Out to make life more affordable

This week, I’d like to let invite you to a pair of town-hall meetings I’m co-hosting with my friend and Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, who is the NDP critic for consumer affairs, small business, and tourism.
He is travelling across the country to hear from Canadians about how they are dealing with the increased cost of living and to see what the federal government can do to help make life more affordable.
We’re also inviting small business owners and managers to come and share their experiences, good and bad, to help us find ways to promote their interests in Ottawa and help them grow at home.
The first meeting will be held this Friday (March 21) from 3-5 p.m. at the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau (old CN station).
The second is set for Saturday from 3-4:30 p.m. at the Brodie Street Library in Thunder Bay.
These meetings are free and open to the public, and I encourage everyone who is able to attend.
Moving on the other big news of the past week, we learned the Conservative government—through their own bumbling or by design—has established a new pecking order in the Canadian economy. The official order now would seem to be 1). oil and gas 2). wheat 3). other goods and services 4). forestry, lumber, and pulp and paper.
If you’ve been able to keep up with the news recently, then you’ve no doubt seen that rail shipments of crude oil are skyrocketing. Oil shipments by rail are up an amazing 83 percent in just one year, and more than 140,000 rail cars of crude oil were shipped in 2012 compared to just 500 cars in 2009.
So much oil is being harvested that our infrastructure (i.e., pipelines and railways) are unable to handle the traffic. In fact, so much crude is being harvested and transported by rail that other goods are being pushed aside.
One of the goods that has been pushed aside is Canadian wheat.
After years of drought, Canadian wheat farmers harvested a bumper crop in 2013–about 50 percent larger than the average. But while wheat farmers have access to 5,500 rail cars to move their product, they require access to 10,000 cars to ship out last year’s crop before it begins rot in the silo.
To remedy the situation, the Conservatives passed an order last week that is forcing rail companies to ship more wheat to ensure last year’s crop gets to market.
This was a good result for wheat farmers, but what about others who rely upon rail to get their products to market? Unfortunately, the special order issued last week by the Conservative government simply has passed the pain of the wheat farmers onto other sectors—most notably the forestry sector.
A few days after being told they had to ship more wheat, CN rail announced an “embargo” on forest products (lumber and pulp, in particular), which means they simply will stop shipping those goods for the time being.
James Gorman, president and CEO of the Council of Forest Industries, summed this situation best in one short sentence: “We’re sort of strangled here.”
With the value of the lost forestry shipments coming in at $885 million per week, it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.