Producers proceed with caution at passing of Bill C-49

Click to play video: 'Your Agriculture: improving grain transportation'
Your Agriculture: improving grain transportation
WATCH ABOVE: The passage of the Transportation Modernization Act is expected to improve grain shipments on the Prairies. – May 24, 2018

A standoff between the House of Commons and the Senate has come to a close. Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act received royal assent Wednesday, allowing for railways to be financially penalized for failing to deliver promised rail cars.

Jim Wickett hopes it’s effective and removes him from predicaments similar to the one he was in earlier this year.

Tim Wickett took a financial hit this winter when railways didn’t have capacity to haul his contracted canola to port. Wendy Winiewski / Global News

Wickett had 20,000 bushels of canola contracted to send out in early January, but railways were unable to handle the capacity, leaving Wickett’s seed sitting in his bins until April.

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“It’d be like working all day for a pay cheque except you don’t get paid on Friday. The money is still sitting in the bin and you’re paying interest on bills you shouldn’t be.”

The bill was amended by the Senate and sent back to the House of Commons twice, a move not seen since 2006. The Senate wanted a number of additions to the bill including final offer arbitration.

Producers have complained that railways aren’t supplying enough hopper cars to move last fall’s crops to waiting ships.
Producers have complained that railways aren’t supplying enough hopper cars to move last fall’s crops to waiting ships. John Woods/Canadian Press/File

Ultimately, the Senate aligned with the House’s direction, passing the bill before Parliament breaks for summer.

“I think we have a really good bill at the end of this process. It’s democracy. We’ve been through it and the bottom result is something that I think is extremely important for Canadians,” Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said.

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The bill is being called a monumental step but stakeholders are quick to admit it’s not perfect.

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“The railways will, they’ve been known to throw up road blocks every chance they get,” said Wade Sobkowich with the Western Grain Elevators Association. “There will be growing pains as everyone gets familiar with the new provisions.”

CP committed to a $500 million investment, following the passage of Bill C-49.

Similarly, in a statement Thursday CN promised to acquire 1,000 new hopper cars.

It’s a move the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission would have appreciated years ago.

“We calculated the losses in 2013-14 and 2014-15 to be somewhere between five and $6.7 billion,” said Harvey Brooks, the general manager of Sask Wheat Development Commission.

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Grain backlogs have become a problem in the past decade as western Canadian farmers reap larger yields to meet the demand of a growing world population.

As producers sow the seeds of the 2018 crop year, they’re hoping for another year of big yields, but without problems down the line.

“Like anything else, some years are better than others and that’s just farming,” Wickett said.

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