Speech on Bill C-49 Transportation Modernization Act
June 6, 2017
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today to Bill C-49, which proposes amendments to the Canada Transportation Act to advance the efficiency and competitiveness of our freight rail system. This is especially important to Guelph, which is home to one of Canada's three federally chartered railways.
The Guelph Junction Railway was established in 1886 by a special act of the federal government to foster economic growth in Guelph and in the surrounding communities. The City of Guelph has owned the railway since 1908. The GJR operates 38.6 kilometres of track that runs from Guelph Junction near Campbellville, Ontario to Guelph's northwest industrial park, but it is a strategic line that runs between the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian National Railway.
Canadian exporters today have the advantage of the lowest freight rates in the world, even lower than in the United States, and a track record of significant investment by the railways that is essential for keeping these rates low in the future. However, even the strongest system has room for improvement, and we have heard concerns from both shippers and railways through our consultation process. We have heard in particular about system bottlenecks and other constraints that slow the movement of our goods. We have heard about delays in shipping that can affect our nation's reputation for reliability and about regulations that dampen investment in the network to everyone's detriment.
Canada's rail system is the backbone of our export trade. It moves our goods to destinations across the country, to the United States, and for exports overseas. The conditions we establish now, in 2017, will be essential for our nation's long-term growth and prosperity. Following extensive consultations, our government is proposing new measures that would lay the groundwork for future success. This bill would promote greater efficiency and investment in the system for the benefit of all Canadians. First, this bill proposes a new competitive access tool for shippers that would allow them to obtain better options for service and rates. This new tool, the long-haul interswitching, would allow a shipper served by only one railway to access a competing railway at a rate and on service terms set by the Canadian Transportation Agency. Long-haul interswitching has been designed to meet the needs of captive shippers across a wide range of sectors: grain, forestry, and mining just to name a few. It would apply at a distance of 1,200 kilometres or more to ensure that some of our most remote shippers could benefit. By providing competition between railways, this measure would improve system efficiency in moving goods to market and, at the same time, railways would be fairly compensated for their services and for the cost of maintaining infrastructure. The agency would set the rates under this measure based on comparable traffic. This would help prevent the risk that railways might under-invest or even close their lines due to lack of revenue.
As a part of this, we would allow extended interswitching in the prairie provinces to sunset as planned on August 1. Many members will recall that this measure was adopted in 2014 under the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act in response to the unique challenges in the grain-handling and transportation system at that time and in that season. Most challenges no longer exist, and extended interswitching is problematic in many respects. It only applies up to 160 kilometres and only in the prairie provinces. It does not cover other shippers in Canada who have told us about railway-service issues. Its rates are far too low to compensate railways for moving the traffic, which would erode investment over time. A key beneficiary of this measure is not the shipper community but the American railway, the railway that scoops traffic away from Canadian railways but makes comparatively little investment in the Canadian network.
Long-haul interswitching is a far better tool as it would apply across sectors and across regions of Canada.
The grain sector would be far better off, as all captive grain shippers would have access to this competitive tool, not just those falling within a specific zone. The railways would be compensated appropriately to ensure that the system runs smoothly and grain moves to market effectively. The proposed new measure is also being carefully structured to minimize the risk of American railways unfairly taking traffic.
Many members will recall that the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act also imposed minimum volumes of grain to be moved by the railways. In our consultations, we have heard that this had negative effects. It benefited great specific shippers to the detriment of others. It was good for the large companies, but not for the farmers. More importantly, the unique challenges of 2014, and that growing season, no longer exist. For these reasons, the volume requirements would be allowed to sunset as planned on August 1.
Our government recognizes the importance of moving grain and other commodities efficiently to market. Greater transparency on how well the system is working is obviously critical to efficiency. That is why Bill C-49 would require railways to report publicly every year on their plans to move grain and to manage weather-related disruptions. They would also need to report service and performance metrics that help to measure how the system is doing, and the agency would have clear new authorities to hold an inquiry into any emerging issue at the minister's request. These measures would help all parties to keep track of the emerging problems and work together to find solutions before the crisis point hits.
Importantly, this bill would provide shippers the ability to maintain reciprocal financial penalties in service agreements. Applying penalties for service failures would encourage the most efficient service possible. Our rail system can only flourish within the right regulatory framework. To promote system efficiency, the bill would also modernize the Canada Transportation Act. For example, it would update the insolvency regime for railways, which dates back to 1903 and cannot address the complexity of modern business arrangements.
The railway industry must invest significantly in the network to keep it running safely and smoothly. That is why this bill also proposes measures to promote continued investment. For example, it would loosen shareholder restrictions on CN Railway that have been in place since it was privatized in 1995.
Bill C-49 would also fix problems with the maximum revenue entitlement, which caps the revenue per tonne that CN, CP, and Guelph Junction can earn for moving western grain. I just threw in Guelph Junction. It would fairly credit their investments in the network, and encourage them to obtain new modern hopper cars. It would also promote the movement of grain by containers, which is an innovative way to provide service and extra capacity at peak periods when the system is full. Again, this would apply across all regions of Canada, including Guelph.
Together, these amendments would achieve the goals of a competitive, efficient freight rail system, a system in which commercial forces drive efficiency but legislative backstops are in place to ensure the system is fair, balanced and transparent, a system in which the conditions are right for low rates, future investment, and future success.
I urge colleagues to adopt Bill C-49 as quickly as possible so we can serve our farm community.