Bibeau meets with Saskatchewan farmers, urges end to CN rail strike

REGINA — Canada's agriculture minister is urging Canadian National Railway Co. and its workers to reach a deal to alleviate the impact an ongoing strike is having on farmers.

Marie-Claude Bibeau delivered remarks Monday at the Canadian Western Agribition in Regina, where she also met with producers.

Also Monday, fertilizer company Nutrien announced a two-week shutdown of its largest potash mine east of Regina because of the strike.

Bibeau said the federal government believes in the negotiating process and is pushing both sides to come to an agreement.

"This would be the best for every party and the fastest solution."

About 3,200 CN workers, who have been without a contract since July 23, walked off their jobs seven days ago over concerns about long hours, fatigue and dangerous working conditions.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has called on Ottawa to signal that it's willing to intervene in the strike and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has requested Parliament be recalled to pass back-to-work legislation.

Three Maritime senators also signed a letter, dated Monday, asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reconvene Parliament in order to debate legislation to end the strike.

The senators from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island say propane reserves in the region are depleting and that the strike is disrupting supply chains and impacting trade at ports.

"Ideally, CN and its employees will reach an agreement soon. However, there must be a backup plan in the event that they do not," the letter reads.

"Truck shipments from central Canada will be insufficient if demand for propane exceeds domestic Maritime production capacity."

Moe has said the strike cannot drag on because it will mean job losses in agriculture.

A spokesman with Saskatoon-based Nutrien said about 550 employees are to be temporarily laid off when the shutdown at its Rocanville mine begins next Monday.

"It is extremely disappointing that in a year when the agricultural sector has been severely impacted by poor weather and trade disputes, the CN strike will add further hardship to the Canadian agriculture industry,” Chuck Magro, the company's president, said in a news release.

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit was also to meet with Bibeau on Monday. He said the strike will create a backlog of goods, and Canada has a reputation to uphold as a trading nation.

"It's time to get the trains moving," he said.

Bibeau wouldn't provide timelines for a decision by the federal government, but said the situation is being closely watched.

She said she's relaying information to her colleagues about how the strike is affecting the agriculture sector.

"Every option's always on the table. But for the time being, we hope that both parties will get to an agreement."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2019.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press