If Transport Canada declines another invitation to appear before the House of Commons’ agriculture committee, it will be subpoenaed to appear, according to Liberal Agriculture Critic Wayne Easter.
“The fact of the matter is when a parliamentary committee invites a department to come before it they’re expected to come,” Easter told reporters Dec. 13 during a telephone news conference. “And if they don’t come, as we made clear the other day, we will issue a subpoena to ensure that they do. They have an obligation to appear before a committee when a committee duly requests it.”
Transport Canada was invited to attend the agriculture committee’s meeting Dec. 9 to discuss calls for the review of what railways earn transporting western grain compared to how much it costs them.
Instead Transport Canada wrote the committee saying it would be premature for it to attend before a panel reviewing railway service completed its work.
“Once the review is completed and the government has made decisions on next steps officials at Transport Canada would be pleased to attend the standing committee to discuss issues related to rail transportation in the agricultural sector,” the department’s letter said in part.
Conservative Pierre Lemieux, the MP for Glengarry – Prescott – Russell and parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture, defended Transport Canada, saying its officials can’t answer questions until the service review is done and the government responds to it.
But an angry Easter said the committee wants to discuss a costing review, not the service review.
Easter sometimes refers to Transport Canada as the “Department of Railways” because, according to him, it spends so much time defending them.
Farm groups, including the Keystone Agricultural Producers, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, as well as the Canadian Wheat Board, have been lobbying Ottawa to study railway grain-shipping costs.
When grain freight rates were regulated under the Western Grain Transportation Act in place from 1989 to 1995, the Canadian Transportation Agency reviewed rail grain-shipping costs every four years. But the last review, which was used as the starting point for the formula setting the maximum total revenue railways can earn shipping grain, was done in 1992. Farmers, backed by several studies, believe since then railway costs have decreased significantly due to increased efficiency, and as a result railways earn more shipping grain than they would in a competitive market.
Farmers contend some of the increase in rail productivity, such as fewer, but larger elevators, has come at their expense.
The federal government has said it won’t consider a costing review until the review of rail service is complete. [email protected]
“Thefactofthematteriswhenaparliamentary committeeinvitesadepartmenttocome beforeitthey’reexpectedtocome.”
– WAYNE EASTER