Debate: Sask. ag leaders seek rail response

If there’s one thing all Saskatchewan’s political parties can agree on, it’s that the current rail system isn’t working for grain producers — but there’s less consensus on the solutions.

Transportation is the single most important issue facing grain growers in Saskatchewan right now, said Cathy Sproule, the provincial New Democrats’ ag critic, during an ag leaders’ debate broadcast online Tuesday by the Western Producer.

Sproule commended the coalition of Saskatchewan commodity groups for their submission to the recent Canadian Transportation Agency review.

“Sadly, the CTA review completely ignored it,” she said. “So I think once the dust settles, after the election, as a province we need to work together to bring forward again, loudly and clearly, how the maximum revenue entitlement (MRE) needs to stay in place — and how it needs to be improved.”

Lyle Stewart, the governing Saskatchewan Party’s current minister of agriculture, said his party has “some issues with what we see” in the CTA review.

“We urge the federal government to do extensive consultations in Western Canada before implementing what they’ve put on paper for us,” he said. “And we’ll continue to lobby them to do the right thing for grain handling and transportation in Western Canada.”

Saskatchewan was the strongest province, by far, in urging the federal government to take action “to move the backlog of grain” during the backlog of 2013-14, he said.

Rick Swenson, leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives, also tipped his hat to Saskatchewan’s coalition of commodity groups for their work.

“It’s simple. No change to MREs until we get a full costing review of rail companies (and have) reciprocal penalty agreements in place,” he said. “And then we’ll have a discussion about how railways are compensated.”

Rail-reliant industries “have to have some discipline in that sector or we’re going to go through crisis after crisis,” Swenson said, adding producers need access to markets. “We can grow all the lentils in the world, and if we can’t get them to our customer, we’ve failed.”

Darrin Lamoureux, leader of the provincial Liberals, was critical of the federal government’s action during the backlog. He advocated for a permanent solution — namely a rail line, partially funded by the provincial government, running to Manitoba’s Port of Churchill.

During the transportation snarl two years ago, he said, “Manitoba didn’t have that problem. They were able to go to the Port of Churchill — 345,000 metric tonnes of grain (were) able to go through this port.”

Money being spent on the Regina overpass could have been put into a rail system, he said.

Ryan Lamarche, ag critic for the provincial Green Party, said railway infrastructure is an important issue for their party — and a federal issue that’s being pushed onto the province.

The Greens, he said, “would be in discussions for immediate takeover of full agricultural rights for the province of Saskatchewan, and tell Ottawa ‘It’s time to leave because you can’t do the job.'”

Lisa Guenther is a field editor for Grainews and Country Guide at Livelong, Sask. Follow her at @LtoG on Twitter.

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