Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about the motion from the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
We have been calling for the Liberal government to take action on the grain transportation file for a long time. The report simply requests that the changes set out in Bill C-30, which expire in August 2016, be extended for one year. I agree with that request and will support it when it comes time to vote.
Before explaining why it is important that the government extend these provisions of Bill C-30, I would like to give my colleagues in the House a little bit of background about the grain transportation crisis. About two years ago, I spoke specifically about Bill C-30 in the House.
The combination of an excellent harvest and a harsh winter uncovered major flaws in our grain transportation system that cost farmers and the Canadian economy between $7.2 billion and $8.3 billion.
Although the government at the time had known since the fall of 2013 what our farmers would be up against, Bill C-30 was its belated response to this major crisis. The opposition parties and stakeholders had to pressure the government for months before it did anything.
Unfortunately, the bill did not go far enough. What is more, it was temporary, as members can see from the provisions that expire in August.
The Premier of Saskatchewan said that the bill was flawed and disappointing. Throughout the crisis, the Conservatives acted as if the situation was out of the ordinary, even though farmers had clearly indicated that the system was broken and the duopoly of Canadian Pacific and Canadian National over the market was allowing the companies to provide inadequate service without fear of repercussions. There is still an imbalance of power between farmers and the railway companies.
In an attempt to address the many shortcomings in Bill C-30, my party proposed a number of amendments: implementing mandatory reporting of the price of grain throughout the transportation system; requiring adequate service in all corridors; ensuring that producers in all affected regions would be consulted about the regulations; requiring the government to work with the provinces to develop and implement a plan for open access running rights to ensure effective competition in the rail service; imposing a moratorium on the closure or delisting of producer car sites; increasing fines and directing those revenues to compensation programs for producers; and opposing the temporary nature of the provisions in Bill C-30, which suggested that systemic structural problems were actually temporary and exceptional.
Unfortunately, all of the amendments that the NDP presented in committee were rejected. By the end of winter 2015, the delayed delivery of more than 11,000 grain shipments prompted us to try again. Despite Bill C-30, there was another crisis.
As a result, I moved another motion in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for the immediate study of problems related to the transportation of grain and agricultural products. Subsequently, my colleague from Sydney—Victoria moved a motion in the House.
His motion, which was adopted unanimously on April 22, 2015, called on the House to recognize that an increase in rail service and capacity is essential to the livelihood of Canadian agriculture and that changes to legislation are needed to address the structural gaps in our system.
When I spoke to the motion, I made sure to emphasize how important it is for the government to listen to all stakeholders. That point is important and remains valid.
The current government should improve the system. It should implement the recommendations of all stakeholders, the experts, and especially farmers.
I am pleased to see that the Minister of Transport said that he would take the Emerson report as advice only and that his government would consult stakeholders before making any decisions.
I can tell him right now that producers and shippers are not keen to abolish maximum revenue entitlement and interswitching. Stakeholders all agree, as do the parties here in the House, that these two measures should be removed.
As Dan Mazier, the president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said:
“The report doesn't address [the lack of competition in grain transportation] at all, and this is the fundamental thing those in the grain industry believe lies at the heart of all of our problems.”
Since the beginning of the year, stakeholders have also all agreed that it is important to extend the provisions of Bill C-30, which expire on August 1. All of the groups I met with mentioned this to me. The members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food received many letters to this effect from such organizations as Alberta Barley, Alberta Canola, Alberta Pulse Growers, Alberta Wheat, and Grain Growers of Canada.
They wrote to us to encourage the fact that we need to act very quickly and that the pro-competitive measures introduced in Bill C-30, the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, do not expire on August 1.
Among the other measures, the legislation provided for the establishment of minimum grain volume targets for railways, gave authority to the Canadian Transportation Agency to establish regulations governing rail service level arbitration, and provided for the extension of railway inter-switching distances from 30 km to 160 km, in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
Parliament must pass a resolution prior to August 1, 2016 to extend these elements of railway regulation or Canadian shippers will lose these important shipper protection measures.
The report presented to the House by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities goes precisely along the same lines. That is why we support it. However, the government must adopt a long-term vision and address producers' concerns. This is important. A number of agronomists and officials at the Department of Agriculture and Agri-food have said that crop yields would only increase.
If the government does not improve our system, we will see more crops like those we saw in 2013 and more crises like the one we experienced in 2014-15. The government must show leadership and must implement long-term solutions for producers.
I sincerely hope that the Liberal Party will keep its promises on this issue and that its decisions will be consistent with what it said and did when it was in the opposition. It is one thing to get all worked up to defend producers when one is in the opposition, but it is another thing to do so when one is in government.
Since the beginning of their mandate, the Liberals have not had a great record on agriculture and agri-food, but they now have an excellent opportunity to take action and to stand up for producers. We hope that they will take this opportunity today and will take action quickly.