Grain movement legislation unlikely before fall

Federal legislation aimed at addressing grain transportation problems in Western Canada is not likely to be passed until the fall, several months later than previously expected.

In a May 5 news release, the Alberta Wheat Commission said the anticipated bill — originally expected to be introduced and passed this spring — is unlikely to be approved before the House of Commons breaks in June.

AWC chair Kevin Auch said his organization learned of the new timelines during a meeting with Transport Canada officials in April.

News of the delay prompted the commission to call for an extension of interim measures contained in the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, also known as Bill C-30, which are due to expire Aug. 1.

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

“But the current railway accountability measures must stay in place in the meantime.”

Interim measures contained in the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act include extended interswitching distances and provisions that — if used by Ottawa — force railway companies to move minimum volumes of grain or face fines for non-compliance.

In early May, AWC wrote a letter to federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau that called for the interim measures to be extended.

“Given that the House is scheduled to rise next month, we are writing to not only urge the government to introduce this legislation as soon as possible but to inquire about your ministry’s intentions to ensure that interim measures are in place to extend the current provisions,” said the letter to Garneau, dated May 3. 

“It is critical that farmers can rely on Canada’s rail system to bring next year’s harvest to buyers here in Canada and around the world.”

Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevators Association, said the Crop Logistics Working Group (CLWG) wrote a similar letter to Garneau in late April.

Sobkowich said CLGW members would like to see interim measures remain in place until a permanent bill is introduced and passed by Parliament.

“The likelihood of (a new bill) … passing this spring is now very limited and is diminishing by the day,” Sobkowich said.

“So we (the CLWG) have written to the minister and asked if he would consider extending Bill C-30 to bridge the gap between the status quo and the new legislation.”

Sobkowich said the WGEA is still optimistic that federal legislation will be passed this year and will address key issues affecting grain shippers.

“We still expect a bill that is in line with Minister Garneau’s announcement on Nov. 3,” said Sobkowich.

“We expect that reciprocal penalties will be introduced … and (will be) eligible for arbitration in service level agreements. We expect the definition of adequate and suitable … (accommodation) to be addressed … and we expect extended interswitching to be addressed ….

“These are complex topics.… If we get a good bill and it addresses the issues in the right way, then a few more months isn’t going to kill us.”

Sobkowich said the issue of extended interswitching is critically important to the grain industry, even though the volume of grain that was interswitched in 2015-16 was relatively small.

A recent report by the Grain Monitoring Program suggested that less than 4,800 hopper cars of grain — less than one percent of Canada’s overall grain movements — were moved under Ottawa’s extended provisions in 2015-16.

“Interswitching has been very effective for us,” Sobkowich said.

“In absolute numbers … interswitching … doesn’t represent a huge chunk of grain movement, but what’s important is that it is used as leverage by grain shippers and oil seed processors…. When shippers require service or they are asking for better rates … they can explore the idea of interswitching to another carrier.

“It’s this shopping around for the best service and price that sometimes, many times, brings the primary carrier to the table to offer better service and price.”

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