April 25, 2018

Government and Industry – keeping grain on track

Jeff Nielsen

As a Canadian grain producer in Alberta, I am landlocked. I grow my grain thousands of kilometers from the nearest port, meaning that I, like most of my fellow grain farmers, am dependent on the most efficient and cost effective method of transporting our product to market. For generations across the prairies that has been rail.

With only two major railways in Canada we farmers have not always been in the most enviable of situations. From a producer prospective there is a love/hate relationship with the railways as it has it has always seemed that one was performing better than the other on year, only to switch the next. More recently we experienced two major rail bottlenecks within four years. Many of my colleagues were still recovering financially from the 2013/2014 crisis only to have this past grain shipping year go “off the rails” once again. Winter is always used as an excuse but as producers we know how to handle winter and move grain, and so do our national railways.

Now the railways are playing catch up – after being ordered to by both the Ministers of Transport and Agriculture and Agri-Food no less.

And then last week we received notice that workers at CP Rail were in a strike position, ready to begin a labour disruption at 12:01 am, April 21st. The potential negative impact of a work stoppage at this point can’t be overstated. If we are to have any chance of recovering our grain shipping year we need both CN and CP to move our grain at full capacity. Having one of two railways out of the equation is inconceivable.

This is why I am very appreciative of the fact that Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu intervened last Friday to keep CP moving. The fact that this effort was supported by all parties is a clear indication that our Members of Parliament understand the crucial role rail transportation plays in the success of my industry, along with those of so many other hard working middle class Canadians.

With the labour disruption temporarily averted, GGC is calling on MPs to pass Bill C-49 with amendments as soon as possible with a goal of having the legislation in place for August 1, 2018. The tools included in these amendments, particularly access to interswitching, could provide a release valve for future work stoppages by allowing shippers to transfer to another railway.

So thank you Minister Hajdu. You and your colleagues keep the railways moving and my fellow grain farmers and I will keep producing the top quality that we all enjoy.

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