Alberta’s forestry sector, already facing challenges from softwood tariffs imposed by the United States and the growing threat of the mountain pine beetle, fears a labour disruption at CP Rail could make a tough situation even worse.
“We have a challenge in getting rail cars at the moment — the rail system in Canada is maxed out,” said Paul Whittaker, the CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association.
Lumber producers have been hit by the same backlog of rail cars as the agriculture sector, leading to large stockpiles at sawmills and lost profits.
“Only about half the number of rail cars we are seeking are arriving at the mills,” Whittaker said.
“Given that the rail system is already plugged, this is going to make a plugged system, conceivably, almost inoperative.”
READ MORE: CP Rail strike averted for now, unions say
A potential strike was averted over the weekend after the federal government ordered CP Rail’s two main unions to vote on the company’s final contract offer. The unions are urging their members to reject the deal.
“The fact that CP thinks their offer has a chance in hell of being ratified shows how out of touch they are with their employees,” Steve Martin, senior general chairman of IBEW System Council No. 11, said in a statement over the weekend.
Kent Fellows with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy says a labour stoppage would be felt not just in forestry and agriculture, but in sectors across the economy.
“All of these sectors need to get these products to market and will feel the pinch almost immediately,” Fellows said.
“Especially in the current climate, where we’ve already had cancellations because of congestion on these lines.”