Transport minister wins praise for agreeing to amendments

The federal transport minister will put forward a motion to accept Senate alterations to the bill

Alberta Wheat and Alberta Barley — along with many other farm groups — are praising the federal transport minister for accepting several amendments to his transport modernization bill.

Now they want Marc Garneau to get working and ensure the bill is passed before Parliament’s summer break.

“Along with support from (Agriculture) Minister (Lawrence) MacAulay, Minister Garneau’s commitment to the amendments we pressed for is promising news,” said Jason Lenz, Alberta Barley chair. “With grain still backlogged across several regions in Western Canada, we strongly encourage the House to pass the amended legislation as quickly as possible so we can avoid similar circumstances this harvest. Bill C-49 as amended offers the mechanisms we need to see that happen.”

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Both crop commissions said an amendment ensuring improved access to long-haul interswitching was key. They also noted they have been lobbying for reciprocal penalties (which would punish railways for not delivering promised rail cars) “for several years.”

Other Senate amendments include giving the Canadian Transportation Agency power to investigate rail service issues, and including soybeans and related products in the maximum revenue entitlement program.

Garneau also promised more useful waybill and transportation performance data for shippers to assist in negotiating confidential contracts. Transport Canada will work with the Agriculture and Natural Resources departments to organize a meeting with shipper groups “before the summer to discuss these provisions and how you may be able to use them to their maximum effectiveness.”

As well, there will be a ‘data workshop’ to collect shipper views under the transport bill to ensure “that regulations are developed in a way that meets the needs of interested parties.”

Parliament is scheduled to start its summer break in June, although it could be extended by a couple of weeks. It won’t resume until Sept. 17.

The transport bill is just one of the government’s legislative headaches. It’s still trying to get its hefty budget bill approved by the Commons so it can be passed on to the Senate and bringing in legislation to ratify Canada’s membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. A wide swath of agri-food groups want that measure passed quickly so Canada enjoys the full benefits of membership in the trade alliance.

On top of those issues the government is struggling to find a solution to the dispute over the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion including possible legislation to authorize the project as well as ongoing uncertainty over its marijuana legalization plans.

Railway service delays have led to major cash flow concerns, steep financial penalties, and risks to farmers’ international customer base, Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett said. Farmers need assurance this summer’s crop will be reliably delivered to grain terminals in ports as well as other customers.

“Seeding season has already started, and producers need certainty to plan for delivering next year’s crop. We are hopeful that the amended bill will be passed into law without further delay.”

Grain Growers president Jeff Nielsen said the Senate “heard farmers’ voices and did its job and provided sober second thought.” The amendments “will provide meaningful tools that the shippers need to hold railways to account, increase competition and bring better rail service to the grain industry.”

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