POLITICS

Premiers want real-time monitoring of trains carrying hazardous materials

07/26/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 09/24/2013 05:12 EDT
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. - Canada's provincial and territorial leaders want Ottawa to set up a monitoring system to track trains carrying hazardous materials and tighten insurance rules in the wake of the deadly disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que.

Such measures could have helped prevent the derailment of an oil-bearing train that decimated the town and killed at least 47 people, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said Friday as the premiers wrapped up their two-day Council of the Federation conference.

"We can also, if we have the right information, present (our) demands to the federal government about the regulations of the railway transportation," she said. "So we can work on specific issues in a better way than we did until now."

The final joint statement from the premiers noted that there was a "clear lack of information" on hazardous materials travelling by train.

Provinces have the right to be fully informed about what's moving through their jurisdictions, said British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. A system providing real-time data on the location and content of such convoys would help communities protect themselves.

"That transparency, that information is important," she said. "I think it's increasingly demanded of all governments and all corporate actors across the country when it comes to extracting and moving resources in particular."

Provinces and territories expect a "higher standard of care" from corporate entities, said Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

Insurance requirements for railroad companies must also be sufficient to cover the damages caused by accidents, the premiers said.

It's a key provision, because insurance companies will demand that rail companies operate safely or they won't cover them, said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.

"If you have to bear the costs of the risks of transporting your goods in an unsafe fashion, you have an incentive to do it safely," he said. "And if you don't do it safely, you're going to be broke."

Disasters at sea were also top of the mind for the premiers, who want a review of marine safety, including better regulations to address the clean up of shipwrecks in Canadian waters, and for Ottawa to take responsibility for removing shipwrecks.

Transport Canada oversees the ability of companies to salvage wrecks, which often means towing them to salvage yards outside Canada, said Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter. But the current regulations don't guarantee those companies have enough insurance to cover any damages if a wreck doesn't make it to its intended destination — something Ottawa could fix.

"I think they have a moral responsibility to take ownership of a problem that they created, but instead what they do is they allow the transportations to take place and then once something happens it becomes a provincial responsibility to clean it up and that's just not fair," he said.

The premiers want improved search and rescue response times and for the federal government to reconsider its decision to close a number of centres for marine rescue and communications traffic across the country.

"The seriousness of the issue is seared into the hearts and minds of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians by the loss of the Ocean Ranger, by the loss of Cougar 491, by the loss of 400 lives at sea mainly through fishing," said Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale.

"It is important that the people who earn their living up on the sea have the confidence that their safety is protected, that the proper infrastructure is in place, that the proper systems are in place to ensure their safety and to be able to respond in an appropriate way if they get into trouble."

Ottawa should also do more to help limit damage caused by extreme weather and natural disasters, the premiers said in their joint statement.

The federal Conservatives should make good on their promise to create a separate disaster-mitigation infrastructure fund that would help reduce the damage caused by extreme weather and natural disasters. The premiers say they're willing to split the costs with Ottawa.

Redford, whose province is still recovering from massive floods, made it clear that they don't want to divert money from the federal disaster response fund.

"The key is to get going on it," echoed Selinger, whose province also experienced destructive floods last month.

"These events are getting more severe, they're more intense, they're more frequent. We recognize that," he said.

"There's a clear pattern out there, and it's necessary to move on these matters as climate change issues continue to gather steam and storm."