Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to take part in this discussion. Although I must say after listening over the last number of moments to the member for Kindersley-Lloydminster that once again we have been subjected to that Reform Party diatribe which is typically negative, typically partisan and typically superficial.
In my few minutes I will focus mostly on that element in the opposition motion that refers to grain transportation. Before doing that I would like to mention briefly the issue of highways and roads which is also mentioned in this motion. I will do so in the specific context of my own province of Saskatchewan.
By way of introduction it must be noted and underscored that the sponsors of this motion in the Reform Party are absolute masters of inconsistency. They are on all sides of every issue all the time. They are going to do themselves some very serious physical harm if they continue to try to engage in those kinds of gymnastics.
On the one hand they want to bring the federal deficit down to zero overnight. On the other hand whenever they hear or perceive a squeaky wheel that might be of partisan advantage to them, they want to spend more.
On the one hand they demand complete provincial autonomy in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction under our Constitution. On the other hand they want the federal government to get more
involved in things like roads and highways which are entirely a provincial responsibility.
On the one hand they want more deregulation in the field of transportation, less government involvement. On the other hand they want direct government action to sort things out when the magic wand of the private sector fails to deliver the desired results.
In typically inconsistent Reform Party fashion, its members fling themselves upon their horse and ride off madly in all directions at once. To a certain extent this explains the rather severe credibility problem which so afflicts the Reform Party in western Canada these days. They want to be on all sides of all the issues all the time and as a result they are just not believable.
Let me turn now to the point about Saskatchewan's roads and highways. The legal and constitutional responsibility here is very clear. This is an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
It is equally clear in Saskatchewan that no provincial government in the past 25 years, not the Blakeney government, not the Devine government, not the Romanow government, none of them has paid any serious attention to the province's road system. Year after year they have quite literally run it into the ground. One has to stretch back to the Liberal administration of Ross Thatcher in the 1960s to find a Saskatchewan government that put a priority upon transportation. It is no wonder that the province's roads and highways are in bad condition today.
Recently there has been a little bit of improvement but let us trace the source of that improvement. Where did it come from? We have seen for example rehabilitation and upgrading work undertaken on highways numbers 1, 7, 11, 16 and 39 in Saskatchewan.
How was that work done? Through the strategic highway improvement program of the Government of Canada. For Saskatchewan this involves a federal investment of $35 million over a five-year period. The province is supposed to match these federal dollars for a total of $70 million invested between 1993 and 1998. Without federal incentives, this work would not get done. Reform Party members either ignore this fact or they just have not done their homework.
Further, there is the Canada infrastructure works program which we introduced in 1994. In Saskatchewan we set aside $10 million for municipalities for rural roads. The municipalities themselves contributed a further $20 million for a total of $30 million altogether. As a result miles and miles of this vital rural infrastructure have been built or rebuilt across the length and breadth of Saskatchewan in the last couple of years. The province incidentally contributed nothing to this aspect of the Canada infrastructure works program. It was entirely a co-operative venture between the Government of Canada and the municipalities.
Most recently in our province we have established the Canada agri infrastructure program as part of the adjustment funding after the termination of subsidized freight rates. Saskatchewan's share of this prairie-wide program is approximately $85 million. Twenty million dollars was invested in 1996. Twenty-one million dollars is being invested in 1997. A further $44 million is coming over the next two years. It is all going into Saskatchewan's roads and highways and it is 100 per cent from the Government of Canada. The Reform Party again either does not know about it or simply chooses to ignore the facts.
Let me now turn to grain. Over the past three years we have moved on several fronts to deal with some of the historic inefficiencies in the Canadian grain handling and transportation system. For example we have eliminated that old Thunder Bay scenic route grain back haul situation which for many years actually subsidized the movement of prairie grain several hundred miles in the wrong direction. That anomaly is now gone.
We have provided for the orderly discontinuance of some extremely high cost and low volume railway branchlines. That is a controversial subject on the prairies, but detailed analysis has shown that even after taking trucking costs and elevation costs into account, the system overall is cheaper for all of those concerned if those particular lines are terminated.
We have encouraged the conversion of certain appropriate branchlines to shortline rail operations which can in fact function more efficiently than if they were to remain a part of the more expensive mainline system.
We have provided in legislation for the equitable sharing of cost savings in our grain transportation system among the railways, the grain companies and the farmers. As greater efficiencies are achieved, as costs are actually saved, then the benefit accrues to all of the parties and not just to the bottom lines of the railways. The farmers and grain companies will also participate in those earned benefits.
We have in fact, quite in contrast to the extreme rhetoric of the Reform Party, introduced legislation to help avoid work stoppages in port operations to keep grain moving, even while labour management disputes are being negotiated.
I am pleased to tell the House that I have received dozens and dozens of letters from farmers and farm organizations across western Canada applauding this very forward looking legislation introduced by my colleague, the Minister of Labour, in his amendments to part I of the Canada Labour Code. I certainly hope that members of all parties in the House will support those amendments when they come forward for debate in the days immediately ahead because farmers are supportive of what is in the package.
We have fostered the creation of a grain car allocation policy group representing the grain companies, the railways, the Canadian Wheat Board and farmers, to set policy principles for how railway rolling stock is to be distributed in the service of grain across western Canada. In fact, again in contrast to the inflated rhetoric of the Reform Party, the CAPG has been functioning quite well over the course of the last number of months. The parties who are participating in the car allocation policy group believe it is performing the function it was intended to do.
All of these measures will help to improve overall efficiency and avoid unnecessary costs in our grain handling and transportation system. But still, serious problems can and do occur.
