Mr. Speaker, it is pleasure to rise today and speak to Bill C-49 and the motion put forward by the government.
The message I want to get forward today is really about what brought us here and whether Canadian agriculture had to go through all this pain and suffering when we really did not achieve much at the end. What is disingenuous with the entire process is that over the last several months the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Agriculture were telling our producers, stakeholders, and shippers to hang on and be patient, that once Bill C-49 was passed it was going to resolve all of their problems and we would not have a grain backlog in the future.
I am going to speak more on the agriculture side than I will on some of the other elements of Bill C-49.
The inaction by the ministers and the government on this issue for almost a year has been mind-boggling. Last June my colleague, the shadow minister for transportation, put forward a list of amendments that would have addressed many of these problems we are facing, but they were turned down. Now we have them back on the table from the Senate. They went through the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and again through the Senate. Now they are here, and the Liberal government is saying it will be supporting a number of those amendments. I am not sure what changed over those 10 months; the Liberals could have supported those amendments last June, but they did not.
It was the start of time after time when the Liberals were given numerous options to get Bill C-49 through the process as quickly as possible, as well as to address many of the problems that our grain farmers across western Canada have been facing. Every time the Liberals were given an option to address the situation, which became a crisis in January and February, they did nothing.
Last summer, we encouraged the government to extend the provisions of Bill C-30, the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, which extended interswitching and mandatory minimum volumes, a process that we had in place in 2013-14 when we went through the previous grain backlog. This addressed many of those problems. Our stakeholders, producers, grain terminals, and shippers were satisfied. They were quite pleased with that process. It gave the rail lines some accountability to ensure that they were able to move grain as well as other products, whether it was lumber, mining, or oil and gas. We want to make sure that all our producers have an opportunity to get their commodities to market.
In the fall, when Bill C-49 was first brought to the House, we saw that it was a massive document and that it was going to be extremely difficult to get any sort of consensus on a bill that dealt with everything from video recorders and locomotives to an air passenger bill of rights to interswitching. How were we possibly going to be able to find some sort of satisfaction among all stakeholders and within all the different points of view in our industries, let alone here in the House of Commons or in the Senate?
At that time we saw that this was going to be an issue. With the size and the scope that Bill C-49 entailed, we knew that getting it through that process with any sort of expediency was going to be nearly impossible. Once again we provided what I thought was a thoughtful resolution to the Liberal government, which was to split Bill C-49 into two bills. We would take many of the aspects of the bill that had to do with grain and grain transportation through the process as quickly as possible. Some of the other contentious issues that had to do with airline rights and other issues would take longer to go through the process, but we knew there was no time crunch or time sensitivity of the kind that there was on the grain side.
Last fall, with a larger-than-average harvest and the challenges CN and CP were facing in terms of meeting the contracts, we saw the rail line numbers dipping with each weekly report that was coming out.
We raised the alarm bells last fall that this was going to be a problem. We encouraged the government to split Bill C-49. I recall being in this House last October making almost the same argument that we were not going to get Bill C-49 through this process in a timely fashion to prevent another grain backlog. Again, it fell on deaf ears.
The result of that inaction last October, before we got to this point, was rail service that put us in a grain crisis. It is a crisis that still exists today. I do not think we can miss that point. Although we are here now, no problem has been resolved. We have road bans across the western provinces. We have more than 30 transport ships off the coast of British Columbia waiting for product. Those demurrage costs of $10,000 a day and up are now being passed on to the producers. Who will pay those additional costs that are now being passed on to our farmers across western Canada?
We have to keep that in mind as we have this discussion and this debate today. The crisis our farmers have been facing since last fall is still there, and it is not going away anytime soon. It is going to impact their fall season. They cannot move grain right now. Many of them are finally in the fields seeding. Road bans are in place in many of the western provinces, inhibiting their ability to actually transport grain to the terminal.
