OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s new transport minister, Lisa Raitt, will become the government’s point person on railway regulation, a highly sensitive task in the aftermath of the train derailment earlier this month that devastated a small town and left 50 people dead.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper named Raitt on Monday to head the ministry as part of a wider cabinet shuffle, which was preceded by a minute of silence to remember the victims of the rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
Raitt has managed crises before and has defended government policies in the face of stiff opposition.
As labor minister since 2010, she pushed for controversial back-to-work legislation to end strikes at Air Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway and the country’s mail service, Canada Post, which critics said pre-empted the chance of negotiated settlements in those disputes.
She will now likely take the brunt of public outrage over the disaster in Lac-Megantic, the worst rail accident in North America in 24 years, and which many in the town blame on deregulation of the railway industry.
One of the leading investigators of the crash said he expected it to lead to tougher new rules for rail-car hand brakes, tanker cars and possibly train crew size.
Before entering politics, Raitt was president and chief executive of the Toronto Port Authority, a government agency that manages Toronto’s harbor and downtown airport.
After winning the election in her Halton, Ontario, district in 2008, Raitt was immediately named natural resources minister.
She was demoted to the labor department in 2010 following a minor scandal in which a news outlet obtained an audio recording of her commenting on the shutdown of a nuclear plant that caused a shortage of radio isotopes used in medical imaging. She described the issue as “sexy”.
Raitt made headlines more recently for sharing her personal experience with postpartum depression, and calling on employers to give more support to workers with mental health problems.
Reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Janet Guttsman; and Peter Galloway