Moe says rail strike would be 'catastrophic' for Sask., asks feds for back-to-work legislation

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is calling on the federal government to make it illegal for rail workers to strike.

Wild boars, rural policing among other topics premier discusses at SARM convention

Premier Scott Moe asked SARM delegates to sign a petition calling on the federal government to make railway workers essential. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is calling on the federal government to make it illegal for rail workers to strike.

Speaking at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) annual convention in Regina on Wednesday, Moe called on the feds to classify rail workers as essential and to ensure back-to-work legislation is passed if Canadian Pacific Railway employees go on strike.

Moe said a strike would be "catastrophic" for the province.

"[Rail is] essential for communities and for people within the province of Saskatchewan," said Moe, whose Saskatchewan Party government plans to deliver a petition to Ottawa this week calling for the change.

"In no way does this undermine any of the negotiations that happen at any collective bargaining table. But it would preserve that service and the continuity of that service for our province and for all Canadians."

The union representing the rail workers has said more than 96 per cent of its members voted in favour of a strike. The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference says wages, benefits and pensions are the main issues.

In a statement, Federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan said on Wednesday that both he and Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra "understand the impacts of a potential work stoppage and are monitoring the situation closely."

O'Regan said the two ministers "are encouraged" to see that negotiations are continuing.

The labour minister said Canadian Pacific had given notice of its intention to lock out its employees as of Sunday.

SARM president Ray Orb said this would be the worst time to have a rail strike. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

Moe said a strike would disrupt supplies coming into and going out of the province.

"Grain going into feedlots, for example, across the province and in the southern U.S., as well as ultimately all of the exports that we are sending out to other areas of the world," Moe said.

"This [strike] simply cannot happen. And I trust and I hope that the federal government is already considering some degree of what back-to-work legislation would look like should they need it, should there be a lockout or a strike in the days ahead."

Canadian Pacific said the federal government has stepped in during eight of the last nine collective bargaining rounds it has had with the union.

"It's probably the worst time ever for a major rail carrier to go on strike," said SARM president Ray Orb.

"It's just terrible timing because of what's going on all around the world right now. Seeing this happen in Saskatchewan is really going to be devastating. "

The Saskatchewan government petition asking the federal government to make railway workers essential and to draft back-to-work legislation. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

Orb said it is crucial for farmers to be able to deliver their grain to port terminals and for livestock owners to be able to bring in feed such as hay and corn for their animals.

"If that strike does take place, which it looks like it's imminent now, it will affect not only the livelihood of farmers, but the lives of their cattle, their livestock," he said.

"We're hoping the federal government can take this into consideration and force the railroad to come back to work as soon as possible."

Saskatchewan Opposition NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon said his party does not support the petition.

Wotherspoon said a deal has to be reached between CP and the union.

It was almost two years ago when Moe last spoke to such a large gathering, which incidentally was the last in-person SARM convention.

"I was on my way out later that week to Ottawa through the Toronto Airport and the Ottawa Airport," Moe recalled. "I got off the the plane, and that's when Sophie [Gregoire]-Trudeau was diagnosed with COVID, and things progressed through the weekend, and our world changed as we know it."

SARM said that over 60 rural municipalities in southern Saskatchewan suffer from overpopulated invasive wild boars. (Ryan Brook)

Wild boars classified as pest

Wild boars are now being classified as a pest in Saskatchewan, which means poison can now be used to get rid of the feral pigs. 

"They create a host of problems wherever they arrive — the damaged crop, the damaged pasture land," Moe said. "And they all potentially could spread disease to some of the hog barns that we have operating in the province."

The province is also putting a moratorium on all new wild boar farms.

Existing farms will be grandfathered, but will now need to be licensed.

The province is also doubling funding for the feral wild boar control program, which supports surveillance and eradication efforts across the province.

Premier Scott Moe addressed the SARM convention in Regina Wednesday morning. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

New policing unit

The province is creating a provincial protective services unit made up of provincial peace officers to help combat rural crime. 

The provincial protective services unit, made up of more than 300 conservation officers, highway traffic patrol and deputy sheriffs, will be co-ordinated through a central command centre.

Moe said current initiatives, such as protection and response teams, and new trespass laws only go so far. 

"This is not enough, in particular in certain areas of the province. We need to do more because property crime is still far too present in many of our rural areas of the province, including where I live."

Moe said next week's budget will also include funding for 60 new police officers and 11 more support staff.

SARM funding

SARM will receive about $262 million through the province's Municipal Revenue Sharing Program for the 2022-23 year.

That's about average for the last five years.

Moe said the budget will also have funding to reduce surgical wait times, and for recruitment and retention of health-care professionals.

Bear pit session

At the bear pit session on Wednesday, the majority of questions focused on highway funding and improvements, along with questions surrounding energy policies.

There were no questions related to COVID-19 and the pandemic.

With files from Adam Hunter and The Canadian Press


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