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Grain groups rip lawmakers over derailed transport bill

Bill C-49 stalled to May 22 at earliest

hopper cars
(File photo by Dave Bedard)

Several farm groups say partisan haggling has again derailed federal legislation they hoped would help improve rail freight service for the grain sector this year.

Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, passed third reading in the Senate and was returned to the House of Commons with proposed amendments on March 29 — and went back to the Senate May 3 with the government’s agreement on certain changes supported by the ag sector, but not on other proposed changes.

The Senate returned C-49 again Thursday to the Commons, with several of the disputed amendments still in place.

The bill with the latest Senate amendments appeared for consideration Friday in the Commons — but was instead returned to the Senate with a message that the Commons still “respectfully disagrees” with two proposed amendments: one relating to long-haul interswitching in the Maritime provinces, the other to final-offer arbitration between railways and shippers.

The Commons and Senate are both now adjourned and don’t sit again until May 22, leaving C-49 without passage until that date at the earliest.

Alberta’s wheat and barley commissions, in a joint statement Friday, said it’s “unfortunate that political maneuvering has stalled the legislation” and noted “an increasing risk the bill won’t become law before the House rises on June 22.”

“We’ve been pressing for transportation reform for years, and it’s growing increasingly possible that we’ll see another crop year go by without any mechanisms in place that demand accountability from the railways,” Alberta Wheat Commission chair Kevin Bender said in a release.

“That means we’re running the risk of seeing another backlog before we can recover from the millions of tonnes still left in the system from this year’s delays.”

Even when C-49 is ultimately passed, the commissions said, there’s still a lag time of several months before certain provisions can be enacted. “This process adds even greater risk of not having competitive measures in place prior to the new crop year.”

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, in a separate statement April 30, said new rail legislation must be in place by Aug. 1 or “farmers risk another uncertain shipping season.”

Once the bill is passed, it could take five or six months before service contacts between railways and shippers are in place, Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, told the Manitoba Co-operator recently.

“We need to do a lot of work in order to get the provisions enacted in a practical way,” he said.

“This bill has been through significant debate and it is time that MPs and senators allow Bill C-49 to pass once and for all,” Jeff Nielsen, president of Grain Growers of Canada, said Friday in a separate statement.

“It is essential that when the House comes back, partisan politics and procedural tactics are put aside and Parliamentarians do what is best for grain farmers by passing C-49.”

From the Alberta commissions’ viewpoint, C-49, including the Senate’s amendments on grain handling, “contains mechanisms including reciprocal penalties and improvements to long-haul interswitching that the commissions have pressed hard to see implemented for several years.”

The bill as amended “will provide long-term solutions to accountability and competitive issues within Canada’s freight rail system.” — Network

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