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Calls grow for passage of transport bill to amend and quickly pass Transportation Modernization bill

As grain movement grinds slower shippers are calling for action on the transport file

Calls for quick passage of C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act are increasing, as are requests for interim relief for farmers who can’t move grain because of poor rail service.

And several groups want C-49 amended so a similar backlog doesn’t happen again.

The Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (Sask Wheat), the Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission and the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan called on the Senate to quickly pass C-49.

Given the delay in legislation, the Saskatchewan producer coalition is also asking the federal government for interim short haul interswitching provisions, similar to those in Bill C-30, the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, to allow for the optimal use of railway capacity to clear backlogs.

“This situation illustrates why we need the new legislation in place,” Sask Wheat chair Laura Reiter said in a news release March 8. “The lack of transparency and accountability we are seeing from the railways is a result of there being no consequences for providing farmers with an inadequate level of service. This has to be fixed quickly before the economic damage is severe.”

The grain backlog in 2013-14 cost western Canadian farmers an estimated $5 billion to $6.7 billion, and history is repeating, the groups said.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture wants Ottawa to make low-cost program changes to provide emergency income support to cash-stricken grain farmers, on top of promised help from Farm Credit Canada and other agriculture lenders (see story in this issue on page 23).

Pulse Canada wants the Senate to amend C-49 to give the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) more power so it can intervene to prevent another grain-shipping backlog.

“This amendment will ensure the regulator has the authority to proactively monitor the system, identify and investigate problems before they become a crisis and take the necessary action,” Pulse Canada’s chief operating officer, Greg Cherewyk, said in a release March 8. “We cannot afford to wait until we’re in the midst of a crisis to act.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU) also wants the bill amended, claiming the legislation is so flawed it’s unlikely to provide farmers relief.

Instead of a reciprocal penalty system, the industry needs an independent body, that includes farmer representation, to arbitrate disputes and enforce compliance between shippers and the railways in a timely manner, the NFU said in a release March 6.

The NFU also wants an independent body to co-ordinate grain movement by rail between the country elevators and export terminals — something the Canadian Wheat Board did for board grains before the board lost its single-desk marketing power Aug. 1, 2012.

The NFU is also calling for stronger regulations for producer cars.

On March 7 Lawrence MacAulay and Marc Garneau, Canada’s agriculture and transportation ministers, respectively, wrote CN and CP Rail asking them to do better.

They also asked the railways to lay out a plan by March 15 on how they were going to “mitigate the backlog” and maintain fluidity for the rest of the crop year.

On March 8 CN’s interim president and chief executive officer JJ Ruest said CN was sorry for failing to meet grain shippers’ expectations and was working to improve service.

“The entire CN team has a sense of urgency and is fully focused on getting it right for farmers and our grain customers, regaining the confidence of Canadian businesses, and protecting Canada’s reputation as a stable trade partner in world markets,” Ruest said in a release.

“We can and we will do much better, and that starts today — no excuses.”

CN says it is:

  • Offering incentives for key operating employees to delay retirement and postpone vacations, and for recently retired operating employees to return to work.
  • Deploying qualified management employees to operate extra trains.
  • Adding train crews in Western Canada: about 250 conductors were put in the field in the last three months of 2017, with about 400 conductors coming on in the first three months of 2018, and an additional 375 from April to June.
  • Leased 130 locomotives to increase capacity in Western Canada, almost all of which are now online.
  • Investing over $250 million this year to build new track and yard capacity in Western Canada to boost supply chain fluidity and build in capacity resiliency for future grain crops.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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