They are watching us today with a lot of focus on the decision we will be making in this House. How are we going to address the problems they are facing? The crisis has become so bad that our most recent report says that almost half a billion dollars' worth of grain is sitting in storage bins across western Canada. That is grain that our producers and our farmers cannot sell. They are unable to sell their product and get it to the terminal and then to the coast.
These same farmers who are unable to sell their product still have bills coming in. There are mortgage payments, lease payments on land, equipment purchases, and input costs as they try to get ready to start seeding. There are programs in place through Farm Credit Canada and the advanced payments program, essential programs that are in place to help in these times of extenuating circumstances.
I know that our producers do not want to have to rely on those assistance programs for a product they work hard all year to plant and harvest and are now trying to sell, but are unable to because of logistics.
As my colleague from Guelph said, we had an emergency meeting of the agriculture committee. I want to commend my colleagues on that committee for agreeing to have that emergency meeting with many of our stakeholders.
One of our witnesses at that meeting was a young farmer from Saskatchewan. I thought he put it quite well. He said, “We have to face so many uncertainties when we are in agriculture: uncertain weather, uncertain input costs, uncertainty when it comes to the commodity prices. The one thing we should be able to rely on is a reliable transportation system, which we do not have right now.”
One of the key issues with Bill C-49 is that it does not resolve those problems. We have gone through this entire process. As I said earlier, the Liberal government, the Minister of Transport, and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, through this entire process, have said that we should be patient, because Bill C-49 would address all the problems. Then just a few weeks ago, we had both ministers admit publicly that Bill C-49, indeed, will not resolve a lot of the problems that have been raised.
The government is asking our producers to suffer through yet another grain backlog, which should never have happened. The government had all the tools in place to address this problem, yet it did nothing. I can understand the frustration of our producers across the western provinces. They are looking at us today to take action to ensure that they never have to face this sort of issue again.
We have had many of our grain, barley, and pulse growers here over the last couple of weeks as they have had their days on the Hill. They have raised some other points that I do not think we have talked enough about as we have gone through this process. Not only is this grain backlog causing them to suffer because they are not able to sell their product, it is tarnishing our reputation as a reliable trading partner around the world. A lot of our producers are not getting a premium price for their product, because for all intents and purposes, Canada does not have a reputation for being able to get their contracts out in a timely fashion. We cannot meet our commitments to other countries. When prices are high in the fall, in October, November, and December, we should be selling our crops. We are not getting them to market, to the terminals, and to the west coast until the spring, sometimes a year later, so we are missing out on those premium prices, because we have an inept logistical system and an inept transportation system, a transportation system that has very little to no accountability.
Earlier today, the Minister of Transport was talking about one of the amendments the Senate had brought forward, which I think is critical. It is on “own motion powers” for the Canadian Transportation Agency. That was an amendment brought forward at the standing committee for transportation. It was an amendment brought forward by many of our stakeholders. They want accountability for the rail lines. If there are issues, and our stakeholders see issues, the Canadian Transportation Agency, once it receives a complaint, or even if it does not receive a complaint, can take action to try to address some of those key issues. It is a key part of Bill C-49.
The Minister of Transport earlier today spoke very highly about this part of the bill when he said that we are giving the CTA its own motion powers, which will make such a critical difference for our producers. In fact, in the amendment the Liberal government has put forward, there are no own motion powers. It states in the amendment that the authorization goes to the Minister of Transport. He will be the one who decides if the CTA can take action and put forward some guidelines, a template, on what action can be taken.
Let us put that into a perspective that I think all of us in the House today can understand. That is like my parents saying, “You know what, son? You can do whatever you want with your life, as long as it's okay with mum and dad”. That is what the Liberal government's own motion powers are in Bill C-49. Who is going to give that any credence? There is supposed to be some accountability in Bill C-49 for our shippers. However, this only comes into effect if it is okay with the Minister of Transport. It is okay for people to make their own decisions, but they have to ask the minister first. That has nothing to do with own motion powers. It is really quite hollow hearing that this is going to be a critical part of the bill, because it is taking the arms of the CTA and tying them behind its back.
