‘Own-motion power’ amendment requested for transportation bill

Saskatchewan Pulse Growers asks Senate ag committee to change bill to allow Canadian Transportation Agency to investigate rail service issues on its own, without a shipper complaint

An organization that represents Saskatchewan pea, lentil, soybean and chickpea producers wants Ottawa to amend Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, to ensure greater transparency and “foster a more effective and higher functioning transportation system for farmers in province.”

In a Feb. 21 news release, Saskatchewan Pulse Growers said Bill C-49 should be amended to provide the Canadian Transportation Agency with “own-motion powers,” a provision that would allow the agency to investigate rail service issues independently without receiving a complaint from a shipper.

Requiring a formalized complaint from a shipper is a costly and risky requirement, the SPG argued.

Shippers that express concerns over poor rail service may be subject to retaliation from railway companies and could face even poorer service as a result, the organization said.

SPG also wants Ottawa to include soybeans and chickpeas as eligible crops under the maximum revenue entitlement, or revenue cap.

The pulse group’s call for amendments comes as grain shippers across Western Canada grow increasing frustrated over what they consider inadequate rail service.

Since last August, Canadian National Railway has supplied on time only 66 percent of the hopper cars ordered by grain shippers in Saskatchewan, according to data compiled by the Ag Transport Coalition.

ATC members account for 90 percent of all grain, pulses and oilseeds shipped by rail in Western Canada.

For the last four weeks, CN has provided less than 50 percent of rail car orders, including 34 percent in the week ending Feb. 10, the ATC said in its most recent rail performance report.

“The railway service issues experienced by the Canadian agriculture industry are systemic,” said SPG chair Corey Loessin.

“Delays and service disruptions continue to have a significant impact on farmers looking to move their crop and on shippers who have little to no recourse to improve their service in a timely way.”

The last few months have been difficult for the prairie pulse industry.

In addition to an “inadequate level of service by Canadian railways,” pulse crop exports have also been limited by market access challenges, most notably an import tariff imposed by the government of India, Loessin said.

“Pulse crop exports are at less than 50 percent of normal levels during this period due to trade barriers in India, and the railways are still not able to deliver adequate service.… The lack of on-time service is further compromising Canada’s competitiveness in end-use markets.”

SPG said Bill C-49 amendments that would give the CTA own-motion powers would protect shippers from retaliation and allow the agency to identify solutions more quickly, using measures within its own regulatory toolbox.

“We encourage the Senate standing committee on transport and communications to amend Bill C-49,” Loessin said.

“We believe this is critical to fostering a more effective and higher functioning transportation system for farmers in Saskatchewan, and the entire grain supply chain.”

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