Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to the Reform supply day motion which condemns the government for, among other things, costly inefficiencies in the grain transportation system.
I heard the parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture say that the motion was laughable. The Liberal response to it was to laugh. Farmers across the prairies are not laughing about the situation they are in. They are certainly not laughing about the transportation mess affecting the prairies in moving their grain to port position. They are certainly not laughing at Reform's motion in the House on their behalf. They are appalled at Liberal arrogance and lack of action.
They should not be surprised. The Liberals have failed to deliver on three-quarters of their promises related to agriculture, about which I have spoken in the House on past occasions.
I will explain the situation to the House because a lot of members in this part of the country may not realize how serious it is. Currently there are 46 ships-that is a lot of grain boats-waiting in English Bay. An article in the Western Producer this week compares English Bay to the world's largest parking lot for boats. There are 46 of them sitting there waiting to take on grain cargo. Demurrage is being paid at approximately $10,000 a day per ship. It means farmers are paying close to half a million dollars a day because of the inefficiencies in our grain transportation system.
Lorne Hehn, the chief commissioner of the Canadian Wheat Board estimates that farmers are out $65 million so far because their grain cannot get to west coast ports. He mentioned that number some days ago. I am sure the number is increasing and I would not be surprised if the next estimate is closer to $100 million.
West coast shipments are at their lowest level in a decade. World trade is increasing. We are approaching the next millennium and the transportation of grain is the lowest it has been in 10 years. This is unprecedented, it is unacceptable, it is indefensible and it is unforgivable. One of the results is that Japan's food agency has stated publicly that it is closely watching the situation. Clearly our reputation is at stake.
Farmers are very upset. I have received a letter from southern Manitoba which says that Canadian Pacific Railway officials have advised grain elevator operators along the southern line-Winnipeg, Borden, Deloraine-there will be no more trains until spring. As far as can be determined, they are blaming the snow. With the snow removal equipment available today, that is a lot of hogwash. All farmers along the line will now be second class citizens.
I called my own delivery point in Saskatchewan. There has not been a train for three weeks as of tomorrow and they do not expect another train to come into that delivery point for another three weeks. Usually if they say three weeks, it ends up to be five or six or seven or eight weeks. Basically they are saying: "No more movement of grain in that area until the spring".
This is not academic for thousands of Canadians. This is their livelihood. This is what puts groceries on the table. This is what makes mortgage payments. This is serious stuff we are talking about.
The Liberal member says that this motion is laughable. I am appalled at the arrogance of the Liberals who would suggest that our concern about a major industry which is suffering because of transportation inefficiencies, is a laughable motion. This is chronic. It keeps occurring. One year it is a labour shortage. Another year it is a shortage of hopper cars. This year it is weather related and lack of locomotive power.
There is never any accountability. All we have is finger pointing. The person who is the least responsible for the mess of course, is the farmer. If the farmers fail to deliver their grain or fail to meet their contracts, the farmer should pay the demurrage on the ships waiting in English Bay.
The farmers are crying to get their product moved to export positions. They are happy to move their product. They are happy to abide by the contracts they have signed, unlike the Liberal government, as we have heard earlier. As a result, farmers are losing millions and millions of dollars in lost sales and demurrage. They were counting on having this as income to prepare for the upcoming season.
Our system is full of costly inefficiencies. They suppress any incentive for companies to make new infrastructure investments such as new terminals or elevators. There are not proper incentives or penalties to our rail system to move grain efficiently and quickly to the port position. This affects our ability to compete with our largest trading partners in the United States and drives business out of Canada.
The Liberals have failed to create an efficient and responsive grain transportation system that responds to the needs of farmers. We have terrible rail service. We have awkward, antiquated terminal facilities.
Many of the boats have to berth several times to take on one shipment of cargo because our terminals, particularly at Vancouver, are not designed to load one ship at one time with the amount of grain that it is prepared to take on. We have the wrong grain at the wrong place at the wrong time.
What did the Liberal government do? It killed the Crow. As I mentioned at the time, that was easy to do. All someone has to do is remove the money from the budget. The Liberals did that but it was irresponsible to take away the Crow and not take away the transportation inefficiencies at the same time. The Liberal government had a chance to do that and it blew it. How did the Liberals have a chance? Initially they introduced Bill C-101 which became Bill C-14, with changes to the Canadian Transportation Act. Just about every representation we had from the prairies said that this bill would not improve the transportation system. It did not fix the inefficiencies and the costly mode of transportation we have in western Canada to move grain to port.
They implemented the CAPG, the Car Allocation Policy Group. It is really not much change from what we had before. They were not able to fix the problem before and the Liberal government certainly did not provide the tools and put the machinery in place to properly allocate cars to move grain efficiently.
We talked about final offer arbitration labour legislation many times and the Liberal government rejected the suggestion. Therefore, it is not for lack of constructive alternatives to the existing transportation system and it is not for lack of suggestions on how to improve the grain transportation system. It is a lack of willingness on the part of this Liberal government to effectively do something to fix the problem. All it has done to this point is offload the total cost on to the producer.
We understand the minister is holding meetings in Calgary later today. He is successful at arranging meetings. He has been arranging meetings ever since he became the minister of agriculture. He has round tables here and discussions there, but he does not do anything. I think I got his dandruff up a little bit the other day. I called him a third rate lawyer. We are very frustrated on the prairies because he is not doing anything but talking. He is not taking any action and not showing effective leadership.
In fact, on "Newsworld" this morning he said: "Let's not blame anybody. Let's talk about this but let's not blame anybody". I know why the minister did not want to blame anybody. It is because most of the blame falls on his shoulders and on the shoulders of his government. He did not want to have to point the finger at himself. That is irresponsible and shows a lack of leadership.
Farmers across the prairies are appalled that the government has been in place for three years and has refused to take responsible action to improve one of the worst grain transportation systems in the modern world.
It is not that the minister cannot act quickly, if he has the will. When there was a loophole in the grain marketing legislation regarding customs and moving grain across the border, within minutes he changed that through an order in council. The speed was astonishing. He must have had the bureaucrats turning cartwheels to accomplish it so quickly. Actually I think he had it prepared ahead of time. He thought he was going to lose the court case so he had all of his cards lined up and, bang, just like that, he had made the changes.
When it comes to making changes in the regulations to the Canadian Wheat Board, changes to the transportation system, changes to car allocation, the sale of the hopper cars which has gone nowhere, to allowing and defending our producers who want to sell their products into the United States-he allowed the Americans to put a quota on durum sales-the minister has done nothing positive or constructive. The chickens are coming home to roost. He is to blame but he refuses to accept that blame. That is irresponsible and unbefitting a Canadian minister of agriculture.
There should be incentives and penalties in the transportation system. If somebody does a good job there should be rewards. They should make a profit in doing what they are doing. However, if they fall short and if the railways do not have enough-