Grain backlog bill welcomed

A pair of Alberta cabinet ministers are pleased with federal legislation that seeks to reduce grain shipment backlogs, but they think more needs to be done to address the problem.

A pair of Alberta cabinet ministers are pleased with federal legislation that seeks to reduce grain shipment backlogs, but they think more needs to be done to address the problem.

Finance Minister Doug Horner and International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas shared their views during a Red Deer Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday — one day after the Canadian government announced it would amend the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act to encourage increased shipments of grain.

The proposed measures include allowing the Canadian Grain Commission to regulate how much a grain company must pay farmers if it doesn’t meet contracted delivery dates, establishing a penalty of up to $100,000 for rail companies that fail to move a minimum amount of grain, and extending inter-switching limits from 30 km to 160 km so that Prairie grain elevators have greater rail service.

“I’m happy with what they did in the legislation but the problem still exists,” said Horner.

“We as western provinces are going to have to sit down finally and say, ‘OK, is there a way that we can look at a long-term fix . . . to handle the surges in volumes that we’re going to have because we’re commodity based?’”

He added that financial penalties on rail companies that fail to meet their delivery responsibilities is a good step.

“The rail companies didn’t appear to have any consequence to not delivering cars on time.”

Dallas also said the federal legislation is a positive step. But he pointed out that last year’s harvest was exceptionally large, and bottlenecks extend beyond the rail lines.

Rather than finance and build a system that can handle a one-in-20-year crop, Dallas suggested continuous improvements so that the system will function more efficiently.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said in a letter to federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz that “more aggressive steps were required.” And the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association said there are good things in the legislation, but they’re inadequate to tackle the current backlog.

“Grain prices to farmers will remain artificially depressed until the backlog is cleared up and the elevator system has the capacity available to offer competitive bids for our grain,” association president Levi Wood said in a news release.

“As long as the elevator system remains plugged, price offers to farmers are likely to remain below market value.”

In addition to the record harvest, CN and CP Rail have blamed cold weather that required them to use shorter trains.

CN said Wednesday that it was “disturbed by Canadian government legislation introducing heavy-handed regulatory intrusion into rail grain transportation.”

With files by The Canadian Press.

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