The last time we confronted a major backlog in the grain transportation system was following the winter of 1993-94. By early spring the congestion was serious. There were many reasons behind the problem that occurred at that time. There was in the fall of 1993 a very complex harvest on the prairies. It had generated a heavy and complicated mixture of different grain volumes and different crop volumes that had to be shipped in what turned out to be a very complex logistical situation.
Rolling stock at that time was in particular short supply. Hopper cars that we would usually lease from the United States were unavailable for the Canadian market due to local demands that existed south of the border. There were weather disruptions. There were labour disruptions. There was a general lack of co-ordination in a lot of places throughout the grain handling and transportation system in the winter of 1993-94 and the spring of 1994.
To come to grips with the problem, being interested in solutions, not just rhetoric but solutions, we summoned all of the players together on May 16, 1994: the railways, the grain companies, the Canadian Wheat Board, the Canadian Grain Commission, the port operators, the unions, farm organizations and others. We came together to find better ways of getting the grain moving again. In fact after that conversation in a serious and conscientious way with everyone really putting their shoulder to the wheel to find answers, within three weeks the whole system had visibly and tangibly improved. By the end of that particular shipping season we had more than caught up. We were actually ahead of the game.
For two years after that meeting on May 16, 1994, the flow of grain through the system moved pretty smoothly, until we got into the winter of 1996-97. Once again we are confronted with a serious problem. The source of that difficulty this time appears to be twofold and it is somewhat different from the problem that we faced in 1994.
It is clear that we have been facing one of the most severe winter weather seasons in a long time, certainly in more than a decade. As it turns out the snowfall in certain parts of the Rockies where the grain must be moved has been heavier than has ever been recorded before in history. Everyone knows the kind of temperature conditions we have been dealing with in western Canada over the course of the last two to three months. We have faced and the railways have faced some extraordinary weather circumstances.
As I have said on other occasions both in this House and outside, one has to anticipate that we could have severe weather in Canada in the winter. We could anticipate heavy snow and low temperatures during the month of January but we do have to acknowledge that this January was a particularly tough one. Nevertheless that is not an adequate explanation of the situation.
There is another complicating factor. That appears to be the lack of locomotive power in the system, particularly at a time when the weather conditions, the low temperatures, reduce the efficiency of railway locomotives and it requires more locomotives than would normally be the case to move the same volume of grain at higher temperatures.
Accordingly we have difficulties in the system. Rather than getting into the purple rhetoric that seems to fascinate the Reform Party, once again what I have tried to do is to call together the key players to get to the root of what is wrong. Tonight in Calgary I will be meeting with the Canadian Wheat Board, the Canadian Grain Commission, the grain companies, the railways, the car allocation policy group and other players who have a particular responsibility and a logistical responsibility for making the grain handling and transportation system in this country work.
When I meet with those leaders of the grain industry tonight in Calgary, I will first of all thank them for making themselves available on relatively short notice for the discussion of a very serious topic. I will remind them that the topic is indeed serious. I will tell them that I am approaching this discussion with a deep sense of fiduciary responsibility, a sense of responsibility which I hope that they all will share, to those who for the most part will not be in that room tonight but have in fact the biggest personal and financial stake in what we will be talking about. Of course I am referring to the grain producers of western Canada and their customers around the world.
For the most part the backlog in grain movement this winter is a temporary business problem to be overcome in the due course of doing business. Grain companies will ultimately collect their handling fees as the product moves through their facilities sooner or later. Railways will ultimately collect their freight rates. Politicians, officials and others will continue to collect their salaries.
For the farmers, it is not that simple. They are at the end of the line when it comes to picking up the tab. Handling fees get paid off
the top. Freight rates get paid off the top. All the other market costs get paid off the top. After everyone else has been paid off the top the farmer gets what is left at the bottom.
The toll gets heavier when ships are waiting, paying demurrage, and farmers pay more. The toll gets heavier when buyers cannot run the risk of further delays. When the Japanese start to look elsewhere for their supplies, the farmer pays again. It is not just this year. The bad reputation tends to linger for years to come. When I meet our customers in Tokyo next month they will not be easily reassured about the reliability of the Canadian grain transportation system.
Once again the toll gets heavier when potential sales get deferred into a falling market at some future date. The price later will be less, especially with the U.S. export enhancement program looming on the horizon again to distort world markets with artificial subsidization. Once again the farmer will pay more.
I know none of the remarks I will deliver tonight in Calgary will be news to any of the people in the room. They are after all the leaders of the western Canadian grains industry. I will tell them that as we grapple with the problem of what is wrong at the moment in our grain handling and transportation system we should all keep in mind who is truly being hurt by this situation, that is the farmer. We do not have any time to waste on excuses or finger pointing. We only have time for solutions.
I want the analysis of those people at the meeting tonight of exactly where we are now in comparison to where we ought to be at this point in the shipping season and in relation to where we need to be week by week and month by month for the rest of the crop year. In other words, we must define the nature and the magnitude of what needs to be accomplished in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Also we must define the steps that each one of us in the government, the private sector, the grain companies, the railways and so on need to take week by week and month by month to get the job done. In the interest of the farmers and in the interest of the public we need to emerge from the discussion tonight, and undoubtedly other discussions that will take place in the days ahead, with a workable game plan to deal with what is wrong and an absolute commitment to implement the plan without fail.
When the grains industry in the past has been challenged with critical situations it has typically been able to set aside some of its differences on other issues, focus on the problem at hand and come up with creative, productive successful solutions. I hope that kind of attitude will prevail this evening and that at the end of the day farmers will benefit from a better situation.