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Calgary store owner says anti-pipeline blockades hurting business

Calgary business feeling impact of rail blockades
WATCH: A family-owned furniture store in Calgary said it’s stopped getting shipments from suppliers in eastern Canada as pipeline protesters shut down railways. Michael King reports.

The owner of a Calgary furniture store says blockades in support of the Wet’suet’en Nation, which have halted hundreds of trains from travelling across the country, are hurting her business’ bottom line.

Rhonda Fairhurst owns Country Living Furnishings & Design, which has been in business in the city for 22 years. She told Global News on Friday that CN Rail’s recent move to shut down trains in Eastern Canada means they can’t get their products from their suppliers.

READ MORE: Via Rail cancels most trains across the country as CN shuts down rails in Eastern Canada

“We just received word from our carriers saying, ‘Let your customers know that there’s delays and we don’t know — we don’t have an ETA right now,'” Fairhurst said.

The lack of control Fairhurst has over getting her furniture pieces and other products has her feeling frustrated.

“We’ve always kind of said, you know, we have control over when our furniture comes because it’s just in our country — there’s no borders,” she said.

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“We’re having to give discounts or [customers] could cancel because of the delays. And so that will fall on us financially.”
Rhonda Fairhurst organizes fabric samples in her Calgary furniture store.
Rhonda Fairhurst organizes fabric samples in her Calgary furniture store. Michael King/Global News

Fairhurst said it’s not just her small, family-owned establishment that’s hurting because of the blockades.

“Our manufacturers are our family-run businesses as well. So they’re relying on getting the product to us to get paid,” she said. “We’re relying on getting our product to the customer to get paid.”

READ MORE: Rail shutdowns could lead to shortages of goods, industries warn amid protests

She said most customers they’ve had to tell about the delays aren’t surprised, as they’ve been hearing about the situation on the news,.

“I feel like it’s not being very Canadian. We’re trying to do business in Canada, and blocking is not being very Canadian.”

Blockades impacting Atlantic Canadian businesses
Blockades impacting Atlantic Canadian businesses

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Friday the blockades are “becoming a very serious threat to the entire Canadian economy.”

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“This is a commodities-producing country, and we ship those commodities by rail. To have CN indicating it’s going to shut down its entire Eastern Canadian network and potentially lay off thousands of blue-collar workers is devastating,” he said.

Blockades went up last week across Canada, with organizers saying they’re acting in solidarity with Wet’suet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation near Houston, B.C.

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said public backlash over the blockades is “going to happen very quickly.”

“You’re already seeing travellers being prevented from travelling in Eastern Canada. Now you’re going to see the good stock going, and that’s going to affect consumers and that’s especially going to affect producers,” Bratt said.

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“I think you’re going to start seeing backlashes emerging, not so much on the Coastal GasLink one, but all sorts of copycat supportive demonstrations.”

When it comes to the federal government getting involved, Bratt said the government is likely concerned about having politics mixing with policing.

“[The protesters] know what the law is, they know what injunctions are in place, but it’s up to the police. Do they want to be getting into a firefight as they did in Oka that required the military coming in?”

READ MORE: Here’s a list of major civil disobedience events in recent Canadian history

Climate protester Antoine Eche was rallying outside Calgary City Hall on Friday in support of Wet’suet’en Nation members who oppose the pipeline. When he was asked about the plight of Fairhurst’s business, he said she should “stand for something that is just.”

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“A just cause,” Eche said. “Not their small business or their small preoccupations, but something bigger than that. We want to live as a community that is respectful of one another, and right now, what I see is that the officials here are not respecting that.”

Eche said the government should not even think about building pipelines, not entertain using public money to build them and should also listen to opponents who say the government doesn’t have the right to build the infrastructure.

Pipeline protests continue to impact railway travelers in key parts of Canada
Pipeline protests continue to impact railway travelers in key parts of Canada

— With files from from Global News’ Michael King, Maryam Shah