'Underlying issues' important to resolving rail blockade, P.E.I. premier says

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King says there is "unanimous support" to bring an end to rail blockades brought on by the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in northern B.C. after a call with other Canadian premiers Wednesday.

However there is a difference of opinion on how and when those blockades should be brought to an end.

"What I brought up as the premier of P.E.I., and with the support of a lot of the other premiers around the table, is I think it's probably naive and wrong to look at this strictly as a blockade," King said.

"We have to look at what are the underlying issues that have caused us to get to here."

You have to be willing to listen.  — P.E.I. Premier Dennis King

King said there was a difference of opinion when it came to ideas of setting a hard deadline for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to have the blockades cleared.

"It is wrong for premiers to urge the prime minister to look at this solely as a disruption or a rail blockade. There is something more that's happening here," King said.

Call with PM scheduled

A call is scheduled for Thursday evening between premiers and Trudeau to discuss the ongoing protests around the pipeline project.

Some Indigenous protestors and sympathizers have shut down a key rail line in Northern B.C. because they oppose the construction of the pipeline on the grounds that it would run through the hereditary land of the Wet'suwet'en people.

Randy McAndrew/CBC

Another group has blockaded another key rail line near Belleville, Ont., in solidarity with the B.C. protest.

Those actions have broken supply chains for manufacturers, who rely on rail service to bring in parts and components, but also to ship out finished products to customers.

Now, those blockades are crippling the country's rail network. Via Rail has announced about 1,000 layoffs and CN Rail has issued temporary pink slips to about 450 workers.

In a statement sent to CBC, one Island propane supplier said it will begin to curtail deliveries to non-essential customers.

"We monitor this every day," King said.

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He said the propane situation on P.E.I. is "precarious." He said businesses need propane and some Islanders use it to heat their homes.

"Most of the propane to the region comes via rail," he said. "Right now, companies have made some alterations to their delivery schedule, they're doing some trucking from Upper Canada to get to here to sort of make sure we are not in an emergency."

King said the situation is worrisome but the supply is adequate for now. However, King said people shouldn't look at this simply as an economic issue.

"If we only look at the economics of this, we are going to fail and perhaps inflame the situation going forward by not dealing with those underlying issues, and to try to get a better redefined relationship with our Indigenous communities," King said.

Build a relationship

King said during a phone call with the prime minister Monday, the two discussed the peaceful demonstration that had taken place near the Confederation Bridge.

"The prime minister was actually asking me questions about how we were able to have such … a reasonable, peaceful resolution to a situation where nationally the temperature has been a lot higher," King said.

King said he is trying to build the relationship between the provincial government and the Indigenous community and he believes the federal government should be doing the same.

"It comes from a position of respect to begin with. You have to be willing to listen. You have to be willing to hear," King said.

"You have to be open to new ideas. You have to be open to the realization that the 150 or 200 years that have gotten us to here — we haven't done it right very much. So, we have to be prepared to do it a little bit differently."

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