At an emergency meeting held in Ottawa about the grain transport crisis, the message from organizations representing the agriculture industry was clear.
“Pass C-49 with the amendments the industry’s asked for and let’s get going on a better plan moving forward so we can quit talking about this every three/four years,” said Ian Boxall, the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan’s vice-president.
The emergency meeting of the House of Commons agriculture committee was held March 19.
Bill C-49 would regulate the country’s two railways to ensure grain is shipped during the winter months. It would replace Bill C-30, which lapsed last summer.
C-49 is an omnibus bill that also includes regulations for other forms of transport. Both the NDP and the Conservatives have attempted to separate out the grain transport part of the proposed legislation, something the governing Liberals have denied.
The bill is currently held up in the Senate. It is expected to go back to the House of Commons with proposed amendments.
“The big thing we’ve asked for is to have it passed in the spring sitting so that it’s in place for next year’s crop shipping season,” said Boxall, who farms in the RM of Connaught. “They wait until fall, it’s almost too late.
One part of C-49 the association likes is it sets a requirement for the railways to plan in the fall that explains how they’ll move the grain during the winter. Boxall hopes that will ensure consistency and the railways will assign rail cars based on corridor and destination.
“I think that’s important for farmers and for shippers so that they know, okay, here’s the plan, here’s how they’re going to move it.”
As for amendments, Boxall said he’d like to see the Canadian Transport Agency given its own-motion power, which would allow it to investigate shipping issues without a formal complaint being issued first.
“Farmers aren’t shippers. The elevators are the shipper,” he said, “I think as a producer, since I can’t file a complaint because I’m not a shipper, I think [having own-motion power’s] important.”
The association would also like to see interswitching – the process where one carrier picks up the goods from the customer and passes it off to another for the majority of the shipping distance – remain the same as it was in C-30.
“Part of that is the Bill C-30 style of 160 kilometre interswitching, all of the shippers and all of the people understand how that works,” Boxall said. “The long-haul interswitching of 1,200 kilometres, they don’t know how that’s going to work, there’s some confusion on how the rates will be determined, there’s a pretty long, drawn-out process of 30 days when you make the application before you even know what’s going to happen.”
Randy Hoback, the MP for Prince Albert, told the Recorder he’d like to see the federal government pass an order-in-council that imposes fines to the railways if they don’t move the grain out at a satisfactory rate. Boxall said at this point, it’s almost too late.
“Mother Nature will fix the backlog because as things get warmer, the railroads are able to haul longer trains and go faster,” he said.
He added since there’s been a lot of pressure from agricultural associations, the railways are now wanting to make sure they don’t get into deeper trouble.
Boxall said with what was said from the meeting, the MPs on the agriculture committee cannot deny that grain transport’s been a problem.
“We pay dearly for rail service in this country, so it’s not like we’re asking for something for free,” he said. “We’re asking for service for something that we pay a lot of money for.”