Blame the PM for transportation, but not India

The two biggest issues for the prairie grain sector right now are the dismal state of railway performance and the blockage of pulse crop sales to India. Blame for the rail issue rests squarely with the federal government. Not so regarding the situation with India.

Rail service has gone from subpar to disappointing to dismal, particularly on Canadian National Railway lines. For grain week 29, CN supplied only 17 percent of the hopper cars requested by shippers — an almost complete breakdown in service.

Canadian Pacific Railway’s numbers have also been dropping and are nothing to brag about, but at 66 percent, they’re in a different league. Combined, the two main railways provided only 38 percent of the cars requested.

Thank goodness for the weekly reports from the Ag Transport Coalition chronicling railway performance and the lack thereof. Without these credible numbers, it would be difficult to quantify the magnitude of the problem.

While CN has by far the worst performance, it has by far the more active public relations campaign to explain how it’s doing the best it can under the circumstances.

We’ve heard the excuses before: cold weather means shorter trains; snow in the mountains; more demand for movement than expected; and it takes time to bring more locomotives into the system and even longer to hire and train more workers.

All of that doesn’t explain how hopper car movement has been less than 60 percent of demand for four consecutive weeks with the latest two weeks being 34 and 17 percent.

The only slack the railways deserve is that the 2017 crop was certainly bigger than almost anyone expected. On the other hand, pulse crop sales have been dismal, so that has actually reduced the demand somewhat.

Why is the federal government to blame for the growing grain backlog? Because it has dithered and delayed Bill C-49, legislation that provides for reciprocal penalties, interswitching between railways and a clear definition of adequate and suitable railway service.

On top of that, it didn’t take the advice of farm groups and extend the interim legislation put in place during the last grain movement debacle in 2013-14. That bill allowed interswitching and also allowed the government to set prescribed grain movement targets.

Initially, there was only supposed to be a short gap between the ending of the interim legislation and the passage of Bill C-49. Instead, it’s been many months.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government can legitimately be blamed for allowing this mess, it isn’t fair to blame it for not getting Indian tariffs removed from Canadian pulse crops.

Trudeau’s trip to India has been widely criticized for many reasons, but it was naive to think the tariff issue could be solved with simply a prime ministerial visit. With millions of small and struggling farmers and an election in the offing, India will reopen unfettered trade only when it suits it to do so.

The Indian tariffs do not violate any trade rules, and we don’t have a free-trade deal with the country.

It’s reasonable to continue the work to end the fumigation rules that act as a non-tariff trade barrier and unfairly target Canada, and Trudeau’s trip appears to have generated some progress.

Love him or hate him, you can really blame the PM for only one of the two big problems.

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Comments

  • Harold

    Perhaps Kevin Hursh, you and the Liberal Party are in the Blame Game as Kid Trudeau often is when he is not a Canadian apologist and embarrassment, but the rest of us are in the results game and Trudeau’s Trip gained no appreciable progress and in fact the very opposite. Trudeau has now embarrassed the India Government compelling that government to refute the claims made by our Prime Minister in our House of Commons and in turn this has also embarrassed Canadians. Further, if you believe that Trudeau in providing 750 million dollars in Canadian investments to India for a 250 million dollar return it is progress then I am sure that you will find many who will disagree with you. (Trudeau’s brilliant billion dollar India deal) Furthermore, India cannot realistically remove the Tariff and that is known and that is why Trudeau did not bring the Agriculture Minister to India. This trip was merely a taxpayer funded family holiday of site seeing and photo ops that is magnified as so by the Ministers that he did not invite to come along and the fact that he did not visit one factory at all while he was there. There is not a leader in the world that does not keep tabs on Trudeau and Canada and not a leader that does not know what to expect before Trudeau arrives. The Prime Minister of India snubbed our Prime Minister because he is not a fool and knew that this trip was nothing more than a Trudeau attention seeking family photo op holiday. This is not about hating or loving Trudeau, it is about his competence in achieving results. In my mind, this Trudeau rock star family vacation was nothing more than a Liberals election strategy to entice votes from the east Indians who are now Canadians, the many residing in BC, Ontario, and Quebec. “The two big problems” that you mention are a part of the Chair of the Office of the Prime Minister and problems do not pit one against the other whereby the resolve of one dismisses the other. Trudeau has made diplomatic relations with India worse than what they had previously been, but that is what happens when an attention seeking drama teacher is placed into a big man’s chair. The India fiasco has nothing to do with your concerns about CN or CP or our government’s local failures so therefore the topic of India has not provided any weight to your argument at all. Most either love or hate the results and accordingly vote to rid us of incompetence but then rightfully at the same time we leave the Loving or hating Trudeau part to his wife, family, friends, and enemies, where it belongs. When you love a politician you need to overlook their incompetence and then in doing so that becomes voter incompetence – a road paved to hell.

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