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Sask. government calls for more grain transportation accountability

SASKATOON – Saskatchewan’s provincial government is calling for greater accountability and specific measures as the federal government prepares emergency legislation to clear the current grain backlog.

At the same time, Saskatchewan’s lone liberal MP is calling the federal government’s efforts to get grain to port “too little, too late.”

Saskatchewan’s agriculture minister Lyle Stewart said a number of specific measures need to be included in the legislation.

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READ MORE: Saskatchewan farmers frustrated with ‘unprecedented’ grain backlog

“In order to protect Canada’s reputation as a world-class exporter of agriculture products, we need a world-class transportation system that ensures our farmers can move their crop,” Stewart said in a release.

“We need to get our farmers’ grain to market, ensure they get paid and find long-term solutions to long-standing grain transportation issues.”

Those measures include accountability, mandatory service level agreements with reciprocal penalties for non-compliance, increasing target shipments to a minimum of 13,000 grain cars per week and increasing minimum fines to $250,000 per day for not reaching those targets.

On March 7, an order in council set a minimum target of 11,000 cars a week and fines up to $100,000 a day for failing to meet the target.

READ MORE: Feds orders railways to move minimum amount of grain each week

Both the Saskatchewan and Alberta governments want any money collected to benefit farmers instead of landing in the federal coffers.

The Alberta government also said rail track access should be increased so grain shippers can receive competitive service from more than one rail company.

READ MORE: Grain farmers urged to call members of parliament over grain backlog

Last week, federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt told delegates at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities that railways will be hard-pressed to meet the targets.

“It actually pushes them to their limit,” said Raitt. “It’s the highest amount that they’ve ever moved in terms of grain.”

“[It’s] a classic exercise in too little, too late,” said Ralph Goodale, Saskatchewan’s lone liberal MP.

“The costs and losses for farmers from demurrage charges, extra debt, lost sales, deferred sales, spoilage and depressed prices are probably now approaching $5-billion.”

There are four important steps the federal government can take to show it is serious about clearing the backlog, said Goodale in a Monday speech at the college of agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan.

First among those, said Goodale, is to establish a credible, competent and completely independent system to monitor, measure, analyze and report publicly on results in grain transportation, marketing and handling.

“There must be accountability throughout the supply chain, from farmers, to shippers, to railways and to port. We believe our recommendations for the legislation will help accomplish this,” said Goodale.

“This crisis has been getting relentlessly worse since last October.”

Goodale also wants to see a cost review to track costs and revenue for getting grain to ports, an amendment to the Canada Transporation Act to define service levels for railways, and basic coordination in grain handling and transportation logistics.

“With spring finally around the corner, the Conservatives are only now asking the system to handle about what it would handle in any event at this time of year without any order,” said Goodale.

The federal government is expected to table the legislation when Parliament resumes on March 24.