A CN locomotive moves in the railway yard in Dartmouth, N.S. on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015. Unifor said it has reached a late night deal with Canadian National Railway to avoid a lockout of 4,800 workers.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Federal government resists mounting pressure to end CN Rail strike

Long hours, fatigue and what they consider dangerous working conditions top of mind for workers

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.

READ MORE: CN Rail strike and lack of trucking alternatives stoke forest industry fears

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.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

Just Posted

A case of COVID has been detected within School District 33. (School District 33 photo)
UPDATE: Case of COVID confirmed at a Chilliwack school

Fraser Health has not informed parents but district sent letter to parents Friday

Record-low returns of salmon have been recorded on the Fraser River in recent years. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
Time for Indigenous-led salmon strategy on the Lower Fraser, says Alliance

‘Closures of First Nations, commercial and recreational salmon fishing’ have huge impact: LFFA

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region over the last week.
Chart: Tyler Olsen
CHARTS: Weekly COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in Fraser Valley

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region.

The City of Chilliwack says there’s too much spitting going on at the Sardis Sports Complex. (City of Chilliwack photo)
Too much spitting a problem at Chilliwack’s Sardis Sports Complex

The City of Chilliwack is asking the minor hockey community to ease up on expectorating

The Excelsior 4 are set to make their second court appearance in Abbotsford on Monday (Nov. 2). (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
‘Excelsior 4’ making second Abbotsford court appearance on Monday

Animal rights activists expected to plead not guilty to charges, protest for Vancouver scheduled

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

A Mercedes SUV is covered at a gas station in the Clayton area following a deadly shooting there on Sept. 28, 2019. (File photo)
This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Maestro Otto Tausk. (Photo: vancouversymphony.ca)
50/50 lotto players buck up for Metro Vancouver musicians hit hard by COVID

‘Rapidly growing jackpot’ for VSO’s 50/50 draw as they go online with TheConcertHall.ca

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Most Read