Manitoba farmers, producer groups concerned about effect of potential rail strike

Unionized workers at Canada’s two largest railways have voted in favour of a strike, and could walk off the job on May 22 if no deal is reached, leaving prairie farmers and producer organizations concerned about the potential effect on their business.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference announced Wednesday in Ottawa that CN and CPKC conductors, locomotive engineers, yard workers, and rail traffic controllers overwhelmingly supported the authorization of labour action unless a settlement is reached.

Dauphin, Man., farmer Ernie Sirski told Global Winnipeg that any disruption in the supply chain is likely to have cascading effects.

“That means we can’t deliver grain on the contracts that we’ve signed,” he said. “That means the elevators can’t push the product out on the contracts that we’ve signed to export position.

“And a lot of our product still comes by rail, whether it be seed, fertilizer, or crop protection products.”

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Andre Harpe of Grain Growers of Canada says both railways striking at the same time will essentially bring things to a complete halt.

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“We don’t have a lot of choice of how we ship our grain — how we import or how we bring our fertilizers in,” he said.

“Because we’re such a vast country, we are dependent on the rail.”

Harpe said Canada exports 95 per cent of its grain, and is concerned that disruptions would also have a lasting impact on the country’s reputation in the global market.

“Reliability is huge,” Harpe said. “To me, we are the breadbasket of the world, and a lot of these countries are dependent on timely close of grain.”

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In a release Wednesday, union president Paul Boucher said he’s aware of the potential impact of a work stoppage, and said it’s not something anyone wants to see occur.

“A simultaneous work stoppage at both CN and CPKC would disrupt supply chains on a scale Canada has likely never experienced,” Boucher said.

“I would like to make it very clear that provoking a crisis on that scale has not been, and never will be, our goal. The reality is that we would very much like to avoid a work stoppage.”

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