Transport minister to meet with farm groups in Saskatoon

Farmers will finally get to discuss grain transportation with federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau at an Oct. 20 meeting in Saskatoon.

Garneau took to Twitter last week to say he was eager to meet with agricultural leaders to talk about efficient grain movement.

Farm organizations and provincial governments were unhappy this summer when they learned that face-to-face roundtable meetings with Garneau about the Canada Transportation Act review report ended without their participation.

Grain transportation became a hot button issue in the winter of 2013-14 after a record crop and severe winter led to a shipping backlog. Measures put in place by the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act in 2014 were part of the CTA review.

In August, several organizations met with Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in Regina, but harvest was underway and some organizations weren’t able to attend.

MacAulay is also expected at the Saskatoon meeting next week.

“Finally,” said Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Norm Hall, upon receiving an invitation to the meeting.

“We’re assuming (it will be) a very similar meeting to Aug. 18.”

He said meeting with the other ministers was valuable, but Garneau is the lead on the file and he must hear from farmers.

“The stakes in this discussion are very high for producers,” Hall said after the August meeting.

At issue are things such as whether extended interswitching should be retained, the railway revenue cap and minimum grain volumes that railways must haul.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, of which APAS is a member, has submitted written recommendations but repeated its call for Garneau to meet with western farm leaders.

Many are concerned that another large crop this year will again tax the rail system.

“At the core of these issues is the reality that the western grain transportation system is nearly devoid of competitive freight options,” said CFA president Ron Bonnett.

“That’s why CFA stresses that regulation through the maximum revenue entitlement (revenue cap) and provisions like interswitching are essential…. Farmers strongly disagree with the Emerson report recommendation to dismantle the MRE program within seven years and to sunset interswitching options.”

Former Transport Minister David Emerson led the review and has recommended ending extended interswitching, up to 160 kilometres from one railway to another.

Garneau said the government wants to take the best possible approach to efficient grain movement and is still examining those recommendations.

“That is why my parliamentary secretary, my office and I have already met with various stakeholders, including many grain producers groups, on this important subject,” he said.

The transport committee has been studying the grain transportation recommendations in the report. It has heard from farmers who want interswitching to be retained and railways that want it gone.

The CFA also wants changes to how the revenue cap is calculated to make it more accurate and a costing review of the rail system. It notes that the current rates are based on a costing review done nearly 25 years ago, before extensive rationalization of the elevator system and the implementation of longer trains.

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart, who was also miffed at not meeting with Garneau earlier in the process, has been invited to the Oct. 20 meeting as well.

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