With CN strike over, farmers top priority for propane distribution in Quebec

Raymond Gouron, head of the province's propane association, said in a statement it is unclear when things will be back to normal, but supplying farmers is crucial.

Head of province's propane association says efforts to provide fuel to those who need it will start Wednesday

A sign that says, 'Without propane, everything derails' is affixed to a tractor during a protest in Montreal. Now that the CN strike is over, farmers are waiting to get the fuel. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

A tentative agreement between Canadian National Railway and its employees hasn't yet resolved issues with Quebec's limited propane supply.

Energy Minister Jonatan Julien said the volume of available propane will be increased starting today, but it will take three to four days for it to return to normal.

Quebec typically uses about six million litres of propane per day, but that was cut to 2.5 million litres last week when the government started rationing the fuel.

The CN workers' strike, which started last Tuesday, led to issues with propane distribution across the country, including in Quebec.

Teamsters Canada, the union representing more than 3,000 striking CN workers, announced Tuesday morning a tentative deal has been reached with the company.

Staff returned to work at 2 p.m. Tuesday, and normal operations will resume at 6 a.m. local time across Canada on Wednesday.

Farmers use propane to heat hog barns and chicken coops, as well as to dry grain before storage. The vast majority of Quebec's propane supply is imported by rail from Ontario.

Grain farmers are at the top of the priority list and will be able to access more propane from distributors as of today, Agriculture Minister André Lamontagne said.

When asked whether Quebec should increase its propane reserves to avoid a similar situation in the future, Premier François Legault said the long-term solution isn't more propane, it's electrification. 

But for now, he said a process has to be put in place to avoid the province ever finding itself in a similar situation again.

Energy Minister Jonatan Julien, foreground, and Agriculture Minister André Lamontagne provide an update on the propane situation in Quebec. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Christian Overbeek, president of the association representing Quebec's grain farmers, said there is an estimated $300 million worth of crops that still need to be harvested.

The value of the losses that have already been incurred has not yet been calculated, but many farmers are worried they will go out of business, he said.

In a meeting with the agriculture minister Tuesday morning, Overbeek said his association asked the government to relax the criteria around compensation programs available for farmers who are struggling. 

Lamontagne said more than 1,300 notices of damage have been submitted to the crop insurance program so far.

Farmers will have access to aid depending on how big their losses are — an exceptional situation may warrant an exceptional response.

He did not say whether additional financial assistance will be made available, but did say he believes the programs that already exist will be able to provide the necessary support.

"Our producers have insurance. We just have to make sure the insurance will trigger and they get compensated for whatever losses they have," he said.

CN employees satisfied

CN employees who gathered to picket outside the company's headquarters in downtown Montreal early Tuesday morning said they were pleased with the news of the agreement, saying if the union brass is happy with the deal, they are too.

"Everybody was really happy" when news of the deal broke, said Robert Pope, a CN conductor.

"It was really good news for us. We didn't expect it today, so we're happy to be back to work."

'Everybody's really happy here, for their families, for our clients, for us,' said Robert Pope, a conductor at CN. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

The workers had been without a contract since July. The main issue in negotiations was an impasse over health and safety issues. Workers said they were often on-call 24 hours a day and their exhaustion made for unsafe working conditions.

The deal is expected to be put to a vote in about two months.

with files from Cathy Senay, Kate McKenna and Radio-Canada


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