Putting Some Substance in Sorry

Government negligence in this tragedy
was second only to the company's...
The government has continued, shamefully,
to dodge the ultimate responsibility...

Putting Some Substance in Sorry

They Should Not Have to Wait Any Longer

This editorial appeared in
The Chronicle-Herald and The Mail-Star
Halifax, Friday, 2 January 1998

Next Thursday, the provincial cabinet has a chance to be more than rhetorically sorry for government's failure to prevent the Westray tragedy.

That's the day Premier Russell MacLellan says cabinet will discuss payment of a severance award finally made to Westray miners by the Labour Standards Tribunal.

The tribunal ruled Tuesday that 117 miners are owed $1.2 million because the closure of Westray on May 9, 1992 – when an explosion destroyed the mine and killed 26 men – was preventable. The labour standards code says employees are owed 12 weeks' pay after a sudden workplace closure unless the shutdown was beyond management control and the employer exercised due diligence to try to prevent it.

With Justice Peter Richard's exhaustive report as evidence, the tribunal had no trouble deciding Westray could and should have prevented the tragedy. Chairwoman Susan Ashley said the Richard inquiry's findings left that conclusion "inescapable."

Westray's owner, Curragh Resources, is long bankrupt and its few realizable assets, equipment valued under $5 million, are in the hands of the province. Settlements of between $5,000 and $12,000 per employee will come from selling these relics of the disaster. But the miners want the province to pay them now and recoup the cost when the assets are sold.

It is little to ask. The miners have spent 5½ frustrating years, often in financial hardship, waiting for someone to be held responsible. They should not have to wait any longer for someone to actually be responsible.

That someone should be cabinet. The inquiry found government negligence in this tragedy was second only to the company's. Cabinet accepted those findings and has acted to rectify the failings of government regulators. It has apologized for the tragedy. But it has continued, shamefully, to dodge the ultimate responsibility: paying a share of damages to the injured parties.

Mr. MacLellan and his colleagues can start putting substance in their sorry by promptly paying the severance awards. And that is just a prologue to a graver duty: negotiating compensation for the families of the 26 who died.

Go To:   Westray Scrapbook Fifty clippings about the Westray coal mine disaster
Go to:   Main Westray Coal Mine Disaster page
Go to:   Westray Public Inquiry online transcript of testimony
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