Transport Minister Marc Garneau rolls through Edmonton to promote rail service bill

Transport Minister Marc Garneau rolled into Alberta on Thursday to promote his bill that aims to help modernize Canada’s freight rail industry.

After getting his photograph taken near a grain elevator, Garneau told an Edmonton business luncheon that people cannot take for granted an industry that moves $280 billion worth of trade goods every year and is a backbone of the economy.

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Garneau said the Transportation Modernization Act introduced this week would make the rail network more reliable, more competitive and better able to handle increased traffic. That would include greater movement of grain from a projected increase in crop production in coming years.

He noted the rail traffic bottleneck in Western Canada of 2013-14 when millions of tonnes of grain was left stranded in bins and on farm fields.

READ MORE: CN not to blame for grain backlog: president

“Our rail network’s ability to serve as a reliable supply chain partner has been affected by congestion,” he said.

“That becomes a more pressing concern when we look at forecasts saying that western grain production is expected to increase by almost 20 per cent in the next 10 years.”

Garneau said the legislation is designed to be fair to rail and shipping companies that need to attract investment to expand to meet growing demand for their services.

The proposal would require railways to provide data on rates, service and performance; allow some shippers to use a competing railway’s network; define the level of service that should be provided and allow shippers to seek financial penalties for poor performance.

The minister emphasized the need to provide better service to agricultural producers, especially in Western Canada.

“Grain farmers are the lifeblood of the Prairie economy,” he said. “Upwards of 60 per cent of their crops are destined for export markets. We are talking about more than $15 billion in sales.”

Garneau said he hopes the bill will pass this fall.

Agriculture groups have been lobbying hard for improvements for fear of a repeat of grain transportation delays. Some contend that producers have lost billions of dollars since 2013 due to a lack of rail and port capacity.

Farm groups say they are generally pleased with Garneau’s bill, but it remains to be seen if farmers would be better off.

Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, said producer groups are studying the legislation and will have more to say when they meet with Canada’s agriculture ministers this July in St. John’s, N.L.

Jacobson said it’s a good start and could go a long way toward preventing another grain shipment bottleneck.

“It could be the remedy.”

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association said the bill appears to include measures to improve service, but only time will tell.

Todd Lewis, president of the Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said the legislation looks good, but farmers will keep pushing for change.

“We are all going to have to be vigilant to make sure that was is perceived to be being done is being done, and that it is beneficial to us.”

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has called on the government to pass the legislation in time for farmers to benefit from the changes this year.

Canadian National (TSX:CNR) said it has been moving more regulated grain since the backlog, including an 11 per cent increase this year. Most has been covered by commercial agreements that include possible penalties.

CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said the company is reviewing the legislation and he suggested it could have unintended consequences “with respect to investment and will give U.S. railways access to the Canadian market at regulated rates – without reciprocity.”

Garneau said the government is aware of concerns about U.S railroads and the issue is covered in the legislation.

Do Sask. MLAs make the grade?

The legislative session is over, and MLAs are returning to their home communities for the summer.

Global News frequently asks professors for commentary on political matters of the day. So we got three of our regulars, Ken Rasmussen (Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy), Jim Farney (political science) and Jason Childs (economics) to grade the performance of several key MLAs.

Are cracks beginning to show in Wall after a decade into his term, or is the country’s most popular premier meeting one of his government’s biggest challenges head on?

“I think he delivered a really difficult budget in a way that hasn’t destroyed the party, and hasn’t destroyed its prospects for the next election,” Childs said.

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Most of the issues Premier Wall faced came from the rollout of the provincial budget. As Farney pointed out, other issues impeded the premier, such as his use of a private email server.

“For a guy that exuded a lot of confidence… there wasn’t a lot of great footing there. He didn’t really seem to have his feet and his game together like he has had in the past, so he showed weakness,” Rasmussen said.

“He hasn’t managed to transition into a Premier who cares in its good times to being a premier who cares in its bad times very well at all I don’t think,” Farney said.

Overall, not the best showing for the long-serving Premier but he held onto a majority of his support.

Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon is in a different situation than his peers because in a year he will no longer be interim NDP leader. This is where his challenges appear.

“I think they need to start presenting alternative budgets, because one of the criticisms I keep hearing is, it’s fine to say this sucks, but what are you going to do?” Childs asked.

