British Columbia has called on federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt to head to the Port of Vancouver and immediately take charge of negotiations with striking truckers as the province announced a proposal to end the three-week disruption.
"Today would be good, or tonight – come out to Vancouver and personally involve yourself in this dispute," B.C.'s Todd Stone told his federal counterpart. "Within 24 hours, ships will begin to be diverted from the Port of Vancouver."
For the past three weeks, more than 1,000 independent truckers have refused to service Canada's busiest port. They were joined Monday by hundreds of unionized drivers. Both parties cite low pay, undercutting and heavy congestion at port terminals as reasons for the strike.
With container traffic down 90 per cent, Mr. Stone said the port was "down on its knees." While no details are available yet of the 14-point plan announced Thursday, he said he was "cautiously optimistic" of the negotiations done to help end the strike.
The operator of a major terminal at the port warned shippers on Thursday that its facilities would reach capacity over the weekend and would no longer be able to accept Vancouver-bound containers. Some ships have already begun to modify plans, and are looking to unload at ports in Washington State.
"If we could settle it ourselves as a province we would, but we don't have the jurisdiction," said Premier Christy Clark on Thursday at a meeting of western premiers. "I can't say in strong enough terms how strongly we are urging the federal government to execute the proposals in the report … at their federally regulated port."
Mediator Vince Ready put forward his first recommendations to end the dispute on Wednesday. Ms. Raitt was still reviewing the recommendations Thursday. In a short statement released by her office, the minister indicated the labour dispute was "a matter of provincial jurisdiction" but promised a full response.
Hours after Mr. Stone called on his counterpart to act, no government officials had yet contacted Unifor, the union representing as many as 400 of the striking truckers.
"I wasn't aware of this plan. We're anxious to get a look at it and see if it's something we can work with," said Gavin McGarrigle, the B.C. director for Unifor. He called on both levels of government to work together. "We've seen nothing but finger-pointing. This is a Canadian problem, this is our busiest port and it needs to be resolved."