The federal government says it will launch a sweeping review of federal transportation laws one year ahead of schedule amid concerns about a massive backlog in shipments of grain by rail this spring.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced the review, which will begin with an examination of grain transportation, during a press conference in Winnipeg on Wednesday. "The review is being done a year earlier than required to address a range of changing conditions and challenges, including those related to the transportation of grain in the Prairies," a news release from Ms. Raitt's office said.
In addition to grain shipments, the review will look at broader transportation safety and environmental rules, transportation in the north, passenger rail services, the aviation sector and regulations governing competitiveness in the transportation sector. The review, which will take place at arm's length from the federal government, will be led by former Conservative MP David Emerson and is due in late 2015.
Canada's transportation regime has come under increased pressure during the past year after a train carrying volatile crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Que., killing 47 people. The accident brought attention to the risks of moving dangerous goods by rail and raised questions about Transport Canada's oversight of railway companies' safety management systems.
A report by the Auditor-General, released last fall, raised similar concerns. It said the department had failed to audit a majority of Canada's smaller railways during a recent three-year period and had not provided adequate training for many rail-safety inspectors, among other concerns.
And earlier this spring, a massive backlog in grain shipments prompted the government to announce new regulations meant, in part, to expand grain shippers' ability to pick a railway.
Grain companies had complained that railways were giving priority to other, more lucrative shipments such as oil, leaving farmers with excess crops that they were unable to sell. Canada's two largest railways, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, argued the backlog was the result of a higher crop yield and difficult winter conditions, and argued the legislation would make them more vulnerable to competition from the United States.