Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand in the House to talk about the provisions we have before us.
I have the privilege of serving as the official opposition representative responsible for agriculture. I can tell members that I may be seen as having a little bit of a conflict of interest here, because in fact, I am a farm kid. I am a farm kid who is very proud of the work my parents did and the work my family continues to do, which is being grain farmers on the prairies.
I think it is important that we reflect a little on the people who would be mostly impacted by the provisions being looked at today. Of course, this is an extension of something the previous government did, so let us look back in history at what brought us to sensing the necessity of moving forward on the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act.
I would note that as a farm kid, I came to recognize one reality very early in life, which is that a farmer does not make money every year. As a matter of fact, growing up, I understood very clearly that farmers often go year after year hoping that next year will be better or that the next year might have a different result than the year previous. That is what is required to be a farmer. A farmer must be an optimist by nature, otherwise he would be a depressed person.
Of course, there are so many things that determine whether a farmer might be successful. One of the most important things is the uncertainty of the weather. I can say that having grown up as a farm kid, I still look at the weather forecast like I am a farmer, wondering if it is going to rain when it is dry and if the rain will stop when it is wet. It may be something that comes through the bloodline.
I am not sure if that is the reality or if as a kid it was impressed upon me so clearly the fact that if it rained when it was dry, it was important for the family's well-being, and if it stopped raining when it was wet, that was a good thing for the family in the same way. Of course, we were always concerned about those considerations. We were also concerned if there was an early frost that might impact the family's well-being.
We know that a farmer has to bank and gamble that one year in every so many years will be a good year, because a farmer cannot continue indefinitely not making money on the farm.
In 2013, we had a bumper crop across the Prairies. This was a unique reality, and an important one. It was important because there were many farmers across the Prairies who had been struggling in the previous years. Of course, there were a number of reasons for that, weather, of course, being a big factor. However, this was an incredible year in that we saw the yields across the fields of the Prairies and across Canada go up by about 33%. That was an important year.
It is also important to recognize that for farmers to make money, they have to get that product to market, so farmers became concerned very quickly as they saw the amount of the crop coming off the fields. They saw the yields, and they recognized that the grain was going to have to move.
There were some realities in terms of the weather conditions that developed over the months that followed the harvest, and there was some difficulty in trains moving because of inclement weather. However, what became a major concern to farmers across the Prairies, and I heard it first-hand, not only from my own family members but from my constituents from corner to corner in my constituency, was that the grain was not moving and that it was detrimentally impacting the bottom line for farmers.
There were many farmers who were fearful that if they could not get the product moved, they were going to have massive spoilage, because much of the grain that had been harvested was not in proper long-term storage, because it was such a bumper crop. There was also a recognition that if the crop was not moved, it was going to mean that farmers were not going to be able to pay their bills. That was the reality we found ourselves in.
We also found that while the rail companies said they were doing everything in their capacity to move grain, farmers were not seeing that reality on the ground. They were not seeing the rail companies responding to their expectations with the speed they would have expected. Therefore, the previous government, after a significant amount of deliberation, made a determination on a number of fronts, and the result was the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act.
This act had a number of provisions. One was to ensure that better information would flow from the rail companies to the shippers. That was important, because in the absence of information, it is very difficult for farmers, shippers, and those people on the receiving end of the shipments to plan and to understand what is happening and what could be done to improve the system.
There were a number of other provisions, including one of the most important, which is the provision for inter-switching. Inter-switching is the ability of a shipping company to use a railway that it does not necessarily own for a portion of track length. In the past, there has been an ability for inter-switching for a certain length of track. However, that needed to be extended to ensure that there was a more competitive environment such that if one company was not serving a community, another company could come in and actually service those communities and respond to the demand in those communities.
This is important for us to understand. Those parliamentarians and Canadians who live in urban centres may not understand what happens in rural communities. In the communities I represent, we have the provision of service by only one rail company. It is CN, and there are other communities that are serviced only by CP or other short-line rail companies. In most rural communities, there is not an alternate service provider.
Canada exports significant amounts of grain. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of what we produce actually gets exported. It is some $21 billion in exports on an annual basis. If farmers want to get their product to market, they are limited in how they can move it. In most communities, moving that $21 billion worth of grain means that farmers depend on a single rail company. They do not have alternate ways to move the product, with the exception of trucking the grain out. In many cases, the trucking of grain long distances is cost prohibitive and actually would reduce the profits to the point where many farmers would not be able to move their product in a competitive way. Therefore, farmers and shippers depend on a single rail company in the vast majority of rural communities across the Prairies and in many farming communities across the country.
