A spokesperson for the National Farmers Union (NFU) said a revamped transportation bill currently before the Senate does very little to help farmers.
Cam Goff, second vice-president of the NFU, said his organization has a few concerns with Bill C-49. Goff expressed concerns about a proposal to change the metrics used to determine whether Canadian National (CN) or Canadian Pacific have provided adequate service. Goff said the current wording is clear that the railways have to supply a car to a destination, load it, and take it to its final destination in a timely manner.
"The new bill adds in quite a few other variables, which to our mind actually gives the railways even more wiggle room," he said.
If a railway does not have enough locomotives or cars, for example, Goff said that railway could simply say they were unable to provide adequate service under the changes proposed in C-49. Goff said he's concerned that if the bill passes, railways may default on certain obligations and receive lower penalties simply to save money for their shareholders.
Another issue raised by the NFU was a proposed system of reciprocal penalties for non-performance. Under the new system, Goff said grain companies would be able to impose the same penalties on the railways that the railways have imposed on them in the past. However, he noted, there is no guarantee the grain companies will pass those savings on to farmers.
The NFU also raised concerns about a proposal to increase the cap on a single entity’s ownership stake in CN from 15 to 25 per cent. Goff said this increase would do nothing to help farmers or Canadians, and said raising the cap would concentrate the ownership among a very small group.
"If two individuals, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, each buy 25 per cent, they they basically control CN," he said.
Groups like APAS have been very vocal about their anxiousness to see Bill C-49 passed, even sending representatives to Ottawa to speak to Senate sub-committees. Goff said he can understand why the farm groups would like to see the bill passed, but thinks they are mistaken in thinking it's actually going to be better for farmers.
Bill C-49 is currenty before the Senate, and there is no timelime for when it will come up for a final vote. The National Farmers Union has urged the federal government to consider appointing independent third party bodies to oversee dispute resolution or the movement of grain, but Goff said even that change could take months to implement.
On Twitter: @nigelmaxwell
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