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Senators bow to will of elected government on transport modernization bill

Last Updated May 22, 2018 at 8:00 pm EDT

OTTAWA – The Senate has bowed to the will of the Trudeau government on an omnibus transportation modernization bill.

Senators voted 41-31 Tuesday to drop their insistence on amendments to Bill C-49 — which, among other things, is aimed at preventing rail shipments of grain from getting backlogged again.

The bill had been bouncing back and forth between the two houses of Parliament for the past month, much to the frustration of grain farmers.

It was passed by the House of Commons in November but the Senate last month sent it back to the elected chamber with 18 amendments.

The government accepted two of those amendments and modified three others but rejected the rest.

Rather than defer to the will of the elected chamber as is usually the case, Conservative senators joined forces with a handful of independent senators earlier this month to insist on two further amendments and send the bill back to the Commons for a second time — a rare move that was last employed in 2006.

The Liberal majority in the Commons voted Tuesday to reject those additional amendments and sent the bill back to the Senate once again, where this time all but Conservative senators agreed to end the standoff.

Among other things, C-49 would financially penalize railways that fail to deliver promised rail cars for grain shipments on time. It would also require railways to publicly report each summer on their abilities to move that year’s grain crop, and to publish by Oct. 1 each year a winter contingency plan for keeping shipments moving regardless of bad weather.

The bill would also create a new air passenger bill of rights, relax international ownership restrictions on Canadian airlines and require railways to install voice and video recorders in locomotives.

Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald said the amendments rejected Tuesday were aimed at ensuring equitable treatment for the Maritimes when it comes to rail shipments. The fact that some independent senators who supported the amendments earlier this month ultimately “fell in line” with the government proves they’re “not really independent,” he said.