POLITICS

Lac-Megantic mayor stands behind local Tory MP sidelined from rebuilding file

07/15/2013 06:50 EDT | Updated 09/14/2013 05:12 EDT
LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. - The mayor of Lac-Megantic says she has faith in her local Conservative MP to help rebuild the devastated town, even though he's been sidelined from any cabinet role on the file.

Christian Paradis, the Harper government's former Quebec lieutenant, was stripped of his role as political minister in addition to being demoted from his industry portfolio in Monday's shuffle.

Paradis has a close connection to the train disaster: he happened to be having lunch at a popular Lac-Megantic bar on July 5, just hours before it became the epicentre of the explosions, with many of its customers killed.

The government says Paradis will continue to be involved in the Lac-Megantic file as the local MP — regardless of what his cabinet role is.

Paradis appears to be taking a back seat to Denis Lebel, the former transport minister who as the new Quebec lieutenant will become cabinet's point man on the file. That's because the new transport minister, Ontario MP Lisa Raitt, doesn't speak French.

But Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche says she's not concerned about that and says she still has faith in Paradis.

"It's not something I've had a lot of time to look at," she told reporters on Monday afternoon.

"We're still in crisis mode here."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a point of mentioning Lac-Megantic while announcing his cabinet shuffle on Monday.

The shuffle began at Rideau Hall with a moment of silence for victims, and he started his press conference afterward with a message in French about the disaster.

Harper also assured residents that the federal government will assist with the reconstruction.

"What I saw last week there was simply indescribable," he said.

"I know that for the brave citizens of Lac-Megantic the journey from shock to grief has only begun."

When asked whether it was appropriate to appoint Raitt, a unilingual anglophone, to head up the Transport Department given the Lac-Megantic derailment, Harper said Lebel would take on a special responsibility for the file.

The train disaster could impact more than one file in Ottawa: not only has the government promised to help with reconstruction, but it says it could enact transportation policy changes following an investigation by the Transportation Safety Board.

A government spokesman said Paradis will continue to be involved.

"Minister Paradis did play and absolutely continues to play an important role as local MP and will work in close co-operation with Minister Raitt as transport minister and minister Lebel as regional minister," said PMO spokesman Carl Vallee.

"Minister Paradis has been very present in this community over the last week and I anticipate this will continue. He said that the federal government will be there for the reconstruction and the PM referenced that in his remarks (Monday)."

Harper explained why the lieutenant's job was being transferred from Paradis to Lebel.

He said it was because Lebel's roles, with responsibility for infrastructure and intergovernmental affairs, lined up better with domestic tasks than Paradis' new portfolio as international-development minister.

The switchup of federal responsibilities in Lac-Megantic came as one of the country's largest public-sector unions criticized the Harper government Monday for not doing enough to enforce railway safety.

At a news conference in Lac-Megantic, the Quebec branch of the Public Service Alliance of Canada suggested the government was "complicit" in the tragedy due to lax regulations.