A Canadian National Railway Co. executive said the dispute over the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in B.C. has cast the railway in the role of “victim,” but that Canada’s biggest rail carrier will weather the blockades that have halted much of its freight traffic.
Ghislain Houle, CN’s finance chief, told an investors’ conference in Miami he hopes government negotiations will end the protests that began in two weeks ago in several places across Canada. The demonstrations in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ opposition to the natural gas pipeline forced CN to shut down its rail network east of Toronto and lay off 450 people. Protesters have defied a court order to dismantle a blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., even as other protests have come and gone.
Mr. Houle said CN is not revising its profit guidance for 2020 as a result of the stoppages, and that business at the B.C. Port of Prince Rupert has risen by 29 per cent this year, despite protests that have blocked the tracks.
“Most of our volumes ... is west and going to Chicago,” Mr. Houle said. “Our eastern franchise is underutilized. I don’t want to [underplay] the impact of the blockades that are on our eastern network but at this point we’re not panicking. There’s business out there. There are opportunities to move more crude. Grain is good as well.”
Mr. Houle’s remarks stand in contrast to those of affected companies and business lobby groups, who warn of economic damage, job losses and shortage of vital supplies of water treatment chemicals and propane for heating homes and hospitals.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday, adding its voice to chorus of business groups and political opponents calling on the federal government to work with the provinces and police to end the blockades.
“Canada’s reputation as a dependable place to do business is at stake if a speedy resolution is not reached,” the CFIB said, noting companies unable to produce goods and fulfill orders face financial penalties, layoffs and lost sales.
Citing what he called “a lack of federal leadership in addressing this ongoing illegal activity” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he would hold a conference call with other premiers on Wednesday. “We are now approaching two weeks of these illegal blockades, impacting the economic interests of all Canadian provinces,” Mr. Moe tweeted. “[On Tuesday], the Prime Minister spoke in the House of Commons, but offered no course of action to protect the economic interests of our nation.”
The blockades have caused Via Rail, which runs mainly on CN tracks, to cancel most of its passenger trains across Canada, but the railway said it plans to resume partial service to southwestern Ontario from Toronto, and between Ottawa and Quebec City on Thursday.
CN on Tuesday temporarily laid off workers at its operations in Montreal, Halifax, Moncton and Charny, Que., after weekend protests disrupted traffic at its MacMillan train yard near Toronto.
“This has nothing to do, by the way, with CN,” Mr. Houle said in Miami. “We’re a bit taken hostage. We’re a … victim. But we’re working with the Canadian government and cooperating with them and we’re very hopeful that this blockage on our eastern network will be lifted… in the next day or two.”
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