Was the Lac Megantic disaster caused by too much government regulation?
Probably not, but I made you look, no? I can’t resist an “I told you so” moment on recent coverage of the tragedy in Quebec.
Not very long ago, I pointed out in the wake of the disastrous floods in Calgary that conservative politicians and columnists had, with few exceptions, experienced an unbelievable overnight rebranding and emerged as big-government liberals. The government should have restricted home building in flood-prone areas, they told us. The government should make private insurance companies cover flood damage, they suggested. The government should bail out the new homeless, they declared. People who have spent years assuring us that the most important problem in Canada is big government suddenly decided that government should get even bigger.
We’re seeing this remarkable hypocritical transformation once again in Lac Megantic. There wasn’t enough government regulation, they told us. We should make the railways more responsible. We should intervene to move oil transport to safer means, like pipelines.
I admit I haven’t looked as hard as I could have, but not once, so far, have I heard any of the courageous truthspeakers of Canada’s New Right level with us about the real problems that occurred in Lac-Megantic. Not one, at least that I have noticed, has advanced the argument that maybe Canada’s heavy-handed approach to rail regulation actually caused the company to overlook more effective solutions to overnight rail safety. That’s the argument they advanced to justify the government’s headlong rush away from inspecting passenger airlines, the reckoning for which we have yet to face.
Not one has advanced the argument that if people are worried about train derailments, or aren’t financially prepared to cope with a derailment, they shouldn’t live, party, or do business next to a railroad track.
Instead, what we’ve received is a mixture of calls for more government regulations because private companies can’t be trusted to decide what to do with their own property — normally anathema to free-market conservatives — and suggestions that governments should be more willing to encourage pipeline development because when pipelines burst, the disasters are confined to remote northern areas with fewer people and — most important of all — fewer observers.
All of which is fine, as far as it goes, but it really doesn’t seem to jive with the conservative agenda. I mean, surely, oil transport decisions should be made on the basis of market factors, not government policy (although pipelines would probably be the result in either case). Surely it’s unlikely that a private company would knowingly fail to take the necessary steps to avoid the catastrophic destruction of its own trains, no?
Once again, what passes for new conservative ideology shows a stubborn inability to cope with real-world problems. It’s quite clear that this ideology, at least in its hardline forms, is really at best a sort of mental disorder, a pathology, rather than a realistic assessment of reality. In the meantime, fair-weather conservatives turn out to be foul-weather liberals. Except with respect to the actual weather, of course, a subject on which they remain firmly head planted in sand.