Emergency rail legislation bogs down in Senate

Emergency legislation aimed at improving the movement of Canadian grain is not likely to take effect until the end of the month.

Conservative senator Don Plett said the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, also known as Bill C-30, may not receive royal assent until May 29 or May 30 because of what he called unnecessary delays.

The bill, introduced to Parliament in late March, has already been passed by the House of Commons and is awaiting Senate approval.

The Senate was prepared to read the bill for a second time May 8 but an unexpected delay temporarily derailed its momentum, Plett said.

Debate on the bill was suspended because Liberal senator Terry Mercer was not prepared to speak to the legislation May 8.

The Halifax senator was appointed the bill’s critic last week and did not have sufficient time to prepare his speech to the Senate.

Mercer was being briefed on the bill by officials from Agriculture Canada when the bill was being read in the Senate May 8.

Mercer is now expected to speak to the bill May 13.

After that, the bill will still require debate by the Senate agriculture committee, which is expected to take two or three days, if not more.

After discussions in committee, the bill will still require third reading and a vote in the Senate.

The Senate is also scheduled to take a nine-day break beginning May 16, meaning it will not reconvene until May 26.

“The fact of the matter is that the Liberals knew already two months ago that this bill was coming … and of course they could have appointed senator Mercer as critic of the bill at that time, but they chose not to,” said Plett.

“In my opinion, they are playing some silly bugger with the bill.… As you know, this bill was passed unanimously in the House of Commons, but the Liberals in the Senate are saying, ‘just because they passed this in the House … that doesn’t mean we’re going to rush this through.’ ”

Mercer said Liberal senators have treated the bill as expeditiously as possible, despite its obvious shortcomings.

“The Conservatives did a lousy job of drafting this legislation, they did a lousy job of managing the legislation through the House of Commons … and I’m not a happy camper here to learn that somebody is saying that we’re delaying it,” Mercer said.

“We’re not going to hold up this legislation. We’re going to be critical of the legislation because we understand the need for (it)…. To accuse anyone on the opposition side, particularly in the Senate, of delaying this is quite frankly bullshit.”

Plett said Senate committee members are prepared to return to Ottawa during their scheduled break to debate the bill in committee.

Both he and Mercer said they are still hopeful the bill will be ready for third reading and a vote in the Senate by May 28.

If that happens, royal assent would likely follow May 29 or May 30.

Plett said it is important that Bill C-30 receives royal assent before June 2 to ensure that western Canadian grain continues to flow without interruption.

A temporary order-in-council requiring Canada’s major railway companies to move a million tonnes of grain per week is due to expire the week of June 2.

If Bill C-30 is not passed before then, regulatory measures compelling railways to move a specified amount of grain each week would no longer be in place.

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