Thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee today.
I should start by commending the members for their non-partisan approach to this bill, as well as for their fortitude, doing this all week long, and the hours that you're maintaining.
I'm here in my capacity as counsel to shippers, railways, governments, intermediaries, and investors in the areas of rail law and policy. My credentials are attached to my formal submissions.
I should say also that my comments today are informed by more than 60 negotiations and processes with the Canadian National Railway Company and Canadian Pacific. I'm speaking from the position of having seen these negotiations and processes among different categories of commodities as well as railways. Transport Canada consulted with me extensively in the run-up to Bill C-49. Unfortunately, Bill C-49 leaves many shippers without access to a viable remedy. While I have many things to say about the act and the bill, I'm going to confine my remarks today to two areas in particular on data disclosure and rail service, and I'm also going to try to address some points that have arisen since the beginning of the week.
My first point is on costing data. Bill C-49 looks to gather some data similar to that available in the United States. However, the bill will not change the fact that data about CN and CP is much more readily available to shippers in the States than to shippers in Canada. Shippers in the States have access to detailed rail costing data to calculate a carrier's costs of transporting goods, without invoking a proceeding before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.
Rail carriers in the States are required to report detailed financial and statistical data, which is available publicly on the STB website. CN and CP must provide these reports to the STB too, but Canada does not require it, so shippers in Canada are at a considerable disadvantage in relation to their U.S. counterparts. The STB established the uniform rail costing system, URCS, to “provide the railroad industry and shipper community with a standardized costing model [that can be] used by parties to submit cost evidence before the Board.” Shippers can, by this and yet other means, assess the freight rate competitiveness of CP's and CN's American operations, but not their Canadian operations.
In Canada, the only situation in which a shipper can get rail cost data is in the confidential final offer arbitration, FOA, process. FOA has become increasingly difficult to use for a number of reasons. As you've heard already from other witnesses, an FOA arbitrator has the right, under the act as it presently stands, to get information from the agency but generally will not do so without first getting that class I rail carrier's consent. That's the problem that I think you have an opportunity to fix. CN and CP can merely refuse to consent, leaving the arbitrator in such cases without a critical piece of evidence to make a final offer selection between the shipper's offer and a carrier's offer. In this manner, CN and CP can neuter the FOA process, making it less available and less viable.
While shippers in Canada should have access to the same quantity and quality of information available to the shippers using CN and CP services in the States, for now, I'm advocating something simpler; just require CN and CP to co-operate with the agency in providing the cost of shipments that are submitted to final offer arbitration. I have some recommended language there before you. This committee is already amending subsection 161(2), so this would be the addition of a paragraph (f). It would just add one more item to the list of items that a shipper has to submit to start a final offer arbitration. With this amendment to the act, the FOA process has a better chance of avoiding disputes, reaching good conclusions, and satisfying the parties.
I'll move on to performance data. Railway performance data is also not available in Canada. Bill C-49 proposes to compel the disclosure of a subset of certain U.S. information. As a result, U.S. shippers will end up with more data about CN's and CP's operations than shippers in Canada. Ideally, each class I rail carrier would submit all data from every waybill, including the information required by proposed subsection 76(2), which is dedicated right now just to the LHI remedy.
This information is readily accessible to the rail carriers in real time and is easily transferable. That would allow any so-inclined shipper in Canada to assess the extent to which a rail carrier is providing adequate and suitable accommodation for its traffic without having to resort to a legal process, which is what is required right now.
Currently the agency and arbitrators must determine service cases in the absence of performance data. The creation of a database and publication of all waybill and clause 76 information would settle or eliminate many disputes. However, I propose something more modest. I propose three things. First, give the agency the authority and the obligation, as it has for other parts of the act, to make regulations in this area, given its wide-ranging expertise. Second, require service performance information for publication for each rail line or subdivision. System-wide data as presently contemplated by Bill C-49 will do nothing to identify service failures in any region or corridor, much less those faced by any shipper. Third, Bill C-49 seeks to limit commodity information. I've added paragraph (11) to current subclause 77(2)—you can see the language before you—to require each class I rail carrier to report their service performance in respect of 23 commodity groups, just as is required by the STB of CN and CP in the United States—no difference.
Moving on to service levels, both the level of service complaint remedy and the SLA process were designed, along with the statutory service obligations, to compel railways to do things they would not otherwise do. The agency has done an admirable job of determining the circumstances in which it will determine whether a rail carrier has fulfilled its statutory service obligations. This is not a system that needs any further inclination toward rail carriers, which have been performing very, very well financially. Only the most egregious rail carrier conduct gets attention from shippers, which are otherwise prone to sole-service providers and very reluctant to bring proceedings.
Personally, I would not have amended the LOS provisions, but if it must be done, I'd make a few changes—three of them, in fact.
First, I'd change the opening words of proposed subsection 116(1.2), as presently contemplated in Bill C-49, to reverse the logic. Right now, it doesn't say what happens if a rail carrier doesn't provide the highest level of service they can provide. I would reverse the finding requirement so that the level of service is no less than the highest that can be reasonably provided in the circumstances.
Second, Bill C-49 would require the agency, in both the LOS and the SLA process, to consider the rail carrier's requirements and restrictions, which are all outside the control of the shipper and well within the control of the rail carrier. For example, a rail carrier decides how many locomotives to acquire, whether to terminate thousands of employees, eliminate or reduce service, limit infrastructure, or invest in technologies. It is entirely inappropriate for the agency to have to determine whether a shipper should receive a portion of the capacity that has been restricted by decisions of a rail carrier. I would strike the offending provisions entirely, just as you have it before you there.
Third, Bill C-49 imposes an obligation on an arbitrator to render decisions in a balanced way. Now, I would have thought they were already doing that. They enjoy a reputation for fairness and impartiality, and they have enjoyed deference from the appellate courts. Arbitrators are rarely appealed. There's no need for such a provision. The SLA process exists precisely because a rail carrier will not provide what the shipper requires. If it turns out, upon examination, that a shipper doesn't require the service it seeks, the shipper won't get it. That's what the agency will decide. I would strike that proposal altogether.
I've been asked a few times, and contemplated that this would arise, which one of these I would take if I could only take one. Well, it may be that the LHI provisions, if they're amended in accordance with the requests of various parties who've appeared before you, will be helpful to some people. But for sure I would make sure that my priority one amendment is made—that is, demand and require of a railway that it provide its consent to a rail carrier costing demand by the shipper in the FOA process.
Finally, we should return to a periodic review of the act. I would recommend at least every four years. I heard Mr. Emerson say two, and I'd be content with that too.
Thank you very much.