Members of the Mohawk community man a blockade of the commuter rail line Wednesday, February 12, 2020 in Kahnawake, Que..THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Central Alberta’s agriculture, petrochemical industries are hurt by rail blockades

‘Farmers should not be held hostage’

If pipeline protesters continue to illegally block rail lines, it will be a “disaster” for many agricultural businesses, says an Innisfail grain buyer.

“It will definitely impact us in every aspect of our operation,” says Chris Chivilo, CEO of W.A. Grain & Pulse Solutions — everything from being unable to accept grain and pulse products from local farmers because storage elevators are full, to being unable to ship overseas to meet trade obligations.

Chivilo fears Canada’s agriculture industry will lose its global reputation.

“Our overseas buyers don’t care what the cause is, they want their grain,” he adds.

“If they don’t get it, they will go someplace else. This will cause us to lose money the same way as a rail strike would.”

If rail shipments bound for Prince Rupert, B.C., and Montreal, Que., grind to a halt next week, Chivilo says he might have to temporarily lay off some of his workers in Bashaw and Bowden, or ask them to take holidays.

“It’s not something I like to do… It’s an illegal strike to begin with, so hopefully, they will clear it up and do whatever they have to do to get things going.”

That sentiment is shared by agriculture industry groups.

“Farmers should not be held hostage… We call upon the federal and provincial authorities to enforce the law, and clear the blockades,” says Daryl Fransoo, a director with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers.

Jeff Nielsen, chair of the Canadian Grain Growers, adds,“We are an industry that relies on export markets in order to survive and thrive.

“Without access to these markets via rail, we risk compounding further losses on top of what has already been a harvest from hell.”

He’s referring to a cold growing season last summer and a previous CN Rail strike.

Other industries are also feeling the impact of the rail blockades — including the Nova Chemicals sites in Joffre and Corunna, Ont.

The petrochemical company states it’s doing what it can to minimize disruptions to its rail loading operations and its customers.

“We continue to monitor the situation and will make decisions for our facilities… to maintain safe operations,” says a statement issued by Jennifer Nanz, Nova’s communications director.

“We encourage governments to take quick and decisive action to protect the Canadian economy.”

Police began arresting blockaders after court injunctions that forbid continued interference with the rail lines were issued in B.C. and Ontario. But the arrests have sparked more protests.

Members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario are blocking CN lines near Belleville in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia’s fight against a natural gas pipeline. The western blockades are on CN’s northern mainline between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

The RCMP is bound to uphold court injunctions that state Coastal GasLink is permitted to work on constructing a $6-billion, 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline from northeastern B.C. to the coast in Kitimat.

Many wood, pulp and paper producers have already lost tens of millions of dollars. While Sundre Forest Products’ manufactured wood is shipped by truck, its parent company, West Fraser, relies on rail transport.

The Forest Products Association of Canada states “serious concern” over rail disruptions.

“Some companies are now in a position that they can’t guarantee delivery dates to customers – a massive business risk and a dark cloud over Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner,” says states association CEO Derek Nighbor.

“We need … authorities to uphold the rule of law, get the trains moving, and keep our workers working.”

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