A train heads west into the Crowsnest Pass from Colaman

Farmer’s Union says Island rail is vital for our future

Unhappy with the lack of progress made by the Island Corridor Foundation to re-instate rail service

  • Apr. 19, 2016 1:00 p.m.

Jan SlompNational Farmers Union President

The Nanaimo and Capital Regional Districts and several First Nation funders are unhappy with the lack of progress made by the Island Corridor Foundation to re-instate rail service between Victoria and Courtenay with a branch line to Port Alberni.

Rail service was historically developed for moving coal, lumber and passengers. The building of railroads was done by private investors who were given corridors through First Nations’ territories and large tracts of crown land with mineral rights in exchange for the statutory obligation to run passenger and freight services.

As the population increased on the Island so did agriculture, and a significant portion of food was produced on the Island. Regulated freight rates supported livestock production by bringing in affordable feed grains from the prairies, that was delivered by rail cars on barges and distributed through multiple feed companies throughout the region.

The Crow Rate, which was established by the federal government in 1897, was crucial for economic development. It was a regulated low freight rate, which unfortunately, was terminated in 1995. It allowed feed grains on the Island to be as inexpensive as anywhere else in Canada.

In addition to the freight rate, it set a benchmark value for grain in all agricultural regions of Canada, and definitely on the Island. The Crow Rate benefitted consumers and grain customers throughout Canada as much as it helped farmers.  Since the end of the Crow Rate, feed grains, as well as food grains, have become steadily more expensive in outlying regions of Canada.

The discrepancy has grown bigger since the Harper government dismissed the farmer-elected Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) in 2012 and gave its assets to Bunge and Saudi Arabia’s Livestock Investment Corporation.  The CWB acted on behalf of prairie farmers, and was able to demand that CN and CP deliver loaded rail cars to ports and Canadian end users in a timely manner.

That referee (the CWB) is no longer there. CN and CP make more money pulling 150 rail cars to port for export only and unloading in one spot than by serving end users within Canada, such as millers and feed mills in the lower mainland and on the Island.

These customers are now poorly served with untimely, erratic rail car delivery, which results in more grain being hauled by truck instead. Moving product by rail is more energy efficient, and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 95 per cent when compared to trucking. Thus, the climate impacts of poor inland rail freight service are global.

Over the last several decades, Canadian agriculture has suffered from globalization, deregulation, consolidation and zealous, export-oriented government policy. The ill effects are felt particularly in outlying areas like Vancouver Island. As a result, only a very small portion of the food consumed on the Island is actually produced here.

Feed costs are driving livestock production off the Island. The agricultural census shows drastic declines in all types of farming. The population steadily increases and we increasingly depend on grocery trucks arriving daily on costly ferries.  Grocers typically charge more if there are no alternatives to buying from them.

It makes good economic sense to produce eggs, chicken, beef, pork and dairy nearby, as their production generates all sorts of healthy economic activity and is good for the land. The only thing holding it back is the lack of a reliable supply of feed grain being brought in by rail. Raising livestock, dairy and poultry here would make the Island less vulnerable to food shortages in times of climate change or natural disasters.

A viable rail service on the Island makes good economic sense. The Trudeau government announced a preference for infrastructure funding.  We just need to make the economic case for rail service on Vancouver Island clear. This issue needs to be taken up by responsible provincial ministers as well. BC ferry service is costly and people on Vancouver Island deserve essential economic infrastructure.

Jan Slomp is the President of the National Farmers Union. He farms near Courtenay, BC.

 

Just Posted

Chemainus Theatre promises next year will be a record-breaker

Mama Mia one of three blockbuster shows theatre brass expect to draw big audiences

Ladysmith Interact club students inspired and inspiring

Ladysmith Secondary School group making a difference in their community

IIO doesn’t recommend charges after motorcyclist death in Mill Bay

An off-duty VicPD officer was involved in the crash

New wind warning for most of Vancouver Island

Forecasters are calling for strong winds up to 90km/h for some areas

Mount Washington opening for winter season this weekend

The resort’s original opening day was delayed due to lack of snow

Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

Of the 105 current senators, 54 are now independents who have banded together in Independent Senators’ Group

Man dies after falling from B.C. bridge

Intoxicated man climbed railing, lost his balance and fell into the water below

B.C. animation team the ‘heart’ of new ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

The animators, largely based in Vancouver, ultimately came up with a creative technique that is drawing praise

Light at the end of the tunnel for UN climate talks

Meeting in Katowice was meant to finalize how countries report their emissions of greenhouses gases

Janet Jackson, Def Leppard, Nicks join Rock Hall of Fame

Radiohead, the Cure, Roxy Music and the Zombies will also be ushered in at the 34th induction ceremony

Supreme Court affirms privacy rights for Canadians who share a computer

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure

‘I practically begged’: Kootenay woman with breast cancer denied referral to Calgary

Breast cancer patient left to fight disease alone after being denied referral to Calgary

21 detained before Paris protests as police deploy in force

There was a strong police presence outside the central Saint Lazare train station, where police in riot gear checked bags

Media, robotics, Indigenous studies coming to B.C. Grade 12 classrooms in 2019-20

Provincial tests are also being changed for students in Grade 10 to 12, the Education Ministry said

Most Read