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Back-to-work law in the works for striking CN Rail engineers

A CN locomotive makes its way through the CN Taschereau yard in Montreal.


The federal Conservative government is planning to introduce back-to-work legislation Monday to force an end to a strike by Canadian National's locomotive engineers that threatens to set back Canada's economic recovery.

A government official, speaking on background, said that the legislation would be tabled in the House of Commons this afternoon after Question Period, if the company and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference failed to reach agreement before then.

Background material related to the legislation said the strike threatened Canada's "fragile" economic recovery from recession.

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"The recent strike at CN could jeopardize that progress by inflicting significant damage to the Canadian economy during the busy Christmas season," it said.

The legislation, if passed, would end the strike and send all matters to binding arbitration.

Talks remained at an impasse Sunday after management rejected an offer by the Teamsters to send the union's latest wage proposal to arbitration after other disputed matters had been resolved. The railroad said all matters under dispute should be sent to binding arbitration.

About 1,700 locomotive engineers have been on strike since Saturday.

Ottawa prefers that the union accept binding arbitration, Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose said on the weekend, expressing disappointed about the breakdown in talks.

"At a time when our economy is still recovering, our government will not support a disruption to such a vital component of Canada's economy," she said in a statement.

The background information stated that "The government's preference is always to allow the two sides to continue negotiations. However, to protect the Canadian economy, the government cannot allow this strike to continue," it continued.

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"…We hope the two sides will work together to reach an agreement and avoid the need for legislation.

A CN spokesman said managers and supervisors were doing their best to keep as much of the system as possible operating. While trucks can pick up some of the demand for short-haul operations, rail remains the practical means of moving freight long distances, which is why many analysts worry that a rail strike just before Christmas as the country comes out of an economic trough could do serious damage to the Canadian economy.

The last contract expired on Dec. 31, 2008.

With a report from Brent Jang

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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