A monumental bottleneck in moving a record Prairie grain harvest this past winter has prompted Transport Canada to advance a major statutory review of transportation legislation by a full year.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced the review Wednesday at a Bison Transport warehouse in Winnipeg.
Although the initial focus of the review will be on the shipment of grain to port, the entire process will address rail, shipping, aviation and road transportation networks.
The review will be headed by former Liberal and Conservative federal cabinet minister David Emerson and will include broad-based consultations with sector groups, industry experts and the general public.
"Our transportation system is fundamental to our growth and our economy," Raitt said. "Transportation is key to Canada's future prosperity... For a transportation system to move people and move goods and support our economy, it needs to be modern and responsive. Our legislative and policy framework has to support a system that is safe, secure and efficient."
The last review was in 2001, which, Emerson said, led to greater reliance on market forces and private capital to make the transportation systems more competitive and less dependent on government financial support.
In 2007, the act was amended to require that government initiate a statutory review no later than June 2015.
When farmers started to complain about not being able to move grain out of their bins this winter, the railroads went on the defensive. They said they were doing above-average volume but the large crop and the cold winter slowed down the system.
Ottawa imposed legislation requiring CN Rail and CP Rail to deliver more hopper cars or face stiff financial penalties.
But the flurry of finger-pointing and acrimony was followed by a consensus it was likely a system failure and not the faulty of one party or another.
Emerson said it would be pure speculation as to how the review process might address the grain-transportation issue but he said, "What we will try to do is anticipate where the system has to be in 20 to 30 years, then answer the question... what do we have to do in the next three to five years to get there."
Recommendations from the review panel are expected to be submitted to Raitt by late next year.
The review will also look at aviation-industry policies, including taxes and fees Canadian travellers now pay.
Marc-André O'Rourke, the executive director of the National Airline Council of Canada, which represents the national airlines, said he is encouraged by the prospects for the review.
He said his members are looking for relief from the taxes and fees Canadian carriers have to apply to airline tickets that has created an un-level playing field with neighbouring U.S. carriers.
"We are pleased to hear the issue of competitiveness will be part of the review," he said. "We create hundreds of thousands of jobs but we could do more with a proper policy framework. We have to realize there are more than five million Canadians who get in their cars and drive to U.S. border airports and the problem is getting worse. We are leaking thousands of jobs every year."
The review will also examine what improvements could be made in areas, including: strategic transportation gateways and corridors; Canada's transportation-safety and environmental regimes; the role of technological innovation in improving transportation services and infrastructure; the safe movement of goods through communities; support for the northern transportation system; and federally regulated passenger-rail services.