Alberta calls on PM to recall Parliament over CN Rail strike

CN Rail ships in excess of 170,000 barrels of Western Canadian oil per day. Any disruption would have serious consequences for the economy, at a time when the industry is lacking an adequate number of pipelines, says Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

Job action could impede oil and grain shipments and impact economy

CN Rail workers picket in Calgary on Tuesday. Parliament is set to return on Dec. 5, but the province wants it to return immediately to enact emergency back-to-work legislation in the face of the railway strike. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The Alberta government is pressing the prime minister to recall Parliament to address the CN Rail strike.

Across the country, 3,200 have walked off the job, including 28 conductors in Calgary.

The ministers for energy and agriculture issued a statement Tuesday noting that CN regularly ships in excess of 170,000 barrels of Western Canadian oil per day. They said any disruption would have serious consequences for the economy — especially when pipeline capacity remains an issue.

"The entire economy of Alberta and Canada could be extremely affected by the failure to be able to move not only our energy products but every single product," Energy Minister Sonya Savage told reporters at the provincial legislature.

"Agriculture is hit extremely hard. So this is something that needs to be dealt with by the federal government."

Parliament is scheduled to return on Dec. 5.

Savage and Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshan are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to act now.

"Any disruption in shipments would have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks due to cancelled and delayed pipelines," they said in a statement. "Alberta cannot see further restrictions on our ability to export our product."

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is also concerned and says it's monitoring the situation closely.

On the picket line in Calgary, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference spokesperson Daniel Walter says one of their concerns is long work hours.

On the picket line in Calgary, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference spokesperson Daniel Walter says this job action is about safety and long work hours. (Mike Symington/CBC)

"We're tired of working tired. We're constantly hauling dangerous products through highly populated areas, and we need to be rested. All this while CN made over $3.8 billion last quarter," Walter said.

"They want to put lifetime caps on our benefits. They want to reduce our time-off provisions. All this while the federal government has acknowledged the fatigue issues in our industry."

The union says it is still in talks with CN — and hopes to reach a deal and end the dispute as soon as possible.

Jagmeet Singh, the federal NDP Leader, told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa that his party would not help the Liberal government force CN Rail workers back to work. 

"These workers have serious concerns," he said. "We have to make sure they are able to express those concerns, negotiate freely and, actually, most importantly, solve the problems so that workers are not facing fatigue and other workplace safety issues."  

With files from Jennifer Lee and Peter Zimonjic