Transport minister accepts Senate's grain-related amendments to Bill C-49


The scoop:

Transport Minister Marc Garneau has decided to accept the Senate’s main grain-related amendments to Bill C-49 — the government’s long-awaited transportation legislation. Farm groups are applauding the minister’s decision, while urging MPs and Senators to agree on the amendments and to pass the bill before the summer break.

The story:

Farm groups are welcoming the federal transport minister’s decision to generally accept the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-49 that apply to grain transportation.

The transportation legislation — originally introduced in the House of Commons in May 2017 — was sent back from the Senate to the House of Commons with 19 amendments in late March.

On Friday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau tabled his response to the Senate’s amendments (read it here).

Garneau and the Liberals have decided to accept the Senate’s amendments to the provisions for long-haul interswitching, making service from a second railway more available to shippers, and to include soybeans under the maximum revenue entitlement for railways.

The minister has also modified the Senate’s “own motion” amendment that would allow the Canadian Transportation Agency to initiate investigations into railway performance without a formal complaint from a shipper. While the Senate amendment would have allowed the CTA to pursue investigations on its own, Garneau and the Liberals have adjusted the wording to allow the CTA to propose investigations on its own, but an investigation would have to be approved by the transport minister to proceed.

“We see the news from Minister Garneau as an excellent show of support for the agriculture industry and for farmers,” says Kevin Bender, chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission, in a statement on Monday. “The amendments to long-haul interswitching are an extremely important competitive mechanism and we firmly believe they should be included in the legislation.”

While granting farm groups and grain shippers their wishes, Garneau rejected nine of the Senate’s proposed changes related to airline travel and passenger rights, meaning the bill will have to go back to the Senate again after the amendments are debated in the House of Commons.

“Producers often feel that we are very distant from decision makers in Ottawa, and that our concerns often go unheard. With C-49, we believe that the Minister, MPs and Senators have all paid attention, and worked hard to address long standing problems in grain transportation. We look forward to quick passage of this legislation to ensure that we can plan for moving the crop that we are seeding this spring.” — Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan

The Liberals haven’t said when they plan to debate the amendments in the House, but it could happen as soon as this week. The Senate will then have to decide whether it supports the House version of the bill, despite having some of its amendments rejected.

In light of this year’s grain backlog, farm groups have been pressing Ottawa to pass the legislation as soon as possible. They’re urging the House and Senate to agree on the amendments and implement the bill before rising for the summer break in June — in time for the legislation to take effect for the 2018-19 crop year, which starts August 1.

“Grain farmers have long called for strong legislation that will help rebalance the relationship between shippers and railways,” notes Jeff Nielsen, president of Grain Growers of Canada. “The entire grain industry has been united in our call for the Government to make targeted amendments to Bill C-49. It is crucial that all MPs and Senators of all parties work together to pass the amended bill as soon as possible.”

Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl also published an open letter to MPs and Senators on Monday, offering a “thank you” to Garneau for accepting the amendments. The letter concludes with “…Cereals Canada believes the work on this legislation is complete. We call on you to work together to pass this bill quickly and with the highest of priorities.”


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