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Cost review not Tory priority

Conservative MPs, supported by Pulse Canada representatives, are insisting that a decision on a rail costing review must wait until the service review is completed.

Opposition MPs, supported by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian Wheat Board, want a costing review to start immediately because farmers are paying millions of dollars in unreasonable freight charges.

“Our message is clear: we need the Canadian government to put a rail cost review into motion right away, not a year from now, not two years from now,” Humphrey Banack, Wild Rose Agricultural Producers president and Canadian Federation of Agriculture board member, told MPs on the House of Commons agriculture committee Dec. 9.

The ongoing service review and the farmer call for a review of rail charges are two separate issues, he said.

Pulse Canada representatives argued that while cost is an issue, unpredictable service is more of a problem.

“It’s simply an order of priority,” Greg Cherewyk, executive director of Pulse Canada, told Liberal Francis Valeriote.

Based on a Canadian Wheat Boardsponsored study that reported farmers paid an average $6.87 per tonne beyond what is “fair and reasonable”, CWB chair Allen Oberg told MPs that farmer overpayment should be addressed.

He said based on the report and his average annual shipment of 3,660 tonnes of grain in the past two years, it is a huge cost.

“That means I paid anywhere from $17,000 to $32,000 more than I would have under the WGTA (Western Grain Transportation Act) and that’s just me,” he told MPs.

“That’s just my farm and that’s just in one year.”

Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter accused the Conservatives of trying to protect the railways against the interests of farmers by being lukewarm to a costing review.

“Clearly, the bottom line is the railways are gouging the farm community and the government, for whatever reason, is not forcing the railways to comply with what the original intent of the change was,” he said.

Conservative MP Randy Hoback, a former president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers’ Association, challenged the CWB numbers.

He said the wheat board costs farmers by being involved in the logistics of moving wheat.

And the MP argued that rather than obsessing over rail costs for wheat, the issue should be better rail service for higher priced crops like pulses and canola.

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