LAC−MEGANTIC, Que. — The NDP’s Tom Mulcair, hoping to remind voters in Quebec of the Conservative government’s record on protecting public safety, got a first−hand look Friday at a new Lac−Megantic as it rises from the ashes of 2013’s devastating train derailment.
With three days left until Monday’s vote, the party is hoping the rural Quebec visit will be a visceral reminder of the regulatory and safety failures that allowed an unattended, oil−laden train to careen uncontrolled into the heart of the town and explode, killing 47 people.
An NDP government would seek to reverse the Conservative−driven trend towards allowing industries with a direct impact on public safety — food inspection and railways in particular —to self−regulate, Mulcair said.
“Government has to begin playing a more proactive role in protecting the public,” he said. “There’s nothing more essential than protecting the public, in all of the things that governments do.”
Asked whether it wouldn’t be more sensible to expedite pipeline projects like Energy East to better protect the public from oil−carrying tanker cars, Mulcair blamed the Conservative government for gutting environmental protections, helping to make it difficult for such projects to proceed.
Not a single kilometre of pipeline has been built under Stephen Harper’s watch, he noted.
Earlier this week, a Quebec judge approved the terms of a $450−million settlement with the victims.
The NDP is targeting the Conservative riding of Megantic−L’Erable, previously held by cabinet minister Christian Paradis, as it underlines its promise to invest in rail safety and call a public inquiry into the issue.
Mulcair is also hammering away at the Liberals over the resignation of campaign co−chairman Dan Gagnier, who gave TransCanada Corp. advice on who in a new government they should lobby about the Energy East pipeline.
He accused Justin Trudeau of changing his story about when and how much he knew about Gagnier’s activity before it became public.
The Liberals are only ever interested in “paving the way for themselves,” he said.
“Anybody who thought that things would change with the Liberals better think again.”
Mulcair wouldn’t say whether he’d investigated the activities of his own staff, including campaign co−chair Brad Lavigne, who is no longer a federal registered lobbyist, but is still signed up with the province of Ontario.
The Ontario Lobbyist Registry shows Lavigne was arranging meetings for the Canadian Fuel Association and Just East Energy Ontario as late as three weeks ago.
Lavigne, who works for the lobbying firm Hill and Knowlton, insisted Friday that the information on the Ontario registry is a mistake and that he deregistered in May.
He also claimed that the fuel association reference is incorrect and that he only worked for the organization briefly on a short−term contract last year.
“What we are talking about is what Mr. Gagnier was doing during this campaign,” Mulcair said.
“It was Monday of this week that Dan Gagnier was working for and on behalf of TransCanada on the Energy East pipeline. That’s what we’re talking about here today.”
Gagnier resigned from the Liberal campaign this week after The Canadian Press revealed an email that showed he was giving advice to TransCanada about how to get Energy East approved.
Raising the spectre of Liberal corruption, particularly as it might pertain to a hot−button issue like the controversial west−to−east pipeline project, could play well for the NDP in Quebec.
“What was being prepared was a return to the good Liberal days of the past where they took everything they could for themselves and left nothing for the public,” Mulcair said.
Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press