Farney agreed that the NDP need to start presenting alternative ideas, but overall he said the budget response was a strength of Wotherspoon’s.

“He did well. He had lots of targets to go after. He moved his team around well so it wasn’t just him opposing, basically the whole caucus got in on the act,” Farney explained.

“As an interim leader that’s really important.”

As Wotherspoon’s time leading the NDP comes to an end, the consensus is the party needs to shift from just being an opposition if they want to succeed next election.

“As they get set for a new leader, and so on they’re going to need to appear as more of a government in waiting than merely an effective opposition,” Rasmussen said.

Finance Minister Kevin Doherty’s second budget aims to get the province out of deficit in three years, but the consequences of cuts dominated headlines.

“I think he did a good job doing a sales pitch on what is arguably one of the harshest budgets released in a long time in Saskatchewan,” Rasmussen said.

However, Rasmussen believes this budget may still cost Doherty his seat in the next election.

Farney said this budget dampened the province’s relationship with the small business community, which is backed up by Canadian Federation of Independent Business surveys.

“That’s such a core constituency with this government. To not have them onside is a really big weakness,” Farney said.

At this point, Childs said the finance minister’s best course of action is to push forward and focus on the budget’s strengths.

“Say look, this is going to put us to a place where we can do different things where we’re not going to be paying ridiculous amounts of interest servicing this debt,” he said.

Education Minister Don Morgan found himself at the centre of multiple controversies, including cutting the operating budgets of school boards, increasing the decision making power of his ministry, cutting library funding and ultimately restoring it.

“I think by walking back the library cuts. That really showed some strength,” Childs said.

“Credit where credit is due, it’s never easy for a politician to do that.”

The legislative session may be over, but Morgan isn’t out of the woods on dealing with school boards yet. Their reduced budgets are due next month.

“So despite the work they’ve done in trying to establish a basis to go forward they didn’t really convince many people this was the way forward, certainly none of the major stakeholders,” Rasmussen said.

As for the two grades, Farney said Morgan is difficult to evaluate. He said it ultimately comes down to if you agree with his decisions.

“If you like the direction he’s taking things then you’d probably give him an A- for really driving change. If you don’t then he’s down in the D’s,” Farney explained.

Grants-in-lieu of property taxes, the formally obscure agreement between the provinces and 109 municipalities has stirred tensions between the two levels of government since budget day.

Childs saw Harpauer standing by this decision, and standing up to municipal response, as her biggest strength this session.

“[Harpauer said] these guys are just being whiners basically. They’ve got reserves, they’ve got money. Why should these guys not get cut as well? But that’s a pretty weak win,” the economics professor said.

Childs added removing grants-in-lieu payments for SaskPower and SaskEnergy properties alienated affected towns and cities, who should be key allies.

Both Farney and Rasmussen saw it as a poor performance overall.

“She’s an experienced minister, so it was an inexplicably weak performance,” Rasmussen said.

The government relations minister did restore partial funding for nine communities, and removed a clause in the bill that would have prevented legal action.

However, there is still ground to recover. A task Farney said should be Harpauer’s key focus.

“Find some kind of common ground. Find some areas to cooperate on that are workable. I mean infrastructure is always one,” Farney said.

“She’s got a responsibility for First Nation’s issues too, and there’s always more work that can be done there.”

The session began with Ryan Meili being sworn in after winning the Saskatoon-Meewasin by election following the untimely passing of Sask. Party member Roger Parent.

The rookie MLA and two time NDP leadership candidate served as critic for a number of portfolios, most notably advanced education.

“He didn’t come across as a rookie, I think he had a fairly strong performance given that there’s a lot of attention focused on him, rightly or wrongly,” Rasmussen said.

However, with the Saskatchewan NDP leadership campaign approaching all three professors thought Meili didn’t stand out as a leader-in-waiting.

“I didn’t really notice that he came through in the news the same that Nicole Sarauer did or Carla Beck. I don’t think he was noticeably landing punches,” Farney said.

Premier Brad Wall and other cabinet members took to calling Meili the next NDP leader during Question Period.

Meili announced his intentions to seek a third provincial NDP leadership bid Thursday morning. Childs said he will have to broaden his political approach, and show he can be a leader for the province and not just a faction of the NDP.

