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Canada

Railway protests seen as ‘eco-terrorism’ by oilfield CEO

Corporate Canada is getting increasingly frustrated by protests that have paralyzed parts of the country’s biggest railway, with one business chief calling on the government to end the “eco-terrorism.”

Demonstrators have been disrupting railroads and other infrastructure across Canada for more than a week to protest TC Energy Corp.’s planned $6.6 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline. The conduit would carry natural gas from Western Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia, where the gas will be turned into LNG for export.

Chief executive officers at Magna International Inc. and the Mullen Group Ltd. condemned the protests on Canadian National Railway Co. lines which are stymieing shipments of grain, propane, lumber and consumer goods.

“This is a good case of insanity,” Magna’s Don Walker said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg on Thursday. The protests are a “very bad situation” that hurts Canadian business and its perceived competitiveness on a global scale.

Mullen Group CEO Murray Mullen called the disruptions a form of eco-terrorism on the oilfield services group’s quarterly earnings call. Mullen said the government should do something to ease the tensions before the economy is affected by the disruption in the supply chain. Calls to the Okotoks, Alberta-based company’s main office line were not returned.

Potential layoffs

CN Rail said Thursday that it has been “forced” to start the shutdown of its operations in eastern Canada. Over 400 trains have been cancelled in the past week and this may lead to temporary job cuts soon, the company said in a statement.

“This situation is regrettable for its impact on the economy and on our railroaders as these protests are unrelated to CN’s activities, and beyond our control,” said Jean-Jacques Ruest, chief executive office of the railway, said in a statement.

The protesters are supporting some members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, an Indigenous group which claims control over territory the pipeline would cross. Other members of the group are in favour of the project.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller asked the protesters to end the disruption. “My request, that I ask you kindly to consider, is to discontinue the protest and barricade of the train tracks as soon as practicable,” he said in an email, which he posted to Facebook on Thursday. Miller also asked to meet with the First Nations group.

Respectful dialogue

Earlier this week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the intensifying protests are “of concern” and added that his government will be engaging with ministers to look at next possible steps. Transport Minister Marc Garneau said “there is time for all parties to engage in open and respectful dialogue to ensure this situation is resolved peacefully, and we strongly urge these parties to do so.”

The protests are putting Trudeau in a bind. He got elected last year partly on a platform to reduce Canada’s carbon output and improve the environment but his government also bought another pipeline to help ease bottlenecks that are cutting the price of the country’s crude.

On Thursday, CN Rail spokesman Jonathan Abecassis said by phone that a disruption west of Winnipeg was disbanded. That demonstration, had affected traffic between western and eastern Canada and south into the U.S.

This is a second hit to CN Rail in three months after a worker strike in November also halted shipments.

Proponents vs. opponents

While two in five Canadians say they support the protesters, a slight majority support the Coastal GasLink project itself, according to a poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute. “In each case, whether it’s the protesters or the pipeline, Canadians are divided into two sizable groups on each side of the issue,” the report said.

Still, Canadians are mostly confident that the Coastal GasLink pipeline will be completed, according to the survey. About 57 per cent believe that while it will take longer to build, it will still be completed and 34 per cent have full confidence that it will go ahead regardless.

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Crude-by-rail

At least three Eastern Canadian refineries supplied by CN’s rail network have been cut off from crude-by-rail shipments on the system. The refineries account for about a third of the country’s refining capacity and include Irving Oil Corp.’s Saint John plant in New Brunswick, Canada’s biggest, Valero Energy Corp.’s Quebec City refinery and Suncor Energy Inc.’s Montreal plant. Valero and Irving didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and are currently exploring alternate methods of distribution and have put measures in place to manage inventory,” a Suncor spokeswoman said. “We continue to take steps to mitigate any potential impacts.”

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