Passing the Westray buck: former Nova Scotia premier Donald Cameron blames everyone but himself for the tragedy. (inquiry into the 1992 mine explosion)(includes related article about the families of the victims)

It was vintage Donald Cameron. Last week, the former Conservative premier of Nova Scotia spoke of his integrity and strength of character before launching into a bout of finger-pointing. His onetime Liberal opposition, officials in his own government, Ottawa bureaucrats, even the dead miners themselves-he said these were the ones responsible for the disaster at the Westray coal mine in Plymouth, N.S., four years ago, which left 26 miners dead and helped drive his government into political oblivion. Rambling on before the inquiry, which he, as premier, had called into the disaster, he lashed out at the media and the inquiry itself for trying to link his ardent promotion of the project to the tragedy. Then, when the proceedings broke for lunch, Cameron, now Canada's consul general in Boston, sprinted down a hallway, giddily taunting reporters with the words "what a bunch of fools," as he climbed into a waiting car.

Day 66 of the Westray inquiry was supposed to provide a flash of insight. Instead, it was simply bizarre. "We've heard over and over again that safety starts at the top, the proper approach begins at the top, mind-sets begin at the top, quality begins at the top," inquiry lawyer John Merrick dryly pointed out to reporters after grilling Cameron. "We're seeing the top." It was not a pretty sight. Cameron's testimony was no different than that of any of the other bureaucrats and politicians who have sat in the witness chair and refused to shoulder any blame for the explosion that ripped through the Westray mine on May 9, 1992, eight months after it opened. But if Cameron felt like the accused, he had good reason. As what Merrick called "the swirl of politics" cleared, the former premier's pivotal role in the Westray drama seemed unmistakable.

The testimony so far makes the disaster almost sound inevitable. …

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