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Rail shipping legislation heads for political showdown


Ottawa, ON — Western grain farmers are on the verge of getting some long-sought federal help against the threat of rail backlogs, but face seeing their relief delayed over threats of political gamesmanship.

Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of product is stuck in a months-long logjam that shippers hope can be avoided in the future through the passage of a proposed federal law, which would give a federal agency powers to investigate and prevent bottlenecks and allow shippers access to more competitive shipping routes, known as interswitching.

Grain farmers are pressing for parliamentary approval of the Liberal’s sweeping transport bill, known as C-49 and want to have the new rules in place by August so there can be some certainty on the rails at the outset of the next shipping season.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Grain Growers of Canada are among the groups throwing their support behind the Liberals and urging parliamentarians not to play politics with the legislation.

“Producers often feel that we are very distant from decision-makers in Ottawa and that our concerns often go unheard,” Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said in a statement.

“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.”

But the association representing domestic miners believe their industry won’t be helped by the new rules and an air passenger rights group argues the Liberals could leave air travellers up in the air with the final wording of the bill that Transport Minister Marc Garneau is pushing.

MPs are expected to have their say on Garneau’s proposal as early as Wednesday.

Conservative transport critic Kelly Block says she plans to prod the government to fast-track the sweeping transport bill, but only if Garneau abandons plans to reject a suite of proposed Senate amendments to the legislation.

She hinted at further holdups for grain farmers if the Liberals don’t agree to the proposal, noting that rejecting the Senate amendments would trigger further debate in the upper chamber.

The Tories hope the wrangling that ensues from their procedural counterpunch will help them push a narrative that the Liberals are holding up the bill.

Garneau wants MPs to reject all but a few of the Senate amendments, including those that touch on rules governing tarmac delays, who is allowed to file complaints about airline service and foreign ownership of Canadian airlines.

The Liberals also don’t agree with the Senate’s proposed changes to the use of data from video recorders in locomotives, and how disputes over shipping costs are settled.