PEI

Farmers 'innocent bystanders' in railway blockade fallout

The president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is urging the federal government and Indigenous leaders to find a quick resolution to the ongoing railway blockades across the country.

'We're being held hostage by a situation that we have no control over'

The blockades are not only hampering the ability for farmers to get their products, but also posing a risk to animal welfare, says Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.  (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is urging the federal government and Indigenous leaders to find a quick resolution to the ongoing railway blockades across the country.

Mary Robinson, an Island farmer who is also the president of the CFA, said she is concerned about the impact the situation could have on farmers' mental health.

"We're just kind of innocent bystanders here," she said. "We're being held hostage by a situation that we have no control over, but we do need to see resolution. We respect people's right to express their opinion, but at the end of the day Canada needs a functioning rail."

The blockades are not only hampering the ability of farmers to get their products, but also posing a risk to animal welfare, Robinson said. 

In British Columbia, some Indigenous protestors and sympathizers have shut down a key rail line in Northern B.C. because they oppose the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on the grounds that it would run through the hereditary land of the Wet'suwet'en people. Another group has blockaded another key rail line near Belleville, Ont., in solidarity with the B.C. protest.

Those actions have broken supply chains for manufacturers, who rely on rail service to bring in parts and components, but also to ship out finished products to customers.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to "dialogue" over the use of force with the Indigenous protesters.

Propane supply

One of the most pressing issues caused by the train stoppage is the dwindling supply of propane to heat poultry barns, Robinson said.

"Those cute little fluffy chicks that you see, they don't have the ability to keep themselves warm so barns are heated usually with propane," she said.

"And as we come into the shortage of propane it's going to mean animal welfare issues will be paramount."

Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, says the train stoppages come at the tail end of what has already been a difficult 12 months for Canadian farmers. (P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture)

Robinson said some farmers in Eastern Canada have begun to ration propane because they don't know when they will run out. 

In Western Canada, farmers use the trains to get their products to port. Because farmers don't get paid until their products reach the market, the rail stoppage has financial consequences, and creates cash-flow issues for Canadian farmers as they prepare for the coming year. 

The new interruptions come at the tail end of what has been a difficult 12 months for farmers across the country, she said. Canadian farmers have been impacted harshly by destructive weather, product bans such as canola and the previous rail strike during peak harvest times.

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With files from Island Morning