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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

What a weekend! We hit +10C here south of Moose Jaw yesterday afternoon. We went down to chop the water hole for the cows and for the first time in 5 months, it wasn’t frozen over. Hopefully that is the new trend in Saskatchewan’s weather.

Speaking of things frozen over, it looks like Vladimir Putin and the Russians don’t give a damn about the rest of the world and are simply intent on seizing the territory of their neighbour to the west. Ukraine’s province of Crimea is full of Russian troops and it doesn’t look like they are leaving any time soon. The next thing we will probably see happen is that non-Russians will start to leave that area because they do not feel safe any longer for themselves or their families. Saskatchewan should be demanding that the Canadian government re-institute the immigrant investor program that was just recently taken away from every province except Quebec so that fleeing Ukrainians could take advantage of the program and move to Saskatchewan. Canada and Saskatchewan should also be prepared to open the door to Ukrainian refugees. Saskatchewan has a long history of welcoming people of Ukrainian ancestry who have had to flee their homes in years gone by. We should be ready to welcome these folks again. No one knows how far this Russian aggression will go if the rest of the world doesn’t stand up to them. The eastern side of Ukraine maybe next on their list and we should be prepared to help in any way we can.

With the weather finally warming up, Canada’s railroads shouldn’t have any more excuses when it comes to moving farm commodities. Last week the federal government finally said they were prepared to hold the railway’s feet to the fire. They said they were preparing Orders-in-Council which would provide fines of up to $100,000 per day if certain performance levels were not achieved by CN Rail and CP Rail. They have also given the railways 4 weeks to get their level of service back up to 5500 cars per week.

To most of us, those sound like pretty big numbers but the reality is that the 5500 cars is only what the railroads were hauling last fall and is their normal level of service. The $100,000 per day is chump change to Hunter Harrison and the CPR and there is no guarantee that the fines would be at their maximum level. Let’s put this in perspective. We have 50 ships waiting off of Vancouver and Prince Rupert’s grain terminals. Some of those ships will be running demerge costs at $50,000 per day. That cost will come directly out of farmer’s pockets because we all know in the grain business that everything gets passed down to the lowest common denominator – the farmer. If even half of the ships out there have demerge costs against them, that sum of money dwarfs what Ministers Raitt and Ritz are talking about fining the railways – monies that would go directly into the pocket of the Federal government – not the farmer. If you add a “0” to the railway fine, you might get somebody’s attention.

I believe to resolve this situation properly, we must bring accountability back to a system that has not been overly transparent for a long time. I believe the Federal government should have put in place a graduated level of responsibility on the railroads. The starting point of 5500 cars is fine because that is the service level they were at last fall. The Order-in-Council, in my view, should have added another 500 cars every two weeks and along with it, a higher levy if they don’t meet the requirements. I believe this should occur every two weeks until we get to the 15,000 cars per week total that is necessary to move our commodities and meet our customer’s demands. We are only talking about the railways going from 5500 cars to 7500 cars per week over a period of three months. By doing this, we would at least have the ability to monitor the amount of product being moved and have a decent shot at not having 30 or 40% of last year’s crop hanging over the head of this year’s production. I believe by graduating the fines upward and by passing the necessary amendments to the Shippers legislation, we would get all parties in this mess striving to make the system work to its maximum efficiency.

Everyone knows that the extra cars are sitting around on sidings all over western Canada. This type of graduated upward movement would ensure that the shortline railroads and the producer loading spots would get their fair share of the cars and not just the big companies. By neglecting to set in place a system that is open and transparent to everyone and makes the railways do more than what they were simply doing last fall is a failure by the Federal government on this file.

I still believe that the PC Party of Saskatchewan’s requests that the amendments to the Transportation Act and the mandatory monitoring of cars and engine power are reasonable requests. I also believe that moving the thousands of CWB hopper cars into position for loading would expedite this whole process. These things together would have been reasonable parts of the Minister’s announcements.

It is absolutely imperative now that this topic is finally getting the attention that it deserves that all the parties that have been demanding action and change keep the pressure on. Now is the time to affect the fundamentals of the system so that we never have to go through this situation again. I would ask each and every one of you to support us in this endeavour.

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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