As the economic impact of the strike against Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. mounts, industries across the country are urging the federal government to intervene when Parliament resumes Monday.
More than $50-million of grain is stuck in elevators and thousands of new cars and trucks are effectively stranded, awaiting CP to get the trains rolling. Manufacturers and miners are sounding the alarm about disruptions to the supply chain while the propane industry is worried about bottlenecks.
Supply chain pressures for both imports and exports are becoming severe, Port Metro Vancouver said Sunday. The port is part of a growing chorus of industry groups and companies urging Ottawa to introduce back-to-work legislation as the CP strike by 4,800 members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference enters its sixth day on Monday.
"For CP, this walkout has resulted in tens of thousands of carloads of freight not moving every day on our Canadian network," said CP spokesman Ed Greenberg, adding the railway has laid off 2,000 other CP workers because of the walkout by the Teamsters.
Calgary-based CP said Ottawa's estimate that the strike will cost $540-million a week in lost productivity and new expenses understates the total impact on the national economy.
Methanex Corp.'s plant in Medicine Hat, Alta., for example, is one of dozens of operations at risk of either shutting down or drastically scaling back production due to the walkout, which began last Wednesday. The plant produces methanol, which is made from natural gas and used for formaldehyde and reformulated gasoline.
"If you can't put your product into railcars, at some point you have to stop production," said Richard Paton, president of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, whose members include Methanex.
He made the comment Sunday, on the eve of the House of Commons resuming sitting. Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has placed a notice on the order paper that she intends to table a back-to-work bill as early as Monday.
Ian White, president of the Canadian Wheat Board, said six vessels are ready to load grain at Port Metro Vancouver and eight ships are en route. While rival Canadian National Railway Co. has been operating during the strike at CP, many shippers rely on both freight carriers.
"There is some grain that can shift from CP areas to CN, but once the grain is in an elevator on a CP line, it's very difficult to get it anywhere else except on CP," Mr. White said.
The reform of pensions, which are partly indexed to inflation, is at the heart of the dispute. CP and the Teamsters, which represents engineers, conductors and rail traffic controllers, remained far apart late Sunday, after talks broke off and a mediator withdrew services. A veteran locomotive engineer stands to collect an average pension of about $73,000 a year to start. The union emphasizes that it's also seeking improvements to work rules to address concerns about fatigue from working long hours over vast stretches of track.
Ms. Raitt said Ottawa is prepared to halt the strike if there isn't a negotiated deal.
"We have said very clearly to the parties that if you don't find your own process, if you don't find your own deal, you are going to be stuck with a parliamentary process," she told CTV's Question Period.
Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association, said his members are anxious to see an end to the work stoppage. "Anybody who has finished product on the rails with CP now has stranded product. These are products that could be sold or they're for consumers waiting for delivery," Mr. Nantais said.