The war of words between the federal government and Canadian National Railway Co. heated up on Tuesday, as Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz warned the Montreal-based company "to pick up their game" and start shipping more grain.
Mr. Ritz, speaking from India on a conference call with reporters, dismissed statements by CN chief executive officer Claude Mongeau that the company has not had enough demand from grain shippers to meet the minimum weekly volumes the government ordered in the spring.
"I'm not sure where CN is getting the idea that there … isn't grain to handle when … the grain companies have some 27,000 cars and some 6,000 producer cars that are ordered that have not been spotted yet by CN," Mr. Ritz said. "There's buyers out there. I know there's still some 20 boats sitting in Vancouver waiting for cargo, waiting to be loaded and moved away."
The federal government in the spring ordered CN and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. to each move 536,250 tonnes of wheat, canola and other grain each week or face a fine of $100,000.
CN says its supply chain has recovered from months of delays caused by the harsh winter, and that it has not had enough demand from grain shippers to meet the government-imposed minimum weekly volume of about 5,000 rail cars a week.
CN spokesman Mark Hallman said the railway has exceeded the government's minimum target by more than one million tonnes since the spring, and that the company has not received a notice of violation, nor been assessed a fine.
"CN believes any Canadian government penalties levied against the company in connection with its transportation of Western Canadian grain would be unfounded, given that it's the current balance of the grain supply chain that did not allow CN to meet the ... weekly requirement lately," Mr. Hallman said.
Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport, said last week that CN will be fined an undetermined amount for missing the weekly minimums.
Mr. Ritz said the amount of the penalty has not been decided.
"The fines will be assessed, they will be levied and we expect CN to actually pick up their game," Mr. Ritz said.