Hoback thankful rail strike didn’t materialize

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Tyler Clarke
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Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback speaks at the House of Commons on Wednesday, as captured in this screenshot. 

Happy to see a CN Rail strike fail to materialize, Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback said that he’s thankful for the sake of farmers and the agricultural sector.

 

“Farmers just can’t handle that right now,” Hoback said by phone in Ottawa on Thursday.

“They’ve got a lot of stress going on right now. They’ve got a great crop that’s come off -- they’re trying to get it moved and sold, and in some cases they’ve got contracts sitting there that they haven’t been able to get completed.”

The record bumper crop of 2013 remains stagnant, with CN Rail estimating that it will take up to two years to move to port – “Unacceptable,” said Hoback.

As both a member of Parliament and a member of the standing committee on agri and agri-food, Hoback said that he’s been working on this issue since about October. and spoke to the issue with the Daily Herald on Jan. 19.

When Hoback spoke to the Daily Herald then, he said that he didn’t expect a debate to come up in the immediate future, but that the committee was working on it behind the scenes.

Although debate started much earlier than he’d anticipated, Hoback said that he’s happy to see dialogue open up.

“The debate’s always good to get the information out there,” he said. “You get a chance to get a lot of things on the record. It also highlights the issues that are facing Canadian farmers -- especially western Canadian in the lack of grain movement, because CN and CP aren’t doing their job.”

The House of Commons hosted an emergency debate on grain transportation, during which Hoback was allotted almost 18 minutes to speak on the issue.

With $47.8 billion worth of exports coming out of the agricultural sector, representing about eight per cent of the nation’s GDP and the Canadian-European Union trade agreement clearing the way for more exports, Hoback argued that “the future is bright” when it comes to the industry.

But, Hoback added, “Farmers across the west are facing major difficulties in getting their bumper crops to market, from the farm gate to the ocean port.”

Although farmers were “looking at their combines and smiling” in the fall, by the time it came time to ship it out they were no longer as jovial.

Farmers just can’t handle that right now ... They’ve got a lot of stress going on right now. They’ve got a great crop that’s come off -- they’re trying to get it moved and sold, and in some cases they’ve got contracts sitting there that they haven’t been able to get completed. Randy Hoback

A delay in shipment is costing farmers, be it through losing out on the rates they had locked in, storage cost or spoilage.

On Wednesday, Premier Brad Wall issued an open letter to federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt encouraging her to do whatever was in her power to avoid a CN Rail strike.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour spoke out against Wall’s letter, issuing their own public statement -- that “The premier’s appeal is the latest in a series of examples of the current provincial government picking and choosing who should and who should not be allowed to exercise rights prescribed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Hoback sides with Wall on this matter.

“The NDP was out defending their unions last night, when they should have been out there telling their union bosses that there’s no way they can afford to go on strike at this point in time (and) to get to work and get that grain moved,” Hoback said, summarizing his interpretation of Wednesday’s emergency debate.

With the weekend strike of about 3,000 CN Rail and Teamsters union employees averted, Hoback said that the Conservative government is working to resolve the bumper crop bottleneck.

“We’re definitely recognizing the frustration, and we’re doing everything we can to hold the railways accountable,” Hoback said.

“The railways really need to pick up their game, here, and we’ll just keep telling them that and we’ll keep looking for tools in our toolbox to make sure that they do pick up their game.”

On top of putting railway companies’ “feet to the fire,” Hoback said that the government will continue to push pipelines, such as the Keystone XL to the south and the Northern Gateway to the west.

“Why are we shipping oil by rail when it would be safer and more efficient to ship it by pipeline?” Hoback asked. “We can ship oil by pipeline instead of tying up that capacity to ship oil by rail.”

Organizations: CN Rail, Daily Herald, CP House of Commons Canadian-European Union Saskatchewan Federation of Labour Canadian Charter Rights NDP

Geographic location: Ottawa

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