BY BOB ZIMMER
Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP
In recent weeks I have heard from many local farmers with concerns about the lack of rail car service in our region. One farmer who visited my office in Fort St. John told me that CN hadn’t delivered any grain cars to the Viterra grain elevator in over five weeks.
That is completely unacceptable. How can our local farmers succeed if they can’t move their goods to and from the region?
In response to these complaints I wrote a letter to CN Rail President and CEO Luc Jobin asking him directly to look into this and see what can be done to fix it. Mr. Jobin has since left CN Rail, however I look forward to a response from JJ Ruest who has been named interim chief executive.
Sadly, our region isn’t the only one dealing with a decline in railway service for the grain sector, as rail car service numbers across Western Canada have dropped dramatically, resulting in the worst grain backlog in years.
For example, for the week of February 18, CN and CP only supplied a combined 32 per cent of the cars requested – an all-time low. CN supplied 17 per cent of the cars ordered while CP supplied 50 per cent of the cars ordered.
Again, this is unacceptable. Our grain farmers’ livelihoods are at stake. This uncertainty that they are currently dealing with, as well as the threat of loss of income and even the family farm, have created an unnecessarily stressful situation.
My Conservative colleagues and I know how important it is for Canadian farmers to have access to a reliable rail system that gets their goods to market in a predictable and timely way.
That is why, when we were in government we immediately responded to challenges facing western Canada’s rail shipping system by issuing an order-in-council mandating minimum grain volume shipments of over 500,000 tonnes of grain per week or face hefty fines for non-compliance. This measure has been widely credited as one of the key factors that ensured Western grain moved again at that time.
In 2014, the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act was passed which expanded grain monitoring, data collection, and strengthened contracts between producers and shippers. It also extended interswitching distance to 160 km from 30 km. These were all very positive changes that improved the shipping situation for grain farmers all across Western Canada so it’s very disappointing that the Liberals have allowed this Act to expire.
Thanks to inaction by the Liberal government the costs for our local farmers is increasing, in the form of demurrage fees, while the rail companies face no real consequences. Not only that but contracts are in jeopardy and Canada’s reputation as a reliable grain exporter are on the line.
We will continue to push the Liberal government to take immediate action to resolve the backlog in grain delivery and provide the necessary tools to hold railways accountable for inadequate service levels.