Opposition disappointed with transport bill changes

Amendments to the Canada Transportation Act tabled in the House of Commons last week include few of the changes requested by shippers.

The Commons transport committee, after a week of hearings and clause-by-clause examination of Bill C-49, passed just a couple of amendments dealing with railway accountability and reported to Parliament Oct. 5.

The bill still requires third reading and Senate scrutiny before any changes take effect.

Committee vice-chair and Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kelly Block said western Canadian farmers and shippers who appeared before the committee had asked for reasonable, technical amendments. The Crop Logistics Working Group had asked for nine changes dealing with railway transparency and accountability.

The opposition members on the committee later put forward dozens of amendments on behalf of witnesses, but the Liberal majority passed only a few of them.

“I would just have to say that I was very disappointed that they rejected so many of what witnesses would have called technical amendments on this bill that would have made it more workable for them,” Block said in an interview. “I think (witnesses) were very reasonable in their approach to the bill and really put forward the really important amendments that would make it workable.”

Two changes that the Crop Logistics Working Group asked for were passed at committee.

The Canadian Transportation Agency, upon receipt of performance information from the Class 1 railways, would have to make that information public within two days, rather than seven as the bill proposed at first reading.

Carriers would also be required to report within five days of a seven-day reporting week instead of the proposed 14.

Grain shippers wanted these provisions to come into effect 60 days after the bill receives royal assent; the bill initially said one year and the amendment states 180 days.

“The timeliness was addressed. However, I think the information remains too highly aggregated for our shippers and producers,” Block said, referring to other requests for more data from the railways.

The committee passed a Liberal amendment to remove the Montreal and Kamloops interchanges from exclusion zones for long-haul interswitching. Some witnesses had asked for the exclusion zones to be completely removed from the bill.

The railways will also be required to give 120 days notice that they will remove an interchange from their list.

Block said she wants to know from shippers and producers whether that will work for them.

“I know that we were pretty clear on wanting to see the exclusion zones removed from this bill,” she said.

“Many of our captive shippers said with all of the exclusions that were put into this bill, long-haul interswitching was not going to accomplish the purpose for which it was created and therefore we recommended that whole section be removed.”

The Conservatives had also suggested that the bill contain a requirement that it be reviewed every three years to make sure long-haul interswitching was actually working, but it didn’t pass.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters that he hoped the bill would pass quickly because that’s what shippers, farmers and air passengers want.

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