Farm organizations are lauding last week’s extension of the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act provisions by a unanimous vote in the House of Commons.
Certain provisions of Bill C-30 were set to expire Aug. 1, but in-stead will be extended for one year upon recommendation of the House’s transport committee.
Key among those provisions were the federal government’s right to set grain volume requirements for the railways and fine them for non-performance and the 160-kilometre limit on interswitching, up from 30 kilometres.
“This extension will mean western Canadian farmers can rest assured knowing they’ll be protected for the coming shipping season,” said Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Norm Hall.
The former Conservative government temporarily enacted the provisions in 2014 after the grain backlog on the Prairies that cost farmers an estimated $5 billion.
The Western Grain Elevators Association said the interswitching limit is critical because it gives farmers and grain handlers access to more than one railway for better competition.
“The WGEA continues to advocate for permanent measures to improve rail capacity available to shippers as well as balanced accountability for service, notably by having the statutory right to introduce financial penalties and commercial arbitration into service level agreements to mimic what naturally occurs in a competitive transportation market,” said the organization’s news release.
Vance Badawey, a Liberal MP from Ontario who moved concurrence of the transport committee’s report in the House, said grain shipments as of the end of April were 34 million tonnes, or five percent higher than the same time last year, and shipments from western ports were more than 27 million tonnes, up seven percent.
“Our grain monitor is also reporting that rail service has been strong and vessels are spending less time in port than in previous years,” he said. “With the freight rail system currently performing well, we have the opportunity to consider the best approach to ensuring optimal performance over the long term.”
Transport Minister Marc Garneau will consult about permanent fixes to the grain transportation system this summer, following the findings of the Canada Transportation Act review known as the Emerson report.
That report was tabled in February, and Garneau and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay said in April that they would work to extend the temporary provisions while solutions are sought.
Conservative agriculture critic Chris Warkentin said farmers have told him interswitching is a “game changer” in their ability to move grain.