Striking Canadian Pacific Railway employees walk a picket line in front of Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed’s office on 18th Street on Friday afternoon. (COLIN CORNEAU/THE BRANDON SUN)
The Grain Growers of Canada is already putting pressure on the federal government to impose back-to-work legislation on striking Canadian Pacific Rail employees.
In a letter addressed to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, the group’s president, Stephen Vandervalk, urges the NDP to support legislation that would force engineers and conductors back to the rail yards.
"Farmers have just incurred huge costs for seed, fertilizer, fuel and the other inputs needed to put a crop in the ground and those bills are due very soon. Farmers count on delivering some of their grain at this time of year for that cash flow," Vandervalk said.
Those costs, coupled with the uncertainty of the rail line, could lead to loss of sales," Vandervalk said.
"The negative short term cost of demurrage on waiting ships, and penalties for late deliveries to buyers also come out of farmers’ pockets," Vandervalk said. "Disruptions in delivering our grain on time to our customers causes them to think twice about buying from Canada. Grain often arrives at flour mills or food processors just in time to be processed and then sold in local markets, so buyers want to know we can deliver when we promise."
Spring flooding in Westman last year, which caused many acres of land to go unseeded, has severly limited the amount of grain being sold by local producers. The lack of grain and the subsequent lack of sales has meant the blow of the striking CP rail workers has been softened for farmers in Westman.
"It hasn’t been a real concern because we don’t have any grain from last year — we never had a crop," RM of Arthur Reeve Jim Trewin said. "It sure would affect us if we would have had a crop, but when our bins are empty from last year it doesn’t have nearly the impact it would have."
Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Doug Chorney wants to see a resolution to the strike as soon as possible.
"In the short term, there won’t be much affect for Manitoba farmers," Chorney said.
"If it goes on for much more than a week it will affect processors and grain companies that have shipping programs. And it will back things up for the canola crushers."
Chorney stressed the importance for farmers across the Prairies to see an agreement reached sooner than later between the CP union and management.
"We sure wouldn’t want to see a long protracted disruption in labour because it does paralyze the flow of goods across Canada," Chorney said.
"It is hard on the economy of Canada and we all realize rail dependance is critical to Manitoba.
"We’d like to see a resolution to the disagreement as soon as possible."
Chorney chose not to comment on whether KAP would support back-to-work legislation from the federal government.
The strike comes on the heels of the federal Grain Transportation Agency approving a 9.5 per cent increase in the revenue cap — a regulatory limit on how much the railways can charge for services in the coming crop year — effective August 1st.
The increase includes adjustments for the railways in capital costs — 3.3 per cent — and inflation — 1.6 per cent. But the largest adjustment is earmarked for railways’ pension costs — 4.6 per cent.
The rate increase angered some farmers who felt they were subsidizing ever growing pension costs for railway employees.
According to CP’s 2011 annual meeting information, the CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway is entitled to a pension at age 65 of more than $1.1 million.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 28, 2012