Changes to the rules ensures Canada’s ports are working in the best interest of the country’s economy and the grain sector, says WGEA’s executive director
A new campaign to change outdated marine port governance rules is a top priority for the staff at the Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA) according to a recent release.
“Fundamentally, port terminal operations are our major gateways to our customers wherever they may exist in the world. So, we believe Canada requires an accountable oversight system so that we can meet our trade opportunities and unlock further investment in our industry,” said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of WGEA.
“We are honing in on issues related to these gateways that we're having and many of those issues stem from the fact that we have port authorities that are monopolies in Canada,” Sobkowich told Farms.com.
WGEA is calling on the government of Canada to make changes to marine port governance, something that was recommended during the review of the Canadian Transportation Act in 2016-17, said Sobkowich.
“It goes back to David Emerson, who undertook the Transportation Act review,” he said. “One of his recommendations and one of the things that he said before the Standing Committee was that, and I'm paraphrasing here, but essentially, he said, ‘I wouldn't give the port authorities another dime until you clean up poor governance.’ It was a very strong and bold statement he made.”
Making changes to the port governance would help industry and farmers in two ways, said Sobkowich.
“We think (modernizing port governance will) result in decisions by the port authorities that help us to expand the pipeline, so that we can get more product through the ports to our customers in a timely way,” he explained. “The second way that we think this will benefit farmers is to reduce costs. If we can get more reasonable fees set that are truly based on projects that will benefit the grain industry and if we can get rent down to a reasonable level, then those are cost savings that the whole industry will realize and that gets shared between grain companies and farmers.”
After WGEA put out their release, Devin Dreeshen minister of Agriculture and Forestry in Alberta showed support for changes in an online statement.
The statement suggested updating the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority board of directors to be more regionally diverse. The Prairie provinces are currently represented by 9 per cent of the board but are responsible for 85 per cent of the port’s export value, said the statement.
Producers and grain companies are putting more grain through the ports than ever before and making sure port authorities are lined up with what’s in the best interest of the users of the port and the western Canadian economy is important, said Sobkowich.
“The throughput has been increasing and it's been increasing because of what grain terminals have been doing, not because of what the port has been doing. So, the port would like to take credit sometimes for higher volumes going through the port. The railways like to take credit for higher volumes. But really, we say grain farmers should be taking credit for the higher volumes that are going through, they're growing more and grain terminals are investing to expand their capacity. Railways can't move more unless grain companies can load and unload more,” he said.
WGEA representatives want to push for these changes because of how long it’s been since anything was discussed on this topic, said Sobkowich.
“We're worried that this opportunity to make these legislative amendments to correct port governments is going to come and go without the right attention being given to it. So, it's in that vein that we are trying to raise awareness of the issues that we're having in the port of Vancouver in particular,” said Sobkowich.
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