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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

When Joanne and I checked the cows at 6:30 AM this morning, it was -18 and still looked like a winter wonderland. There was a lone meadowlark sitting on the wind fence all huddled up and I am sure wondering where he took a wrong turn. Saskatchewan in April is supposed to be about crocuses, singing meadowlarks and gophers looking for new grass. Not this week I am afraid.

I wish to join the rest of the world this morning and make a few short comments on the passing of former British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The rest of the world will comment on her deeds. What I would like to observe is that when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party of Great Britain, she breeched the wall of one of the world’s most male-dominated institutions. I believe that she inspired women around the world to step up and seek leadership positions. It was a combination of Margaret Thatcher’s toughness, her resiliency and her ability to feel the softer side when governing that set a pattern for other women to follow and show that political leadership was not a male domain. The world has lost a ground breaker and a trail blazer in world politics. I am sure that the people of Great Britain will honour her as a true patriot and that the old political rivalries should be set aside for a few days to mourn her passing.

A couple of times in my commentary I have mentioned the hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber in Moose Jaw. At present, there is no intention of keeping this medical tool in the Five Hills Health Region once the new hospital is built. The firefighters have been paying to maintain this tool because of the good it does for burn victims. It is also used in a host of other medical applications that promotes faster healing because the patient is in an enclosed environment with pure oxygen. There is a website which allows people to express their support for retention of this valuable medical tool in our province. The Minister of Health has admitted that there wasn’t a lot of thought put into the hyperbaric chamber and I don’t think he was aware that this was the only one in the prairie region. I personally signed onto this website and would encourage others to do so. This chamber was a gift from a family in Moose Jaw and did not cost the taxpayer anything to acquire. Please check out this website at http://speakupmoosejaw.refreshenupweb.ca/.

There is a piece of legislation currently going through the House of Commons which has large ramifications for Saskatchewan. This is Bill C-52 – the Fair Rail Freight Service Act. As all of you know, Saskatchewan has historically been captive to the monopoly on rail service held by CP Rail and CN Rail. The sad fact is we are a land-locked region with deep water ports at least 1100 miles away on a year round basis. All of the various commodities which use rail freight to move their product to customers have complained forever and a day that there is no way of making CN or CP accountable for the services they provide.

Increasingly in today’s world, customers only want the product when they need it rather than storing up large amounts of inventory. Companies make contracts with their customers and expect delivery on time. There has been no way to ensure that railways live up to this commitment. A few years ago, a coalition of rail shippers banded together to press the Federal government to put in place legislation which would give shippers the right to demand and imposed arbitrated settlement and redress if negotiated service levels break down.

Unfortunately, the new Act brought in by the Harper government has not done this. It has put in place fines of up to $100,000 for each service failure but the problem is that the railroads have the right to fight these fines in the courts. Many of the people in Saskatchewan that ship products don’t have the necessary deep pockets to handle the legal bills to fight one of these actions and therefore the railways will quickly revert back to their old habits of only rewarding the big guys most of the time.

Why the Harper government would not find enough courage to ignore the strong and effective railway lobbyists in Ottawa after so much good work has been done by the shippers coalition is truly a let down. As we strive to build and grow our economy by value-adding products and further develop our raw commodities, it is absolutely essential that Saskatchewan shippers of all sizes have the ability to negotiate service agreements on equal terms with the railroads. For far too long in this country, we have subsidized, we have pandered to and we have put up with the internal shenanigans of our two national railways.

I wonder where our government – the Sask Party government – was on this file and were they in Ottawa standing behind the people in this province who ship commodities by rail. I have heard nothing. It would seem to me with so much of our economic well being tied to the movement of product that this might be a place where Brad Wall should be drawing some lines in the sand. He is quick to run off to Washington demanding that the US President listen to him on Keystone XL. This Act – Bill C-52 - before parliament has ten times the ramifications for our province if rail service is not what it should be. Maybe he should be in Ottawa telling Harper a thing or two. I know I would be.

Your feedback is welcome on anything you see in the Monday Morning Commentary. Please send your comments to contact @pcsask.ca. If you know of anyone that would be interested in receiving this by email, please forward me their email address. Also – don’t forget to check out our website at pcsask.ca.

These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.

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