Alberta energy minister calls for Parliament to return early to end CN Rail strike
Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage is calling on the federal government to bring back Parliament early to enact back-to-work legislation for striking CN Rail workers.
Parliament is currently scheduled to sit on Dec. 5, but Savage warned that even this short wait would result in "serious damage" to both the Alberta economy and the Canadian economy as a whole.
"We call on the Prime Minister to immediately call back Parliament to enact emergency back-to-work legislation for CN Rail," Savage said in a statement released Tuesday.
Savage went on to say that any disruption to the "170,000 barrels of Western Canadian oil" CN Rail ships per day "would have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks due to cancelled and delayed pipelines."
"Alberta cannot see further restrictions on our ability to export our product," Savage said.
Savage's plea was echoed by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who tweeted out his support for a letter his ministers for agriculture, infrastructure and energy sent to Labour Minister Patty Hajdu. In the letter, the three Saskatchewan ministers call on Hajdu to "act as expediently as possible to end this potential labour disruption from occurring."
"In the event of a strike action, Saskatchewan asks that the Federal Government take immediate action to end the dispute so our industries will not be adversely affected by work stoppages," the letter read.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also backed Savage's call, tweeting his support for Parliament to be "immediately" recalled "to enact emergency legislation."
Roughly 3,200 Canadian National Railway Co. workers went on strike after the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference announced a work stoppage Monday night. The two parties failed to reach a deal before a midnight deadline.
Several sectors that rely on CN Rail to ship their product to market, including farmers, grain operators and now the oil industry, are warning that this strike could be a blow to the struggling Alberta economy.
"When you lose a day of shipping you never recover it," said Wade Sobkowich, head of the Western Grain Elevator Association, told The Canadian Press.
Labour Minister Patty Hajdu has not signaled any plan to bring into force back-to-work legislation but is instead urging the parties to continue their negotiations.
"While we are concerned about the impact of a work stoppage on Canadians, we remain hopeful they will reach an agreement," Hajdu said in a statement, released Tuesday.
"The Government of Canada supports and has faith in the collective bargaining process."
Hajdu added that the government is "monitoring the situation closely."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also weighed in on the issue, expressing his staunch opposition to back-to-work legislation.
"The workers are entitled and have the right to strike," said Singh.
"I'm firmly opposed to back to work legislation, and I'm firmly opposed to that being the reason to bring back the House."
The further strain this strike could place on Alberta’s economy comes at a tense time for the federal government’s relationship with Alberta.
After the Liberals were shut out of both Alberta and Saskatchewan in the federal election, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney established a panel to study ways to boost Alberta's autonomy, including a potential withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan.
In a recent speech in Red Deer, Alta., Kenny said Albertans are afraid for their economic futures.
"It's expressed most devastatingly in an increase in the rate of Albertans who have taken their own lives over the past five years. The per capita rate of suicide in Alberta is 50 per cent higher than it is in Ontario," Kenney said.
"So this literally for many people is a life-and-death question."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also acknowledged the frustrations in Alberta.
"People in Alberta and Saskatchewan have been suffering and struggling because of circumstances beyond their control," said Trudeau in his first post-election press conference on Oct 23.
Still, Kenney doesn't seem convinced that the federal government is taking the issue seriously.
"We need more than just words and sentiment. If he’s serious about repairing this serious rift with Western Canada in general, Alberta in particular, he needs to demonstrate that seriousness in action," said Kenney in an interview with Joyce Napier on CTV Power Play, aired Nov. 1.
"I've sent him a number of ideas. I guess I could say the ball is in his court."