IN THE NEWS ~ Transport canada funding cuts coincide with record shipping

Janet Bagnall, Montreal Gazette (Early) Special Section, Page A9

MONTREAL - At a time when train shipments of crude oil are expected to skyrocket in Canada, the federal government is cutting funding for Transport Canada, the country's transportation regulator, by almost 30 per cent, down to $1.5 billion, according to government spending estimates for 2012-13 and 2013-14.

The country's two major rail companies, CP and CN, carried more than 30,000 carloads of crude oil across North America last year, according to Bloomberg, and the companies told the news service they expect to transport twice that amount this year, as output of crude outpaces space in oil pipelines.

Adding a certain volatility to this mix is a long-term shift to self-regulation in which companies are allowed to "do their own thing" when it comes to safety inspections, former Canadian Safety Council president Émile Therien said.

The trend to self-regulation started during the late 1990s, Therien said. The idea, he said, was "to make our industries more efficient, we let companies do their own thing - more and more of it. I think Transport Canada, to a great degree, got out of the business of regulation." A result is an increase in accidents, he said.

NDP energy critic Peter Julian said on Sunday that the federal government is not providing the oversight that a self-managed system needs.

"Safety supports have been eroded by the Conservative government," he said. "It is dangerous and irresponsible with a self-managed system. The government needs to restore the financing it has cut." Julian said the cuts result in fewer safety inspections.

"There are best practices that are mandatory in other countries, like voice recorders and auto-braking systems that are not required in Canada," Julian added, "but they should be."

According to the Wall Street Journal, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, the company whose 72-car train derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, has spilled hazardous materials seven times since 2000. The paper cited the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

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