Man., Sask. weigh in on grain transportation issues

The Manitoba government has added its voice to the chorus calling for rigorous federal legislation to deal with the grain transportation backlog on the Prairies.

Ottawa is expected to introduce new legislation when Parliament resumes sitting March 24.

Provincial ag minister Ron Kostyshyn and other Manitoba government reps say Ottawa needs to craft legislation that features:

  • Market responsiveness, so rail resources satisfy market demand
  • Performance standards that clarify and define the railways’ obligations to shippers
  • Financial penalties for service failures
  • A faster and less costly arbitration process to resolve disputes between railways and shippers

“Manitoba’s grain transportation system is at a standstill and we are calling on the federal government to use every tool available to address the backlog,” Kostyshyn said in a statement. “As more rail cars are put into the system, it’s critical for Manitoba to receive a fair allocation.”

Manitoba submitted its recommendations to the federal government March 14 following discussions with rural organizations and farm leaders, including Keystone Agricultural Producers.

Dan Mazier, KAP vice-president, said the grain transportation gridlock has been especially challenging for Manitoba farmers.

“We’re really in a particular situation … because we’re the furthest from the western ports, and that seems to be the biggest issue,” said Mazier, who farms north of Brandon. “So you’re the last person on the line, (which) presents some unique problems for Manitoba.”

In mid-March, the Manitoba government formed a task force of provincial cabinet ministers to take action on the grain transportation file.

Premier Greg Selinger said he supports federal action penalizing railways $100,000 a day if they don’t ship a combined one million tonnes of grain per week starting in early April, but he wants assurance of “fair” access to rail cars for Manitoba farmers.

The task force will focus on issues particular to Manitoba:

  • Review flood prone areas to help farmers move at-risk grain
  • Create a grain bin listing service so producers in flood zones can move grain to alternate storage bins
  • Establish flexible spring road re-strictions to accommodate grain hauling

Kostyshyn and transportation minister Steve Ashton will co-chair the task force, which includes municipal government minister Stan Struthers and economy minister Theresa Oswald.

Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan government has itemized what it wants from the federal government as it drafts legislation on grain transportation.

Premier Brad Wall and others have been saying for weeks that mandatory service level agreements, more grain cars and stronger penalties are needed.

In a March 17 news release, the government asked that the daily penalties for non-performance by the railways be increased to $250,000 from the current $100,000. Saskatchewan also wants fines to directly benefit producers.

Other requests include:

  • Mechanisms and penalties to make sure grain companies fulfill contractual obligations to producers
  • Improve rail service by increasing inter-switching distances and therefore access to a competing railway
  • Ensure service to domestic mills and U.S. customers
  • Dispute resolution
  • Formal mechanisms for monitoring the entire system and analyzing its performance

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