The 100-plus members of the association spend approximately $6 billion annually on transportation services by all modes. We advocate for our member companies' interests with regard to air freight, trucking, marine, and rail. FMA will only comment on the sections of Bill C-30 that would amend the Canada Transportation Act, and also on the government's related announcements that relate to the transportation elements in Bill C-30.
I will attempt to provide some context on how we arrived at this point with regard to rail service, provide some comments on Bill C-30, and more importantly, look at what needs to be done to ensure that the rail system and other parts of the supply chain system have the capacity to meet the future needs of rail shippers.
During the run-up to Bill Bill C-8 which amended the Canada Transportation Act in 2008, there were widespread complaints about rail service from across the country. When Bill C-8 was passed in June 2008, the government agreed to undertake an independent review of rail service. The review panel published their final report on January 2011.
One of the panel's consultants, NRG Research Group, found in its independent survey of 262 shippers that only 17% of their respondents rated their satisfaction at a six or seven on a scale of one to seven, where seven was the most satisfied. NRG also reported that 62% of shippers reported they had suffered financial consequences as a result of poor service performance. The rail freight service review panel recognized the fundamental problem, and said in its final report, “This railway market power results in an imbalance in the commercial relationships between the railways and other stakeholders.” Canadian railway law has acknowledged for over a century that rail freight is not a normally functioning competitive market.
Part of the government's response to the rail freight service review was to introduce Bill C-52, the Fair Rail Freight Service Act, which became law in June 2013. Bill C-52 breaks new ground by providing for the first time in Canadian law the right of all rail shippers to a service level agreement, and if it can't be negotiated directly with the railway, it can be achieved through arbitration. The shipper community, through the Coalition of Rail Shippers—and there are a number of our associations, some of which you've already heard from, that are members of Coalition of Rail Shippers—identified several areas where Bill C-52 could be strengthened in a way that would minimize uncertainty and give better guidance to our arbitrators. Also, some of the most significant recommendations of the rail service panel did not find their way into Bill C-52, particularly the review panel's list of elements that should be included in service level agreements at the option of the shipper.
The Coalition of Rail Shippers' proposed amendments to Bill C-52 were designed to strengthen it and make it more likely to effectively rebalance the commercial relationship and meet the government's stated objectives for the bill. The government declined to accept any of the six recommendations proposed by the Coalition of Rail Shippers. Consequently, to my knowledge at least, there have been no shipper attempts to achieve a service level agreement using the provisions of Bill C-52.
Bill C-30 provides another opportunity to revisit the shortcomings of the Fair Rail Freight Service Act. Clause 7 of Bill C-30, for example, provides the authority for the agency to extend interswitching limits “for the regions or goods that it specifies”. This amendment to the interswitching regulations will allow the agency to give effect to the government's policy announcement to extend the maximum interswitching on the prairie provinces from 30 kilometres to 160 kilometres. The interswitching regulations have been useful to shippers over many decades and are an effective surrogate for real competition. Given the current backlog of grain, this temporary provision may give grain shippers more flexibility in arranging service, and it will be available to all shippers who may have facilities located within the 160-kilometre zones that will be established.
Once a more general review of the Canada Transportation Act is undertaken, the maximum interswitching limit across the entire country should be investigated to determine if the current 30-kilometre limit should be extended.
The other significant provision of Bill C-30 that's relevant to all shippers is clause 8, which authorizes the agency to “make regulations specifying what constitutes operational terms” to be included in a service level agreement through arbitration. While it's unclear how the agency and the government will use this provision, it could be a vehicle for achieving some of the shipper amendments that were rejected during the Bill C-52 debates. FMA will certainly engage with the agency as these regulations evolve.
I'm not going to comment on the provisions related to potential fines for the railways for missing targets, or the provision that allows the Governor in Council to set targets in the next two crop years. It is acknowledged that the current backlog of grain is an unusual situation, and clearly the government felt compelled to intervene at an unprecedented level of detail.
As you've heard and you probably will continue to hear, there is concern among some of the shipper community that singling out one industry group in such a manner could cause service problems for other shippers. FMA includes among its members grain companies but also many shippers in many other industries. We've informed our membership that the targets set in the order in council and in Bill C-30 originated with CN and CPR, and we have to start from the premise that the railways would have offered those targets only if they felt they could maintain the current level of service for their other shippers.
Intervention such as that in Bill C-30 needs to be applied very carefully and only under the most extraordinary circumstances.
With regard to the future, a welcome announcement in Bill C-30 is that the statutory review of the Canada Transportation Act will be moved to an earlier date rather than its mandatory latest start date of June 2015.
Two basic issues that the statutory review should address are: one, the need to provide appropriate rail capacity for the needs of Canadian industry over the coming decades, and Mark Hemmes made some comments about the growth that is expected to take place in at least some of the agricultural commodities; two, the need to improve the relationship and trust between the railways and significantly large segments of their customers.
With regard to capacity, this will require significant investment by the railway companies, by other supply chain partners as Peter mentioned in his remarks, and possibly by several levels of government. The statutory review will provide an opportunity for an in-depth analysis of the capacity needs going forward and the role the various stakeholders should play. How this is addressed will have a significant impact on the national economy and our global competitiveness.
Last, with regard to shipper-railway relationships, it will be difficult to overcome the distrust, and to some extent, the acrimony that currently exists. In this connection, there have been informal discussions under the academic umbrella of Carleton University School of Public Policy and Administration. They run a process called critical conversation, which involves direct and confidential discussions within an academic environment among stakeholders to start a dialogue to overcome distrust. While arrangements have not yet been confirmed for critical conversations involving the railways and shippers, the planning discussions with the various stakeholders continue.
Rail service is vital to the Canadian economy, and the members of the Freight Management Association are ready to work in a constructive way with the government and the railways to improve Canadian supply chains for the benefit of the railways, their customers, and the Canadian economy.