Extensions sought for interim grain freight measures

(Dave Bedard photo)

Not expecting federal grain transport reforms to take effect until this fall at the earliest, several Prairie grain grower groups want to see an extension of the previous government’s interim rules and penalties for railways in the meantime.

A proposed “Transportation 2030” package of rail reforms, pledged last November by Transport Minister Marc Garneau, is expected to introduce reciprocal penalties and other measures meant to improve accountability in grain handling.

A spokesperson for Garneau on May 5 told the Manitoba Co-operator the minister is “committed to introducing legislation this spring.”

The House of Commons’ notice paper for Monday, May 15 calls for Garneau to introduce “An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts,” though no details were given on that bill’s content.

Either way, according to the Alberta Wheat Commission, coming out of a recent meeting with representatives from Transport Canada, the Transportation 2030 legislation “would be unlikely to pass before the House rises this June,” or until the fall at the earliest.

“We appreciate the government’s commitment to introduce legislation that will ensure a more responsive, competitive and accountable rail system in Canada,” AWC chairman Kevin Auch said in a release Monday.

“But the current railway accountability measures must stay place in the meantime,” he said, referring to Bill C-30, the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, which was set up by the previous Conservative administration in 2014 and is due to sunset Aug. 1 this year.

Extending C-30 “will ensure we avoid a repeat of the transportation backlog that caused farmers billions of dollars in lost revenue during the fall and winter of 2013,” Auch said.

“Grain farmers have seen the positive impact of the emergency measures put in place in 2014,” Grain Growers of Canada president Jeff Nielsen said in a separate release Monday.

“We urge Transportation Minister Garneau to extend the provisions, particularly those related to interswitching, until the Transportation 2030 legislation is enacted.”

The 2014 bill, which was most recently granted an extension last year, extended interswitching rights up to 160 km for grain and all other commodities moved by shippers in the three Prairie provinces.

Interswitching rules commit one rail carrier to pick up cars from a shipper, then deliver them to another railway for the line haul. The CTA otherwise allows shippers to use interswitching for only up to a 30-km radius.

C-30’s provisions also allow the government, if need be, to order a railway to pay compensation for expenses incurred by a shipper or affected party, in cases where a railway is found to have fallen short on level-of-service obligations.

C-30 also allows the government, if need be, to bring back mandatory minimum grain handles for both of the Big Two railways, on pain of administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) if the minimums aren’t met.

“Failing to extend Bill C-30 without new legislation being passed will severely impede the efficiency and reliability of the grain handling system and harm western Canadian producers,” three Saskatchewan farm groups said Tuesday in a separate letter to Garneau.

“Provisions in Bill C-30 such as increased interswitching distances and minimum grain volume movements are some of the only tools producers have to increase competition in the industry and hold the railways accountable,” said the groups, including Sask Wheat, Sask Barley and the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS).

The groups said they hope there is “still an opportunity for new legislation to be introduced and passed before the House adjourns for the summer.

“However, as time continues to pass, we are looking for a commitment from the Government to ensure that Bill C-30 will be extended if passing new legislation is not a feasible option.” –– AGCanada.com Network

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