'Mind-boggling' backlog

It's mind-boggling that grain shipments have been delayed again by rail backlogs this year, says Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.

Moe told the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities on Friday that this is the second time in four years that grain shipments have been delayed.

"Our reputation, Saskatchewan's reputation and Canada's reputation as a reliable supplier of commodities, as a trustworthy business partner is being damaged," Moe told delegates.

The Ag Transport Coalition says Canadian National and Canadian Pacific combined provided 45 per cent of rail cars ordered the week of Feb. 25 — up from 38 per cent ordered by grain shippers during the week of Feb. 12.

Grain producers harvested the third-largest crop in the province's history last fall, Moe said.

"Now, many of them are struggling to pay their bills because their grain isn't moving."

Railways say they have faced challenges due to a larger-than-expected grain crop and extreme winter weather.

CN has dumped its president, has apologized for the backlog and says it is mobilizing more train cars and workers to clear the backlog. Canadian Pacific has said it is starting to recover from the winter weather and is adding crews and locomotives.

They are being pressured by federal ministers to clear the backlog. Legislation that would improve public reporting by railways and allow for financial penalties if they fail to deliver rail cars on time has been stalled in the Senate since the fall.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay urged the Senate to pass the bill and said the federal government is always evaluating the situation to make sure grain keeps moving.

"We fully understand that on-time delivery is vitally important and that will happen," he said in Montreal Friday.

"The grain is moving better but it's an issue that you always have to keep an eye on because, if it does not move, it means that farmers do not receive the dollars which they vitally need."

Moe said he brought up the issue during a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week and urged him to pass an order-in-council that would mandate rail deliveries.

So far, Moe said, all the federal government has done is ask rail companies for their plan to deal with the backlog. He said the response has been "underwhelming."

"We're asking the federal government to hold them to account," Moe said. "We need a long-term solution to this problem that we have experienced twice ... in the last four years. We cannot be reliving this, this often. It's too damaging to our economy.

"It's like reliving Groundhog Day each and every year."

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