“These ideas have to be manageable, affordable, and there’s got to be a recognition that cranking the corporate tax rate back up to 40, 50 per cent is not on,” Childs said.

“That’s just not going to fly.”

The MLAs will now go back to their constituents and do their homework over the summer before returning to Regina for the fall session, where ongoing consequences of the budget are sure to dominate the house.

7 defining moments that shaped Canada in the last 150 years

“The great themes of Canadian history are as follows: Keeping the Americans out, keeping the French in, and trying to get the Natives to somehow disappear” – Will Ferguson, Canadian author and satirist.

Ferguson’s caustic quote from his novel, Why I Hate Canadians, captures Canada’s internal struggle for unique identity, with its inability to reconcile the horrific actions taken against indigenous populations.

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READ MORE: Canada 150 celebrations will cost taxpayers half a billion

In just 150 years, Canada has made its mark in the the history books as a country that has struggled to emerge from its British-colonial roots, yet has made huge strides to become a beacon of human rights.

“[Canada] has seen the kind of changes from very much a dependence on Britain to a country that stands alone on the world,” said author and historian Christopher Moore.

And although Canada has existed for nearly 500 years, here are 7 defining moments from the last 150 years as put together from interviews with Canadian authors and historians.

Constitution Act of 1867

Charlottetown Prince Edward Island Sept. 1864 Historical Events – Several of the Fathers of Confederation photographed at the Charlottetown Conference in Sept. 1864 where they had gathered to consider the union of the British North American Colonies. Sir John A. Macdonald and Georges Etienne Cartier are in the foreground (National Archives of Canada)

On March 29, 1867, the British North America Act (BNA Act) was passed by British Parliament, creating the Dominion of Canada.

“The basic structure of how this country operates from one side of the country to the other, and the provinces and how we govern ourselves is still based on that document that was put together in the 1860s,” Moore said. “That is a remarkable thing.”

READ MORE: How Canada freed the Netherlands, forging a lifelong friendship

The idea for a union was first created three years earlier by some of Canada’s founding fathers, including John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and George Brown, among others.

“We’ve grown from three million to 35 million, and yet somehow we’ve remained basically with that federal structure and that government structure that we’ve had since 1867,” said Moore.

The BNA Act created a federal state between three colonies — the Province of Canada (Ontario and Québec), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The act also gave a blueprint for the distribution of powers between the central Parliament and the provincial legislatures.

Manitoba was added in 1870, followed by British Columbia (1871), Prince Edward Island (1873), Alberta and Saskatchewan (1905). Squabbling between the provinces meant Newfoundland wouldn’t join until 1949. The Northwest Territories joined in 1870, then Yukon (1898), and Nunavut in 1999.

Persons Case of 1929

The Famous Five – the group that fought to have women declared persons. (CP PHOTO/Files-Calgary Herald/CP)

For Canadian author and historian Charlotte Gray, whose latest book is The Promise of Canada, the work of five women activists stands out as a “crucial” moment for the country and its constitution.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1928 that women were not “persons” under the British North America Act and could not be appointed to the Senate.

READ MORE: Young women fill House of Commons on International Women’s Day

The group of women, which included Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung, appealed to the Privy Council of England. The appeal led to a stunning reversal of the court’s decision in 1929.

Gray said it wasn’t only a hugely liberating moment for women, but also helped to define Canada’s constitution as a “living” document.

“That our constitution should take into account changes in society, this is a huge difference between Canada and particularly the Supreme Court in the United States, which has this doctrine of [originalism],” said Gray.

The Indian Act and Residential Schools

One of the five residential schools named in a class action lawsuit: an orphanage and boarding school in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, c. 1910.

Courtesy, Ches Crosbie Barristers

First introduced in 1867, The Indian Act has had a far-reaching and devastating effect on First Nations communities across Canada, said James Daschuk, an assistant professor in health studies at the University of Regina and author of Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and the Loss of Aboriginal Life.

READ MORE: The changing face of Canada, from 150 years ago to today

The Act outlined Ottawa’s responsibilities for deciding Indian status, local First Nations governments and the management of reserve land. Today it still rules around reserves, guardianship of youth and children, and management of band resources and elections.

