Pulse Canada clarifies position laid out in rail shippers' letter to the transport minister


Multiple organizations representing sectors that rely on railways, including Pulse Canada, sent a letter to Transport Minister Marc Garneau this week, urging the government to not intervene with measures focused on grain movement in Western Canada.

“A singular emphasis on grain has the unintended but inevitable consequence of exacerbating rail service issues for other commodity sectors, skewing the railways’ allocation of scarce capacity resources towards the movement of grain,” says the letter signed by the Mining Association of Canada, Western Canadian Shippers’ Coalition, Forest Products Association of Canada, Pulse Canada, Fertilizer Canada, the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, and the Freight Management Association of Canada.

The Financial Post called the letter “a rebuttal against a push by Canadian grain shippers and farmers” to have Ottawa issue an order-in-council to ease the rail bottleneck, as was done by the Conservative government during the grain backlog in 2013-14.

This message raised an obvious question: why was Pulse Canada’s signature on this letter?

It turns out the pulse industry group did not authorize the message about grain movement, says Greg Cherewyk, chief operating officer for Pulse Canada.

“The original letter, that was approved for Pulse Canada to sign on to, did NOT contain the language that was in the letter that was released,” he says, in an email to RealAgriculture.

At the same time, he says Pulse Canada agrees with the other shippers in pushing to amend and pass Bill C-49 — the transportation legislation currently awaiting Senate approval — as soon as possible.

“The Pulse Canada position has been and continues to be that transportation legislation needs to give the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) own motion power,” says Cherewyk. “The joint letter presented an opportunity to add Pulse Canada’s voice to a growing number of organizations who want to have this amendment considered by the Senate Committee on Transport and Communication.”

“Own-motion” authority would give the CTA greater ability to act on its own to address rail performance problems. Currently, the agency can only intervene when there has been an extraordinary disruption to the transportation system, he explains. Giving the CTA own-motion power was also recommended in the Canada Transportation Act Review led by the David Emerson in 2015.

“CTA own-motion power would give the Agency the ability at an early state to use the data and information at its disposal to identify problems with the transportation system, to launch an investigation and if necessary, impose general orders aimed at restoring service long before any sector being served by the railways is in crisis mode,” says Cherewyk. “The regulator, in this case the Agency, needs to be given the authority and the mandate to do its job. The onus need not and should not be only on commercial relationships to address problems of national economic importance.”

Both the transport and agriculture ministers sent a letter to Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) earlier this month asking them to publish plans by March 15th on how they will address the grain backlog.

CN posted its plan on Wednesday, outlining steps its taking to increase grain movement, including new construction plans and offering incentives for key operating employees to delay retirement and postpone vacations.

MPs and Senators will be returning to Ottawa next week after a two-week break. The House of Commons agriculture committee is scheduled to hold a four-hour meeting with presentations from both major railways and farm groups on Monday.

Pulse Canada’s Greg Cherewyk joined Shaun Haney on RealAg Radio on Tuesday to discuss the rail backlog, how it’s hurting a pulse market that’s already been hit by India’s tariffs, and amendments that could be made to Bill C-49 by the Senate:

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