MP’s on the Commons Standing Committee of Agriculture heard many familiar stories during a public session in Ottawa on Monday.
Grain contracts going undelivered for three months or more, short line railways not receiving hopper cars and continued questions about Canada’s reputation as a reliable grain supplier.
The four hour hearing began with the railways trying to explain what has happened this winter. It appears to be a combination of a shortage of locomotive power and crews, cold weather, as well as higher than expected business from the oil sector.
“We did have a forecast in terms of (grain) demand and the volumes were bigger,” according to James Clements, CP Rail Vice-President, Strategic Planning and Transportation Services. “The other thing that happened is I would call it an event and that was the failure of the Keystone Pipeline. When it restarted at 80 per cent capacity, that 20 per cent loss created a sudden spike in demand because of a change in the pricing of crude oil and that was unforeseen.”
CN’s Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice-President Michael Cory admitted the railway needs to do better.
“Again I go back to the unprecedent volume increase. That has really focussed our attention to having a much more robust forecast and capacity model and that’s what we are working on right now.”
The Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, Rick White says the railways need to be ready to move grain early in the season.
“Our biggest premiums in the market globally are October, November, December shipping. That is when it is the toughest time to ship in Canada. When we miss that sweet spot and are now pushing shipping down into June, July and August, we are losing premiums that we should have captured had we had more rail capacity earlier in the year.”
Ian Boxall farms at Tisdale and is vice-president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS). He says more collaboration is needed in the whole supply chain.
“I have been phoned several times this winter to load the trucks and then been phoned and said ‘no don’t, the train didn’t show up.’ We can’t have that. That doesn’t work in an industry like we’re in.”
Bill C-49 is still being reviewed in the Senate and there could be some amendments to a very large bill that covers all modes of transportation, including rail.
Canadian Federation of Agriculture President Ron Bonnett says Bill C-49 needs to be passed before MP’s go on their summer break.
“The need is there to make sure we have some type of a system so that proper planning takes place. It has to go beyond that. There has to be some teeth and C-49 provides part of that to ensure compliance.”
Bonnett says “it’s not like trucking where you can hire another company, you are stuck with the railroads.”
Reciprocal penalties against railways for poor performance is one of the measures contained in Bill C-49.