“It affects First Nations people from cradle to grave,” said Daschuk. “For 140 years, it’s been the legislation that has served to marginalize and impoverish indigenous people.”

READ MORE: What happened to Jim? Experiments on Canada’s indigenous populations

The Indian Act also provided funding for residential schools, a network of schools that removed children from their families and the influence of their culture. Survivors of residential schools have offered disturbing accounts of horrific sexual, physical and psychological abuse.

“Residential schools were the most tragic and cruel establishments,” Gray said. “Very, very quickly these institutions became just agents of the state to try and eliminate and eradicate native culture.”

READ MORE: What was the ‘60s Scoop’? Aboriginal children taken from homes a dark chapter in Canada’s history

Second World War

Members of the Royal Canadian Medical Corps evacuating Allied soldiers from the beach after the Dieppe, France raid during the Second World War.

The Associated Press

Canada fought valiantly at battles in the First World War — including Vimy Ridge and Hill 70 — but its decision to enter the Second World War of its own accord helped define itself as an independent country.

At 11 a.m. on Sept. 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany two days after more than 250,000 Nazis marched into Poland. But rather than Canada rushing to join Britain, like Australia and New Zealand, Ottawa waited a full seven days before it officially entered the fray.

READ MORE: More than half of First World War records now online

Between 1939 and 1945, more than one million Canadian men and women served full-time in the armed services, according to Historica Canada, with more than 43,000 people killed. Canada’s sacrifice during the war was embodied in heroic campaigns from Dieppe to Ortona and Juno Beach.

READ MORE: Mapping 6,160 Torontonians killed in three wars

Discovery of oil

Alberta’s first oilsands operation (called Bitumont) on the shore of Athabasca River, is seen from the air near Fort McMurray, Alta., Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

In 1875, Canada’s Geological Survey discovered the presence of a black, gooey substance in Alberta. The oilsands would have a dramatic impact on the country’s economy and political landscape.

“The discovery of oil in Alberta confirmed that this country had resources for the 20th century,” Gray said. “We were set to have a fairly healthy economy throughout the 20th century.”

WATCH: Alberta takes steps to cap oilsands emissions

Canada’s oilsands, which attracted $34 billion in investment in 2014 alone, have been at once an economic driver of the 20th century and source of major political tension between the federal government and provinces.

The industry has created enormous wealth for Canada and Alberta, but has also been targeted by environmental groups as contributing to climate change.

Universal health care

Former NDP leader Tommy Douglas poses in Ottawa in this Oct. 19, 1983 file photo.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Schwarz

Canadian medicare was borne out of fiery debate in the 1960s, when Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas held up a belief that all residents should have a basic level of health care.

“[Douglas] just overrode the established interests of the insurance companies, the status quo of financial companies and the doctor’s union,” Gray said, adding that doctors in the province went on strike for 23 days as the province was thrown into chaos.

READ MORE: Is Canada’s health-care system ready for our rapidly greying population?

Douglas would go on to lead the newly formed NDP, and 10 years later all provinces would adopt similar health care systems.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982

The Queen signs Canada’s constitutional proclamation in Ottawa on April 17, 1982 as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau looks on. With the stroke of a pen by the Queen in Ottawa, Canada had its own Constitution, one of the many notable dates in the history of the country. Canada marks its 147th birthday July 1.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Poling

On April 17, 1982, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau looked on as the Queen signed Canada’s Constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The [Constitution and Charter of Rights] is hugely important,” Dashcuk said, noting that it granted greater equality and civil rights for all Canadians.

READ MORE: Canada’s Charter remains a flawed document that no politician dares try to fix

The Charter protects freedom of expression, the right to a democratic government, the right to live and seek work anywhere in Canada, the legal rights of people accused of crimes, indigenous peoples’ rights, the right to equality (including gender equality), among many other rights.

And while some Canadians hold this document up above all others, Global News’ chief political correspondent David Akin points out that for many Quebecers, Conservatives, New Democrats and indigenous Canadians, the Constitution and the Charter can be problematic documents that need to be challenged.

*With files from the Canadian Press

IN PHOTOS: Flood warning issued for area just north of Peace River

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

Alberta Environment and Parks said the warning was issued after it received “reports of of severe flooding” just north of the town of Peace River.

