A rail bottleneck that left grain sitting in bins across the Prairies has prompted Ottawa to move up a statutory review of transportation legislation, and now the Alberta government is applauding the decision.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says the review is to take place in 2014 — a year earlier than required — to address challenges that include moving grain. The review is also to look at the safe movement of goods through communities, federally regulated passenger rail services and the aviation sector.
"We welcome the federal government's continuing efforts to enhance the long-term safety and dependability of our transportation network," said the government of Alberta in a press release late Wednesday afternoon. "A repeat of last winter's backlog of commodities moving by rail to port would put our long-term economic growth at risk."
The province says the federal government needs to aggressively seek and implement solutions to national transportation challenges in order to avoid permanent damage to Canada's reputation as a reliable supplier of food, energy and forestry products.
Railway review could be completed by end of the year
Recommendations from the review panel are expected to be submitted to Raitt by late next year.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says he hopes the railway part of the review will be completed by the end of this year.
Western Canadian farmers harvested a record 76 million tonnes of grain last year, but rail companies said the size of the crop and an unusually cold winter delayed movement.
The backlog meant farmers were not being paid for the crop, which sat in silos across the Prairies for months.
Some had to get extensions on operation loans while they waited to get their crops to market.
The head of Canadian Pacific Railway argued in March that Canada's grain handling system is just not built to handle the record amount of grain.
Hunter Harrison said it's unfair to blame railways for the delay and cautioned against what he called "reactionary legislative interventions."
He called instead for commercial solutions that would allow the supply chain to handle more train transportation.