Canada

CN Rail lays off staff as pipeline protests limit deliveries to Maritimes

CN Rail announced on Thursday it was shutting down its entire network east of Toronto because protesters near Belleville, Ont., are maintaining their blockade across the main line. Now the company is laying off some of its Eastern Canadian staff.

Railway blockades are being felt across the Maritime provinces as propane runs low and pressure builds on trucking companies to make crucial deliveries.

Demonstrations and blockades have been taking place across the country in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs fighting the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.

Alexandre Boulé, who speaks for CN Rail, said temporary layoffs notices were sent to employees working in Eastern Passage, N.S., Moncton, N.B., Charny, Que., and Montreal.

"Our shutdown is progressive and methodical to ensure that we are well set up for recovery, which will come when the illegal blockades end completely," he said in an email.

A spokesperson for the union, Bruce Snow, said there were seven people temporarily laid off in Moncton and three in Halifax.

But he said this is just the beginning.

"We do, however, anticipate a much larger impact should the blockades continue to reduce or shut down the CN eastern network."

Rail cars carry 3 times what trucks do

Jean-Marc Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, said they started to see an impact late last week.

"Obviously if things keep up, we're going to be even busier," he said, adding that one rail car is the equivalent of three trucks.

"We can't handle all the rail traffic that's sitting there, it would be logistically impossible. But we're certainly doing what we can to alleviate the impact on communities."

A truck moves through the South End Container Terminal in Halifax on July 27, 2016. The Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association says they're already feeling the pressure from the rail stoppages with added demand for shipments. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Picard said they are prioritizing based on need, but still have to keep up with their regular demands. He also said they can't operate beyond the industry's regulations, which limits how many hours a driver can work within a week.

"People don't realize how crucial it is, transportation to communities. Whether it's medical supplies, food, fuel," he said.

Picard also said, even if the situation is resolved tomorrow, getting out the backlog of supply "will drag on for weeks and weeks."

A CN locomotive moves in the railway yard in Dartmouth, N.S., in 2015. Trains bring in up to 85 per cent of propane used in the Maritimes and people in the industry say they've started rationing. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The president and CEO of the Canadian Propane Association said it's just a matter of days before the Maritime provinces start to see a shortage.

"This is an emergency. People have to understand that, and those that are protesting have to understand that there needs to be resumption of the services," Nathalie St-Pierre said on Sunday.

"We haven't seen any progress in terms of finding solutions now for the issues of getting the transportation to be back to normal. So it's very troublesome."

Acadian Seaplants in Nova Scotia, which manufactures products from seaweed that are shipped all over the world, was forced to switch from propane to oil on Sunday afternoon.

Jean-Paul Deveau is the CEO of Acadian Seaplants. (CBC)

Jean-Paul Deveau, president and CEO of Acadian Seaplants, said that means the cost of operations has increased by 62 per cent.

"It is unacceptable that a small group of citizens may choose to ignore the decisions of our courts and have such an economic impact throughout the country," Deveau said in an email.

St-Pierre said propane companies are rationing their supply and are prioritizing those with the most urgent need.

But she said local governments may need to start preparing for what happens if the rail stoppages continue.

"Some industries can switch back to oil or other sources, but that's also going to run out eventually."

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