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A tanker burns as firefighters douse rail containers in downtown Lac Mégantic, Que., on July 7, 2013. (MOE DOIRON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
A tanker burns as firefighters douse rail containers in downtown Lac Mégantic, Que., on July 7, 2013. (MOE DOIRON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Throne Speech to promise help with Lac-Mégantic cleanup, but not a ‘blank cheque,’ insiders say Add to ...

The federal government will promise to pay a share of the bill to clean up and rebuild the town of Lac-Mégantic, while staying clear of precise financial commitments to the Quebec government in the Speech from the Throne, federal sources said.

A battle is growing between the Harper and the Marois governments over the cost of decontaminating the site of the train crash that killed 47 people this summer. Federal officials are refusing to commit to paying a fixed share of the cost while the final bill remains unknown.

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“The Quebec government would like a blank cheque, but what we want is an estimate,” a federal official said.

Another Conservative source added: “The government of Quebec is the one with control over the site, it is up to them to come up with a number.”

Still, the official line that is coming out of Ottawa – and which is expected to be repeated in the Throne Speech – is that the federal government “will continue to be there for the people of Lac-Mégantic.”

“Events such as these should lead to greater co-operation, not political posturing,” said Marie-Josée Paquette, a spokeswoman for the Conservative government’s Quebec lieutenant, Denis Lebel.

A parked train operated by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway derailed on July 6, unleashing an explosive ball of burning oil on the small town. The tragedy created an environmental disaster, while highlighting the dangers associated with the growing use of railways to carry crude oil in the country.

Experts and government officials expect that the bill will easily reach $200-million, and could even end up in the vicinity of $1-billion.

Quebec’s Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Alexandre Cloutier, has been hounding his federal counterparts in recent weeks on the file.

“We want the federal government to commit more than the $60-million that it has already allocated, because we know that the final cost will be much higher,” he said in an interview. “We are looking for a strong commitment ... Afterwards, there will be negotiations between the two governments.”

Mr. Cloutier added the federal government has been slow to get tough with the railway industry, despite calls from a number of municipalities that are concerned about the materials going through their territories.

“When it comes to the transportation of hazardous materials, we feel that the federal government is being extremely timid in terms of tightening up the rules, while the American government is already taking action,” he said. “We find that Ottawa’s stance is deplorable, and we hope to see signs of a change in the Speech from the Throne.”

In July, Ottawa announced that it would spend $25-million on emergency costs associated with the disaster, and another $35-million for the city’s economic recovery.

“We have always been very clear; we will be there for the decontamination costs with new amounts above the $60-million already announced,” Ms. Paquette said.

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