REGINA — Grain transportation was the talk of the town when two federal cabinet ministers met with 19 agricultural stakeholders in Regina.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is from Regina, and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay were in the city last week to discuss agricultural issues, and transportation was at the top of the list.
MacAulay said farmers have been heard “loud and clear” about the grain transportation issue, and his government takes responsibility for ensuring the grain moves to market well.
“A bumper crop is the first thing in order for farmers to make money. Then it’s important (to ensure) the crop is moved for shipment. Then it’s our responsibility to make sure that’s done,” he said between discussions Aug. 18.
“Every effort that can and could be taken will be taken to ensure that the grain is moved more efficiently than it was (in 2013-14).”
He said the railways have been in touch with him and the transportation minister, and both Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway have said they are ready to move the larger-than-five-year average crop that is expected to be harvested in Western Canada during the next month.
“The (Emerson) transportation review is in place and it will be looked at” with respect to how the railways will be observed by the government, he added.
Goodale said former cabinet minister David Emerson’s report put considerable emphasis on the need for transparency in the system, which is now lacking.
“People need to know the facts and have the data upon which to make sound decisions,” he said.
Saskatchewan’s agricultural minister Lyle Stewart was one of the stakeholders involved in the discussions.
“Increased data (distribution) and transparency is very important,” said Stewart, adding that transportation agencies also need greater authority over the railways.
He said most the 19 presentations were “on that same page.”
Both he and MacAulay felt federal transportation parliamentary secretary Kate Young was fully engaged in the grain industry roundtable.
Goodale said it’s more important than ever for governments to listen to farmers because they are less aggressively represented in Ottawa and in the country’s boardrooms “than they were in the past.”
The loss of the Canadian Wheat Board and the farmer-owned prairie grain-handling co-operatives over the past 15 years has reduced the lobbying power of producers.
“The railways need to know they are under special scrutiny because of how that crop season went three years ago,” Goodale said.
“They and the grain companies did not perform up to the standard that farmers would expect, and they need to understand that everyone will be looking very closely in this crop year.”
Stewart said key discussion subjects included interswitching, which permits one rail company to use another’s tracks for short distances, expansion and line preservation, the revenue cap on grain transportation (review and maintaining) and the closures of producer car loading sites.
Emerson plans to make a response to his report in the coming weeks.