A Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) disruption couldn’t have come at a worse time, according to the chair of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers.
Daryl Fransoo, who farms near Glaslyn, Sask., said he’s relieved the dispute has ended between rail workers and the company, given the economy has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine involves two countries that supply 30 per cent of the world’s wheat.
“There is a real chance that global food supplies could be at risk, so any interruption in that has massive effects down the line,” said Fransoo.
CP Rail employees returned to work Tuesday, including 3,000 conductors, engineers and train and yard workers, after the company agreed to binding arbitration with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.
Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan had pledged to stay in Calgary until the parties reached an agreement.
“Usually us in Western Canada, we’re pretty skeptical when it comes to the Liberal government, but Minister O’Regan was on the ground, doing the work and he obviously got the job done this time around,” Fransoo said.
The rail disruption almost threatened Saskatchewan farmers’ ability to take advantage of high prices for commodities like wheat. Higher values have cushioned the economic blow from a drought-ravaged 2021, according to Maidstone, Sask., farmer Scott Owens.
“The crop was smaller in Saskatchewan this year, but still, there’s a significant amount that has to get out to the west coast,” said Owens, who is also the vice-president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.
Saskatoon-based Nutrien, the world’s largest fertilizer producer, also welcomed the news of CP employees returning to work.
In a statement, a Nutrien spokesperson told Global News a rail service disruption would have “jeopardized” the company’s plan to increase potash production by one million tonnes in 2022 due to uncertainty around supply from Eastern Europe.
Russia and Belarus are the second and third highest producers of potash after Canada. Potash accounted for almost 20 per cent of Saskatchewan’s exports in 2020.
Saskatchewan mines would typically only be capable of storing potash for a few days onsite before having to halt production and begin laying people off, according to Pam Schwann, president of the Saskatchewan Mining Association.
Layoffs haven’t occurred and production continues as normal after CP Rail and its union agreed to arbitration.
“It’s a huge sigh of relief for our industry because one day down is one day too many,” Schwann said.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also told reporters an end to the work stoppage is a “great relief.”
“We’re very grateful in the government of Saskatchewan to both entities for persevering at the bargaining table,” Moe said. “That’s where the best agreements ultimately can come to.”
Moe said he’d still like to see rail work deemed an essential service in order to prevent future labour disputes from bringing trains to a halt.
– with files from The Canadian Press
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