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Ag industry calls for quick CP lockout resolution

Ag industry calls for quick CP lockout resolution

Every day of the lockout equals weeks in backlog, one industry rep said

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Organizations from across Canada’s ag sector are urging for a quick resolution to the Canadian Pacific (CP) lockout.

CP locked out about 3,000 engineers, conductors, yard workers and other employees on March 20 after the railway and Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the union representing the employees, couldn’t reach a new contract agreement.

Ag industry groups want the federal government to intervene to prevent an extended lockout and damage related to the work stoppage.

Manitoba’s “Keystone Agricultural Producers calls upon the federal government to introduce back-to-work legislation so that the current CP rail work stoppage ends immediately,” the organization said in a statement.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association is asking “all parties in the House of Commons to immediately initiate back-to-work legislation and avoid the unnecessary breakdown on the movement of goods by rail,” Daryl Fransoo, chair of the organization, said in a statement.

“It’s now time for the federal government to step in and legislate back to work,” Karen Proud, president and CEO of Fertilizer Canada, told “We understand and respect the collective bargaining process. But it hasn’t worked, and this (disruption) can’t happen at a worse time, and we need immediate action.”

About 75 per cent of all Canadian fertilizer, or roughly 27 million metric tonnes, is moved by rail.

With farmers gearing up to plant within the next few weeks, a supply chain issue of any kind harms the overall ag industry, Proud said.

“Normally, by the end of March we have full inventories at our retail and distribution centres so farmers have access to the fertilizer they need,” she said. “We were already running behind because of past disruptions and this labour issue puts us even further behind. For every day of the lockout, you’re looking at weeks to recover from.”

The lockout also affects Canada’s reputation as a reliable fertilizer supplier.

American farmers, and other producers around the world, need Canadian fertilizer, Proud said.

“U.S. farmers are going to start seeding sooner than ours and they need our fertilizer,” she said. “We also ship a tremendous amount of fertilizer internationally. And with the sanctions against Russia, the world depends on the Canadian supply chain running smoothly.”

American ag groups echo that sentiment.

“The current war in Ukraine is placing additional pressure on delivering U.S. agricultural production and inputs, particularly fertilizer,” Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said in a statement. “A shut down in operations at Canadian Pacific will certainly compound that stress.  We encourage both parties to continue negotiations and arrive at an agreement that will result in a quick resumption of service.”

Even prior to the start of the lockout, Canadian ag groups were calling for a resolution.

Canadian cattle need feed, and that feed needs to come in on rail, said James Bekkering, chair of the National Cattle Feeders’ Association.

“Any stoppage of trains coming into Canada would be devastating to the Canadian cattle industry,” he said in a March 18 statement. “We have been dealing with feed shortages over the last few months and are completely reliant on feed coming from the United States. If a stoppage occurs, feed supplies will run out in one to two weeks causing a serious concern for the welfare of our animals.”

Canada’s labour minister arrived in Calgary over the weekend and is monitoring the situation.

“Second day of a work stoppage but CP and Teamsters Rail remain at the table,” a Monday morning update from Minister Seamus O’Regan’s office said. “We have faith in their ability to reach an agreement. Canadians expect them to do that ASAP.”

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