High-flying Canadian Transport Minister

November 5, 2015

Canada’s Trudeau reaches heavenward for new Transport Minister

Canada’s freshly elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, reached heavenward Nov. 4, 2015 in selecting the country’s new Transport Minister, former NASA Space Shuttle astronaut Marc Garneau. The 66-year-old Garneau was Canada’s first man in space, logging 677 hours during three flights between 1984 and 2000.Website Insert 5000 New Seats copy

Garneau becomes the country’s chief transportation policymaker and regulator after a decade in which Transport Canada gained a hard-won reputation for incompetence, culminating in the 2013 catastrophe at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, when a runaway train loaded with Bakken crude initiated the series of oil train calamities that exposed the inadequacy of rail regulation in North America.

The former astronaut, a highly regarded elder in a cabinet otherwise characterized by youth and femininity (15 of the 30 ministers are women), takes over from a succession of weak transport ministers appointed by the defeated Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose domineering leadership ensured that rail policy favored oil and grain shippers at the expense of safety and service efficiency.

Garneau, then a powerless opposition member of parliament, visited Lac-Mégantic on the first anniversary of the disaster that killed 47 people and incinerated the town core. He declared then that the conflagration was the result of bad railroading compounded by the false characterization of the cargo as merely inflammable rather than extremely explosive. “Rail transport is essential to the economy of our country, and it is the responsibility of the Canadian government to ensure that our railway network is the safest in the world.”

Now, that responsibility is entirely his. A rigorous housecleaning of Transport Canada’s bureaucracy would be a good place to start: Not one employee was fired or disciplined by the previous government, despite a succession of harsh reports by the country’s auditor general and information commissioner, who denounced the department’s self-serving secrecy and regulatory ineptitude.

Read the rest of the opinion article by Railway Age Contributing Editor David Thomas by clicking here.


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