“The Highway 35 bridge might be constricting flow resulting in the increased water levels upstream,” the government said in an emergency alert. “Roads and farmland are currently being affected.”

John Krysztan runs a 10,000-acre farm in Dixonville and said his farmland is like a lake and he doesn’t believe he’ll be able to seed his crops now.

“(I) phoned the local MLA office and told them we’re going to be in a disaster area here,” he said Thursday evening.

“I’ve been farming here for over 30 years and I’ve never seen the water levels at this pace here.”

Krysztan said the area experienced some rain after the weekend but the rate at which the river is rising is concerning.

“It’s overflowing everywhere,” he said. “All the creeks are backing up because the river is so high.”

Krysztan added he knows of at least one home that he believes will need to be evacuated and that a number of farmers are being impacted by the floodwater.

View a photo gallery of the flooding in the Dixonville area below:

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Mitchell Krysztan

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Aarin Sorensen

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Aarin Sorensen

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Aarin Sorensen

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

Aarin Sorensen

A flood warning was issued for the Whitemud River near the northern Alberta hamlet of Dixonville on Thursday afternoon.

COURTESY: Aarin Sorensen

The government is warning people in the area to be aware of rising water levels and to “take appropriate precautionary measures.”

For more information, people in the area are being asked to contact their local municipality.

On Sunday, the Town of Peace River warned residents that rain in the region had “resulted in higher than average stream and river flows for the tributaries of the Peace River.”

It said municipal crews were on standby and that town officials were in regular contact with Alberta Environment and Parks’ River Forecasting Centre.

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Harvard student submits rap album as English thesis, gets an A-minus

BOSTON (AP) —; While other Harvard University students were writing papers for their senior theses, Obasi Shaw was busy rapping his.

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Shaw is the first student in Harvard’s history to submit a rap album as a senior thesis in the English Department, the university said. The album, called “Liminal Minds,” has earned the equivalent of an A-minus grade, good enough to guarantee that Shaw will graduate with honors next week.

Count Shaw among those most surprised by the success.

“I never thought it would be accepted by Harvard,” said Shaw, a 20-year-old from Stone Mountain, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. “I didn’t think they would respect rap as an art form enough for me to do it.”

READ MORE: Artist to explore role hip hop plays in indigenous cultures with Sask. students

Shaw describes the 10-track album as a dark and moody take on what it means to be black in America. Each song is told from a different character’s perspective, an idea inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century classic “The Canterbury Tales.” Shaw, who’s black, also draws on the works of writer James Baldwin while tackling topics ranging from police violence to slavery.

Shaw’s thesis adviser, Harvard English lecturer Josh Bell, said Shaw is a “serious artist and he’s an amazing guy.”

“He was able to turn around an album that people in the English Department would like very much but also that people who like rap music might like,” Bell said.

WATCH: Obama flows with hip-hop free-styler at White House

Harvard undergraduates aren’t obligated to submit senior theses, but most departments require it to graduate with honors. Often it takes the form of a research paper, but students can apply to turn in an artistic work as a creative thesis. Some submit screenplays, novels or poetry collections.

Shaw was at home for winter break in 2015, struggling to find a topic for a written thesis, when he told his mother, Michelle Shaw, about the creative thesis option. He had recently started writing his own raps and performing them at open-microphone nights on campus. His mother connected the dots and suggested he record an album for his thesis.

READ MORE: ‘Hip Hop Evolution’: Documentary delves into music genre’s overlooked history

It took Shaw more than a year to write the songs and record them at a studio on Harvard’s campus. His friends supplied many of the beats, while he taught himself how to mix the tracks into a polished product.

“I’m still not satisfied with the quality of the production just yet, but I’m constantly learning and growing,” Shaw said.

READ MORE: Beatboxing biology professor wants her raps, rhymes to inspire other students, teachers

Rap and hip-hop have drawn growing interest from academia in recent years. Harvard established a fellowship for scholars of hip-hop in 2013, and other schools including the University of Arizona have started to offer minors in hip-hop studies.

Clemson University announced in February that a doctoral student submitted a 34-track rap album as his dissertation, a first for the South Carolina university.

Shaw plans to circulate the album online for free and hopes it opens doors to the music industry. In the meantime, he’s headed to Seattle to work as a software engineer at Google.