Rail freight bill rolls closer to final approval

Although they pointed out plenty of shortcomings, opposition parties have supported final approval of legislation to balance commercial negotiations between railways and their freight customers.

The Conservatives had shunted the Fair Rail Freight Service Act through all stages of the parliamentary process over the last six months without accepting any amendments from the opposition parties, shipper groups, or railways. Once it is granted Senate approval, Transport Canada will begin drafting and implementing the raft of regulations required to implement the bill and lay the groundwork for mandatory service commitments for rail customers. If the latter can’t be reached voluntarily, then the Canadian Transportation Agency will provide mediation and arbitration if needed to conclude them.

The bill has plenty of flaws but “is better than nothing,” said NDP Transport Critic Olivia Chow. The service agreements won’t deal with the cost of service, she added.

“We need to let the market dictate pricing, but because the market is completely skewed right now, there is no competition,” she said.

Liberal spokesman Kevin Lamoureux called it a missed opportunity.

“We had a wonderful opportunity to deal with the issue in such a fashion that it could have made even that much more of a positive impact,” he said. “The government really did nowhere near what it could have done.”

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