, that’s a crock. When times get tight financially, businesses become lousy self-regulators. Corners are cut, risks are taken, and when the inevitable happens, businesses go bankrupt and leave their messes behind.
Clear, constant regulation by municipal, provincial and federal agencies constitute the stitch in time that saves nine. The idea that businesses should self-police their operations may be fine when companies are all financially secure.
Since they are not, citizens have to depend on
governments to be effective, competent and consistent watchdogs.
Federal regulation in this country, from food inspection to science to transportation, has declined markedly under the current federal government.
The factors that led to the Lac-Mégantic crash show clearly why government regulation and oversight is more than just unnecessary red tape.