On May 31st, 4,500 CP Rail brakemen, engineers, and conductors walked off the job and freight operations at Canada’s second largest railway ground to a halt. For businesses dependent on trains to get their goods to market, this was an instant catastrophe.
Deprived of rail, their goods piled up in warehouses and port terminals, or or in bottle necks across the country and they started to rapidly lose money. The stance on Parliament Hill was that if the strike wasn’t resolved soon, it could start costing the Canadian economy up to 500 million dollars a month.
No small wonder then, that by the time the strike hit day three, a panicked chorus of business leaders across the country were demanding action from Lisa Raitt, Labour Minister. And it didn’t take her more than 48 hours to get back-to-work legislation moving through the House of Commons and to the Senate for approval. After all, she’s had practice of late in forcing workers back to their jobs. (All she probably had to do this time was use existing legislation, simply substituing “Air Canada” and “Canada Post” for “CP Rail”!) Surprise, surprise – Lisa Raitt’s bill passed, and by the middle of last week the strike was over. CP workers were back in action, the issue of deep cuts to their pensions proposed by CP management unresolved.
Working for Port Metro Vancouver, it was amazing to me to see how utterly dependent both the Port, but also our national economy, remains on rail to keep business moving. CP opened up a newly minted Canada to Asian markets almost 50 years ago and its importance has only grown even with the advent of alternate modes such as air cargo or long-haul trucking. CP alone handles close to 50% of the over 120 million tonnes of cargo which passes through Vancouver’s port every year. This shows no signs of diminishing with container cargo projected to triple by 2030.
Next time you’re stuck at a rusty rail crossing impatiently waiting for that endless string of rickety freight cars to trundle past, remember that, without rail, we’d be sunk.
Masthead photo courtesy of ahockley’s photostream on Flickr