As I mentioned last week, I headed up to Saskatoon for Crop Production Week. It seemed like half of the province went with me as the show seemed very well attended. The addition of CropSphere at TCU Place was a new feature and it certainly had some good components to it.
Most people I talked to would prefer that all components of Crop Production Week would be better attended if there were sufficient facilities at the Exhibition Grounds to host everything. With some events occurring at the Saskatoon Inn, downtown at TCU Place and the Exhibition Grounds meant that you were always making choices about which events to attend. And as a consequence, you would miss out on valuable information being provided at a different venue.
Speaking about missing valuable information….almost everyone I talked to and the buzz going around the entire week was about the missing rail cars, locomotives and everything else to do with the grain transportation system. It has really come home to roost with everybody involved with agriculture in Saskatchewan that the necessary infrastructure and information about our rail transport system is not up to snuff.
Until two years ago, the Canadian Wheat Board managed car logistics and negotiated with the railroads on behalf of producers. Sometimes they did a good job and sometimes there were problems. The one thing that they did well was to provide information to farmers, grain companies and politicians about the status of the system, where grain cars were located and where the bottle necks were. In the absence of the CWB, none of that information seems to be available and farmers are beginning to understand that there is no one working on their behalf to solve the current situation.
There seemed to be a total absence of federal politicians around Crop Production Week and the provincial ones that were there didn’t want to talk about the mess in transportation. This situation, if we continue to travel down the path we are at present, means there will be huge carryovers of all of the major crops. These huge carryovers will push down prices into the next crop year and will compete for storage space, transportation space and will cause income shortfalls across the agricultural sector for years to come.
There should have been a mechanism put in place that would have allowed farmers and others to know how many of our grain cars are in the United States at any given time. How many of the farmer-purchased hopper cars are sitting idle on railway sidings across western Canada? How much demurrage is being paid by farmers for ships waiting at port? How much of the railways’ diesel power has been given over to hauling oil, coal, potash, etc?
If the railways are going to move all of these other commodities, then sufficient rolling stock and engines needed to be acquired to handle increased grain volumes. Because our railways are virtual monopolies, it is the role of government to watch this situation very carefully and intervene if necessary. When the new CEO of CP Rail came on board last year, one of his first moves was to cut CP’s engine power by 150 units. Not a peep was heard out of our politicians.
Hunter Harrison’s salary is now the highest of any CEO in Canada and even more obscene than the one currently given to Bill Doyle of PCS. To earn that salary, CP Rail should at least be providing service to the farmers of western Canada. And where has been Brad Wall and the Sask Party government been while this issue evolves? Well as usual, Mr. Wall is off picking the low fruit for the media by beating up on the silly old rock n’ roller Neil Young who probably had a couple of tokes before making some dumb comments about the oilsands and Fort MacMurray.
Our media-loving Premier then flies off to Arizona to hang out with another rock n’ roller Gene Simmons and his wife Shannon Tweed to attend the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona and get some great photo opportunities. Some Saskatchewan people had a great idea of how to raise some money for the Children’s Hospital – good on them but I think the truck would have sold for just as much without Mr. Wall’s presence. I would have preferred to have seen Mr. Wall standing toe-to-toe with Gerry Ritz asking some pointed questions about what the federal Minister of Agriculture and his government are going to do so that our rail system can deliver on behalf of Saskatchewan farmers and their families. That toe-to-toe meeting should have been held in Saskatoon last week.
If Mr. Wall had been hanging out at Crop Production in Saskatoon, he would have heard that message loud and clear. He was one of the cheerleaders for Mr. Ritz when they dismantled the CWB without putting the necessary tools in place to carry on after its demise. Mr. Wall did not hesitate to step in and save PCS from BHP Billiton. The issues of rail transportation in our province have a far greater reach and dollar value than the potash one ever will. It’s time Brad Wall and Gerry Ritz started earning their salary on this one.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.