Feb 212017

Photo: Transportation Safety Board on Flickr (Creative Commons) http://tiny.cc/eyz4iy

In the summer of 2013, a railcar hauling 72 tanker cars of Bakken crude oil derailed over the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and contaminating soil and waterways. It was the deadliest Canadian train accident since confederation.

“Why would Canadian regulatory authorities allow Bakken crude oil, known for its volatile chemical structure, to be transported in known unsafe railcars?” wondered Tyler Dunford, author of a paper recently published in the Canadian Review of Sociology.

Dunford, a PhD student in sociology at the University of Alberta, found that Transport Canada had been deregulating and cost-cutting for years before the derailment, and had transferred its authority to identify and mitigate unsafe practices to private companies, who could then decide for themselves on the best balance between profit and public safety.

Dunford argues that the Lac-Mégantic derailment is a symptom of a new emerging political mentality that’s willing to sacrifice anything, including human life, for the sake of profit. He calls it “neoliberal sovereignty.”

Under classic neoliberalism, the government grants some regulatory authority to for-profit industry but still governs at a distance to prevent unacceptable economic losses, environmental degradation, and human life. Dunford points to the Wall Street Bailout as an example of neoliberalism at play.

“I proposed another term should be used to explain particularly extreme instances of government-corporate collusions or malfeasance,” says Dunford.

“Neoliberal sovereignty can be used to explain extreme examples where the government transferred most or all its authority to private business – instances where profit undermines all other considerations, including unacceptable economic losses, environmental losses, and losses of human life,” concludes the sociologist.

According to Dunford, Transport Canada’s deregulation of the rail industry – a demonstration of neoliberal sovereignty – ultimately contributed to the death of 47 people.

Canadian Review of Sociology: Volume 54, Issue 1

Original Article: The Lac-Mégantic Derailment, Corporate Regulation, and Neoliberal Sovereignty.  David Tyler Dunford