Canadian National Railway Grain Hauling Fine a Joke
The federal government announced last week that Canadian National Railway would be fined under the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act for failing to move a minimum amount of grain each week.
Under the legislation which came into effect on April 1, railways would face maximum penalties of $100,000 a day for failing to handle 500,000 tonnes of grain each week for the next 90 days (Globe and Mail). But when the legislation was extended in August, the fine was reduced to up to $100,000 per violation which Transport Canada says means per week. The significant change was buried in a lengthy government backgrounder and went unnoticed by the grain industry, media and Official Opposition.
Wade Sobkowich, Executive Director of the Western Grain Elevator Association said, “Lovely. The old switcheroo.” He described the change as “disingenuous” and a “very small amount” for railways like CN that generate billions of dollars in revenue a year. “We did not receive notice of the change, and if true, we are surprised and question the reason for the reduction”.
Opposition Agriculture Critic Malcolm Allen said the federal government softened the law under fierce pressure from railway executives, who “screamed almighty murder” over a per-day fine. “Every time push comes to shove, it’s the railroaders that win with the Department of Transport”, he said.
This is just one of many, many examples of the sad state of railway legislation and enforcement in Canada. Federal legislation, even that passed very recently, consistently favours the railroad industry, and then to add insult to injury, enforcement of the weak legislation is either limited or non-existent. Transport Canada has often been referred to as a “toothless tiger” when it comes to regulating the rail industry in Canada, dominated by the two rail giants, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway – it is a term that has been well earned.
The federal government refuses to bring the rail industry into the 21st century when it comes to fairness to shippers, rail safety, railway noise and vibration impacts, or environmental impacts of the rail industry. Canadians, including farmers, other shippers, municipalities, rail safety advocates, environmental organizations and individual Canadians have an opportunity to make their concerns known about these and other rail matters, by contacting the Canada Transportation Act Review Secretariat by December 30, 2014. See this Rail and Reason article for details on how to make a submission to the Secretariat.