As we have gone through this process, every step of the way we have offered the Liberal government a solution. My colleague, the shadow minister for transportation, has offered another solution today. She has brought forward an amendment that will concurred the Senate amendments to get this bill passed as quickly as possible.
We are not saying that we agree with every aspect of Bill C-49. In fact, I think we have heard in the debate today that there are still some significant issues with the bill. We also listened to our stakeholders. They need something that will give them some piece of mind that there is going to be some sort of legislation in place to help them address some of the problems they are facing.
We have had stakeholders like the CFA. They represent 200,000 farm families. The Grain Growers represent 50,000 active producers, and they are asking for no further delays on Bill C-49. They want it passed immediately. That is what my colleague's motion today will do.
We want to ensure that we can get this bill passed as quickly as possible. Again, every time we have offered an option or a solution to get this bill through the process, the Liberals have put in yet another step and delay.
They are saying today that if they do not support our motion, and they want our support to pass their amendments and the minister's motion, this all of a sudden will be a quick process. That is simply not the case. If the Liberals do not accept our motion and they pass theirs, Bill C-49 will go back to the Senate, and the Senate will have to agree to the Liberals' amendments. It is yet another obstacle to keep Bill C-49 from passing. This is going to be a ping-pong ball that will go back and forth, or maybe not. Maybe the Senate will agree to the Liberal amendments, but we do not have any assurance of that.
There are amendments they could have passed almost a year ago. There have been opportunities put forward to pass Bill C-49, or, what preferably would have been the case last fall, to extend Bill C-30, and we would never have faced any of these issues.
I am really encouraging our colleagues across the floor to support our motion today, pass the Senate amendments, go right to royal assent, and give our stakeholders the assurances they are looking for to ensure that they can get their job done. What this comes down to is our stakeholders' inability to get their products to market. We have a great deal of concern that this will spill into the fall as farmers get ready for next year's harvest. That has been the disconcerting part of it all.
I think my colleague across the way can understand the comments we heard at our emergency meeting last month on the grain backlog. Many of those witnesses came forward and said that they have given up on it this year. They know that they are not going to get their grain to market and are hoping that this does not impact next year's harvest and next year's shipping season.
I want to highlight that this bill is certainly not perfect. There are lots of concerns about what is in Bill C-49. I want to read some comments from the Premier of Saskatchewan, who has been extremely vocal in his concern about Bill C-49 and the problems it has caused in Saskatchewan. We have seen that Nutrien has just announced that it has laid off or is laying off more than 600 employees, which is going to impact maybe up to 1,300 employees in rural Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Premier said, “This is a direct result of the federal government not taking action where there is a huge problem, and they have the clear authority to fix it.”
What have the Liberals done in response to that? They have done nothing. Once again, they want to put this bill back to the Senate, which would delay this process even further.
We have to highlight the financial impact these delays have had. Again, $500 million in grain is sitting in storage bins across western Canada, not getting to market. We have now seen the job layoffs in Saskatchewan at Nutrien, and that is just one company, one potash company. Certainly there will be others that will be facing similar problems.
This is having implications for rural communities. If farmers cannot sell their grain, and they cannot get it to market, it means they do not have money in their pockets to spend in our small communities. That is grocery stores, gas stations, and little movie theatres. That is charities, ball teams, and fundraisers. Those are the things that are suffering because our farmers do not have money in their pockets. They cannot get their grain to market, and that is a direct result of the inaction of the Liberal government when it comes to this grain backlog.
The Liberals could have stopped it a year ago. They could have stopped it in the fall. They could have taken action with an order in council in January or February. Every single time, they have stuck up for the rail duopoly.
With Bill C-49, there is no accountability. Why have the Liberals made our grain farmers suffer through yet another grain backlog? When it comes down to it, they have really done nothing.