Partisan support for transportation bill

STONY MOUNTAIN, Man. — Seldom has such non-partisan good will been seen at a farm policy event.

But so too has it been seldom that farmers have received almost everything most had been demanding in legislation from the federal government.

“I’m certainly happy it passed,” said Chuck Fossay, Manitoba Canola Growers Association president, at the public celebration of the signing of Bill C-49.

“I’m happy it passed so early.” Like many at the gathering, which occurred beside a Richardson International elevator north of Winnipeg, Fossay was delighted and surprised when the Transportation Modernization Act was actually passed before summer set in and a new crop year approached.

Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay flew in for the event and he received much praise from farmers, grain industry representatives and Manitoba’s Agriculture Minister, Ralph Eichler.

“It truly is historic,” said Art Enns, a Morris, Man., farmer who is vice president of Grain Growers of Canada.

“The passage of C-49 is great news for the future of our industry.”

Grain companies have long been frustrated, and infuriated in 2013-14 and 2017-18, when poor railway service has cost them sales or confounded their plans. They have also been vexed by a system that has seen them hit with penalties if they are late loading rail cars, while the railways have appeared to escape penalties for similar failures in service.

“Today has been a long time coming,” said Wade Sobkowich, the executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association. For more than a decade the companies have wanted the sort of change C-49 brings, and the two bad winters in the past five years made that desire extreme.

“Today that work has paid off . . . For the first time ever our contracts with the railways can have real teeth.”

MacAulay seemed thrilled to be at the celebratory event, held on the home turf of his close provincial colleague, Eichler, who represents the area in the provincial Progressive Conservative government.

While the Manitoba and federal governments have clashed over various issues, such as carbon taxes and marijuana, in agriculture the close and warm relationship between Eichler and MacAulay has seen easy communication and a number of outings by the two ministers.

“I think it brings a fairness to the system,” said MacAulay about the bill.

“That’s exactly what we want.”

Farm organizations across the country praised the legislation and issued press releases in the days after the legislation was passed, and Twitter coverage of the celebration brought messages of thanks and appreciation from a number of farmers.

Even CN Rail, treated as the villain of the grain transportation system all winter long, and whose poor performance hauling grain was cited repeatedly in justifying why C-49 was necessary, received praise from multiple players.

Before the event started the company had announced and broadcast across Twitter that it was buying 1,000 new hopper cars of expanded capacity, and that was seen as a good will gesture by many.

“That’s exactly why CN has announced this today,” said MacAulay, in a joint scrum with Eichler.

“The railways want to do their job too. With this bill it gives them a better chance to be able to invest. It clears the way financially for CN and CP to invest in new modern hopper cars.”

ed.white@producer.com

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