Federal government resists mounting pressure to end CN Rail strike

Federal government resists mounting pressure to end CN Rail strike

The federal government is resisting calls to intervene in a railway strike despite the spectre of a propane shortage in Quebec and rising pressure from premiers and CEOs across the country to reconvene Parliament ahead of schedule and legislate the 3,200 Canadian National Railway Co. employees back to work.

“We realize how important this is to the economy of our country, to have a railway system that functions,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters after the new government’s first cabinet meeting in Ottawa on Thursday afternoon. “We want this strike to end as soon as possible.”

“For us it’s an appreciation of the collective bargaining process,” said Labour Minister Filomena Tassi, noting Ottawa’s chief mediator was at the negotiating table in Montreal.

The minister — named to the labour portfolio 24 hours earlier — said she would be reaching out personally to both sides in the next two days.

Bargaining was continuing around the clock, “but there’s been no significant progress on the key health and safety issues that we’ve raised,” Christopher Monette, a spokesman for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, told The Canadian Press on Thursday afternoon.

The strike at CN Rail has left Quebec with fewer than five days before it runs out of propane, said Premier Francois Legault, who warned of an “emergency” that could wreak havoc at hospitals, nursing homes and farms.

The premier expressed hope for a settlement between the railway and the union, but called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the opposition parties to pass back-to-work legislation if necessary ahead of Parliament’s scheduled return on Dec. 5.

Quebec has already started to ration propane, narrowing its use to less than half the typical six million litres per day, Legault said. The province has about 12 million litres in reserve.

“We started to make choices,” he said Thursday, two days after train conductors hit the picket lines. “That means we have enough for four days, four-and-a-half days.”

Priority has been given to health centres and retirement residences that rely on propane heating as well as farms, which use it to dry grain and heat barns and greenhouses.

“We could lose a lot of animals, a lot of food. We’re in an emergency,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City. “Honestly we can’t draw out this strike for a long time.”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Ottawa should signal it is willing “to take swift and urgent action” such as enacting a back-to-work bill. While binding arbitration could avert the need for the legislation, “we’re talking hours now, not days,” he told reporters Thursday.

Moe said he’s spoken to Garneau and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland about the toll the strike will take on jobs and profits in agriculture, energy and mining.

Alberta’s energy and agriculture ministers have gone slightly further, unconditionally asking Trudeau to reconvene Parliament and pass a back-to-work law.

Canadian Propane Association CEO Nathalie St-Pierre says that six-hour truck lines for propane have already formed in Sarnia, Ont.

“It’s having a huge impact. We’re very concerned, because propane infrastructure relies heavily on rail,” St-Pierre told The Canadian Press. “There’s no pipeline that brings propane to Quebec.”

About 85 per cent of the province’s propane comes via rail, the bulk of it from refineries in Sarnia and some from Edmonton — the country’s two propane trading hubs.

The fuel is critical to powering mining operations and heating facilities from water treatment plants to remote communications towers, though “people only think about it as barbecue,” St-Pierre said.

“There are some farmers that are being told they will not have access to propane to dry their crops, because there are priority applications that need to be taken care of,” she said. “You’re going to have to choose between chickens being alive in a barn versus drying crops.”

Parts of Atlantic Canada may face a shortage as well. “Everybody’s going to start feeling it…It’s going to be more and more critical.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business called for MPs to reconvene in Ottawa if the two sides can’t reach a deal by early next week.

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson said the strike comes at a “devastating time for farmers” following a delayed grain crop and early snows.

“Farmers do not receive payment for their products until they reach the port, and the rail strike makes this impossible. This will create huge cash flow problems for farmers, who require these payments to pay off their loans, invest in their operations and prepare for the new year,” Robinson said in a statement.

Conductors, trainpersons and yard workers took to the picket lines early Tuesday morning, halting freight trains across the country.

The railway workers, who have been without a contract since July 23, have said they’re concerned about long hours, fatigue and what they consider dangerous working conditions.

The last CN Rail strike occurred in late 2009 when 1,700 engineers walked off the job for three days.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,183 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

50.5% of all active cases are variants of concern

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie pose for a photo at the Mirror restaurant. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Alberta Health Services delivers ‘closure order’ to Mirror restaurant

Alberta Health Services says it has delivered a closure order to a… Continue reading

Flags bearers hold the Canadian flag high during the Flags of Remembrance ceremony in Sylvan Lake in this October file photo. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
New project to pay tribute to Canadians killed in Afghanistan

Flags of Remembrance scheduled for Sept. 11

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — Hundreds of people are gathered outside an Alberta… Continue reading

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is developing contingency plans to keep COVID-19 from affecting its ability to defend the country and continue its missions overseas amid concerns potential adversaries could try to take advantage of the crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian special forces supported major Iraqi military assault on ISIL last month

OTTAWA — Some Canadian soldiers supported a major military offensive last month… Continue reading

A woman pays her repects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The joint public inquiry in response to the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia has announced a mandate that includes a probe of the RCMP response as well as the role of gender-based violence in the tragedy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Creating permanent memorial to Nova Scotia mass shooting victims a delicate task

PORTAPIQUE, N.S. — Creating a memorial for those killed in Nova Scotia’s… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Erin O’Toole says ‘I didn’t hide who I was’ running for Conservative leader

OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole assured Conservative supporters that he never hid who… Continue reading

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, second from left, celebrates his goal with teammates, from left to right, Matthew Tkachuk, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, of Sweden, during second period NHL hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers, in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Jacob Markstrom earns shutout as Flames blank Oilers 5-0 in Battle of Alberta

CALGARY — It took Sean Monahan breaking out of his goal-scoring slump… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia's opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan's government, but they say Monday's throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province's economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s opposition parties acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented… Continue reading

A grizzly bear walks on a treadmill as Dr. Charles Robbins, right, offers treats as rewards at Washington State University's Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center in this undated handout photo. Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails like those commonly used by people, which can affect land management practices in wild areas, says an expert who has written a paper on their travel patterns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Anthony Carnahan *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Grizzly bears prefer walking on gentle slopes at a leisurely pace like humans: study

VANCOUVER — Grizzly bears seem to favour gently sloping or flat trails… Continue reading

FILE - In this July 27, 2020, file photo, nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. Moderna said Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, its COVID-19 shot provides strong protection against the coronavirus that's surging in the U.S. and around the world. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
The COVID-19 wasteland: searching for clues to the pandemic in the sewers

OTTAWA — When Ottawa Public Health officials are trying to decide whether… Continue reading

Most Read