The Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act amends the Canada Transportation Act and the Canada Grain Act, providing additional measures designed to help the entire grain transportation system reach the goal of getting product to market quickly and more efficiently following a record crop year for Canadian farmers.
“I think it’s a good piece of legislation to get things rolling,” said Medicine Hat MP LaVar Payne. “I was part of that whole process. It’s going to speed up the Canada Transportation Act as well, which has really needed to happen. So there’s some positive things there.”
This year’s Western Canadian crop, at 76 million tonnes, was 50 per cent higher than average. This volume put significant pressure on the grain handling and transportation system.
New regulations are designed to increase supply chain transparency, strengthen contracts between producers and shippers; and help ensure the entire grain handling and transportation system is working efficiently at the top of its capacity. Also taking steps to address the medium and long-term implications of higher crop yields and extreme cold weather, going forward, railways will be required to deliver more timely data on grain movements to better monitor the overall performance of the supply chain.
The Canadian Transportation Agency will also gather information from all grain supply chain partners on shipping capacities and plans prior to each new crop year, and will advise the Minister of Transport whether specific grain volumes should be mandated for the coming year.
Payne indicated both Canada’s national railways were able to provide input to the bill, but admitted he had been unimpressed by the performance of Canadian Pacific Railway chief Keith Creel.
“I’m sure they’ve had opportunity to get their input into committee. Quite frankly, I was very disappointed in Mr. Creel, the chief operating officer for CP. He indicated that they had a bunch of cars sitting in port in Vancouver that weren’t being unloaded. I was quite disappointed that was part of the reason for some of the late deliveries.”
The federal government is also accelerating the review of the Canada Transportation Act with a view to further improving Canada’s grain-handling system over the long term in order to achieve improved capacity, predictability, planning and accountability for all parties in the supply chain.
“Overall, it was supported by all of the parties to get this thing going, which is a really very positive aspect,” said Payne. “Having said that, we heard from all kinds of different producers — fertilizers, mining and other groups — in fact this is long due, and not just because of the grain. They’ve all had difficulty in terms of trying to get the railways to provide service.”
A recently announced Order in Council obligates Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) to increase their capacity to each carry a minimum of 500,000 metric tonnes of grain per week, by the week of April 7, and for them to report on the volume of grain moved each week. The order imposes these obligations from March 10 to June 7, 2014, and creates a legal obligation on railways, and penalties of up to $100,000 per day could be imposed on them for failing to comply. The proposed legislation extends these performance requirements to August 3, 2014.