Grain-growers cancel Ottawa plans as CN, union reach tentative agreement

Grain-growers cancel Ottawa plans as CN, union reach tentative agreement
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OTTAWA — Now that Canadian National Railway Co. has reached a tentative agreement with Teamsters Canada and the strike is set to end, Canadian farmers and producers cancelled their plans to descend on Ottawa to press for urgent action.

The union says normal operations at CN will resume Wednesday at 6 a.m. local time across Canada.

Grain growers had been planning to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon in the national capital to outline how the shutdown is impacting their industry, which is already struggling with a tough harvest, and call for government intervention.

“Farmers are on the front lines of this strike, relying on rail to move goods to markets all over the world,” the Grain Growers of Canada said in a statement.

“This disruption, coupled with a universally disastrous harvest could have an impact from which some farmers never recover. The time for government action is now.”

Members of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture had planned to do the same on Wednesday.

About 3,200 CN workers, who have been without a contract since July 23, walked off the job last Tuesday over concerns about long hours, fatigue and dangerous working conditions.

CN estimates the company has been operating at 10 per cent of normal service along its 22,000-kilometre Canadian network.

The impact of the work stoppage was beginning to be felt across the agriculture industry. Monday, fertilizer company Nutrien announced a two-week shutdown of its largest potash mine east of Regina because of the strike.

Agriculture groups and the Opposition Conservatives had been among those demanding that the Liberal government call the House of Commons back sooner than its planned Dec. 5 start date to legislate the employees back to work.

Three Maritime senators also signed a letter, dated Monday, asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the same.

The senators from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island said propane reserves in the region are depleting and that the strike has disrupted supply chains and impacting trade at ports.

“Ideally, CN and its employees will reach an agreement soon. However, there must be a backup plan in the event that they do not,” the letter read.

“Truck shipments from central Canada will be insufficient if demand for propane exceeds domestic Maritime production capacity.”

The Liberals had demurred, saying they wanted the two sides to reach an agreement.

“This would be the best for every party and the fastest solution,” Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau said Monday in Regina.

A Quebec farmers’ union protested outside of Trudeau’s Montreal office; the city is also home to CN’s headquarters, where they protested over the weekend.

In that province, there have been concerns the strike is leading to a propane shortage, affecting, among other things, farmers’ ability to dry their crops.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 26, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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