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

July 15, 2013 - 5:00 AM

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 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.

Paradis is now taking a back seat to Denis Lebel, the former transport minister who as the new Quebec lieutenant will become the 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.

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.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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