The inter-switching provision is an important one. It allows rail companies to compete with one another in communities in which they do not have rail service or a track specifically. Rail companies are able to move into those communities and pick up the demand being created by the amount of grain or the number of shipments to be shipped that are not being serviced by the rail company that exists there today. There is evidence that as a result of that provision, we have a seen a change in the attitude of the rail companies that serve those communities where they have seen competition increase.
I heard the Liberal member across the way talk about the necessity of competition in the scope of the entire review. I am thankful that the government has extended these provisions. Obviously we have been asking for this. It comes as no surprise to the government that we are supporting this. This is what we have been asking for, so we appreciate this.
However, as we look at the CTA review, it is important that we listen to the stakeholders. I have heard consistently from the canola producers, oat producers, barley producers, and wheat producers that inter-switching is a game changer for their ability to move their commodities in a way they have not been able to in the past. They have seen that not only is there the possibility of competition within their communities but that as a result of that possibility of competition within their communities, the regular transport company is being more responsive to the demands and the expectations of those shippers in those communities. They are moving the product faster and moving it in a way that responds to the demand.
No perfect system can be created within the Canadian context. Grain comes off the fields in the fall. It happens in September and October. The weather starts to get nasty in some parts of this country at the end of November, and it is difficult to move massive amounts of commodities during the winter, especially if we have inclement weather.
I am, like my dad, an eternal optimist. I believe that this year could see another bumper crop. I have to believe that, otherwise I would not be a good farmer. I would not be a good representative of farmers if I did not believe that there was a possibility of a very good year. I believe that we have the possibility of having a bumper crop again this year.
I also believe that we might have inclement weather this winter. That is the natural reality in this country. We might end up with a nasty winter. The last time this happened, we ended up with a major backlog of grain on the Prairies. There need to be tools in the government's hands so that it can respond to these conditions to ensure that we get grain moving. Farmers need to be able to get their product to market. That is essential for the survival of the family farm throughout the Prairies and throughout Canada.
While the rail companies might be trying to do what they feel they need to do, their priorities are sometimes different from those of farmers and governments. Governments have a responsibility to respond to the expectations and the demands and the needs of constituencies across this country. I am optimistic that we will have a problem with rail service this fall in so much as I am hopeful that we will see another bumper crop across the Prairies.
The government needs the tools that are included in the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act. It contains the right combination of tools to ensure that information flows so that inter-switching is available to the rail companies to ensure that there is competitive behaviour in a significant number of communities that currently are serviced by a single rail line.
It is important that we continue to have the provisions of the act until such time as the government completes the CTA review. Looking toward that, I would respectfully ask that the government consider what we have learned thus far, and that is that inter-switching, or some version of inter-switching, is essential to ensure that pressure is put on companies that service communities in a monopolistic way.
I am not saying that there is necessarily a rail monopoly in Canada, but there is a rail monopoly in the vast majority of rural communities in this country. The extension of inter-switching into these communities is absolutely essential if we are going to have a competitive market and all of the positives that flow out of competition in terms of providing adequate service for those communities.
It is absolutely essential that we continue to allow information to flow and that we continue to get good data. The act obviously delineates the data that needs to be collected and that needs to be provided. It is not as good as it should be even now, but the information that is required through the act is essential so that we can continue to build a better system that will provide better service for farming communities, and more importantly, will continue to provide better service for farmers across the country.
My family has seen the evidence of bad rail service. It has suffered as a consequence of that. My family is exactly the same as every single family that lives in our region. I have seen first-hand the impact on people and their families and their farms. It is not only the financial stress but the individual stress that bad rail service places on farms and farm families.
Let us never lose sight of the fact that we need to move forward on these provisions to ensure we help support the people who produce the best quality and most highly-demanded product that we produce in Canada. We should be proud of the people who produce our agriculture commodities. We need to continue to defend their interests and ensure they have a bright, strong and prosperous future.
I thank the government for moving on extending these provisions. We will continue to call on the government to make the provisions of this act permanent, especially those I have spoken about today. These have been a game changer as far as moving grain in our country and this should be the new norm.