Saskatchewan NDP claim credit for grain transport idea

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Tyler Clarke
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Although provincial agriculture critic Cathy Sproule said that she’s happy with a recent Sask. Party stance, she’s quick to point out who agrees with whom.

Saskatchewan agriculture critic Cathy Sproule

Although provincial agriculture critic Cathy Sproule said that she’s happy with a recent Sask. Party stance, she’s quick to point out who agrees with whom.

“I wouldn’t say we’re in agreement with them,” she told the Daily Herald on Monday. “They’re finally in agreement with us.”

At issue is this winter’s backlog of rail cars, which have yet to finish transporting last year’s record-breaking bumper crop of Saskatchewan grain.

Premier Brad Wall introduced a motion in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan on Monday supporting the federal government in bringing in emergency legislation to address the grain transportation backlog.

“Regulation is required,” Sproule said, noting that financial penalties against transporters would add teeth to any legislation that comes forward. “(The Sask. Party is) going to take credit for it, but really that’s what we’ve been calling for, for a long time.”

Sproule cites the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan’s March 18, 2013, meeting as evidence of the Saskatchewan NDP’s long-standing stance on this matter.

At the time, the provincial government was debating their support of Bill C-52 -- the feds’ Fair Rail Rate Service Act.

Arguing that the bill doesn’t get to “the heart of the problem,” Sproule told the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan last year that “there needs to be better power balance between the shippers and the railways because agricultural rail customers’ needs are not met by the rail companies with the current status quo.”

At the time, Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart admitted that while Bill C-52 wasn’t perfect, it was an improvement over what existed in the past.

“I can say that we have had no representations from agricultural groups made to me or my officials about the inadequacies of this bill,” he said at the time.

Fast-forward to the 2013 bumper crop’s aftermath and Stewart’s tone seems to have changed to the point where he’s publicly denounced the rail system as inadequate.

"On paper (rail service is) probably adequate, but things don't work like that ... we never have perfect conditions," Stewart told the Daily Herald in January.

“They cut the length of trains in half in cold weather, and we saw car unloads plummet in December with cold weather, and of course there are snow issues in the winter, so you really can't put a number on their actual capacity."

Surely, the premier and the minister have been doing a lot of meetings with a lot of people recently, but I think this could have been averted if they dealt with this a year ago. Cathy Sproule

“There absolutely need to be penalties on the railways,” Sproule said on Monday. “No matter how you slice or dice this problem, it all comes down to how the railways are taking advantage of the system.”

It is on this point that Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback and Saskatchewan Economy Minister Bill Boyd are now in agreement on.

It was obvious last year that the Sask. Party-endorsed Bill C-52 wasn’t adequate, Sproule argued – “Throw a bumper crop into the mix and you’ve got a catastrophe.”

“Surely, the premier and the minister have been doing a lot of meetings with a lot of people recently, but I think this could have been averted if they dealt with this a year ago.”

Story archive: Click any of the links below for previous stories on the grain transportation issue.

• Jan. 20, with Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback and Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart  

• Feb. 6, with Randy Hoback, citing material from Premier Brad Wall and Saskatchewan Federation of Labour  

• Feb. 24, with Saskatchewan Economy Minister Bill Boyd  

• Feb. 26, with a local farm equipment salesperson, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce and CN Rail through an email response  

• Feb. 27, with Farm Credit Canada district director Garnet Volk

Organizations: Sask. Party, Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, Daily Herald Fair Rail Rate Service

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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