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'Absolutely critical': Looming rail worker strike causing concern for Sask.'s biggest industries


The possibility of a strike by both Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) rail workers has Saskatchewan’s major economic drivers sounding alarms.

Last week, workers of Canada’s two largest rail companies voted overwhelming in favour of a strike if they are unable to negotiate a deal.

“Rail movement of our grain is absolutely critical,” said Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) Vice President Bill Prybylski.

“There’s a limited amount of time mines can continue operating without rail getting product to market,” said Saskatchewan Mining Association (SMA) President Pam Schwann.

According to the SMA, potash mines in the province exported over $18 billion in product last year. Ninety nine per cent of product was moved by rail.

“It’s a large bulk and tonnage product,” Schwann explained. “We rely on rail to get our product to market.”

If a strike action begins, the effects could be detrimental to mines in the province.

“We only have storage for five to seven days,” Schwann added. “At that time, production has to stop.”

Even when the strike ends, restarting production takes time.

“For every day of strike, there’s about seven days of recovery time,” Schwann said. “So it takes time to get things back running smoothly.”

A potential strike could hit producers on either side of the growing season.

“The impact in the spring on the fertilizer industry is tremendous,” said Fertilizer Canada President and CEO Karen Proud. “Farmers are waiting to get supplies ahead of the planting season.”

“For our mining partners, Canada is relied on to export potash,” she added.

The rail strike comes less than a year after B.C. port workers walked the picket lines.

Prybylski says producers in our province are still feeling the effects of that supply chain disruption.

“When there are backlogs in the system that usually means lower prices for the grain they do sell,” he said. “Grain prices have taken a significant decrease in the last couple years.”

Industry leaders say Saskatchewan’s and Canada’s high reputation is on the line.

“We can grow high quality grain here,” Prybylski said. “But getting it to port is getting to be more of a challenge.”

“We have some of the best, most reliable mining in the world,” Proud added. “But if we can’t get our product to market in time, that’s a hit on our reputation as a trading partner.”

Premier Scott Moe promoted that reputation Monday at the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s Food, Fuel and Fertilizer Global Summit in Regina.

He says a strike would not be good for Saskatchewan.

“It’s entirely problematic,” Premier Scott Moe told reporters. “Any interruption to the supply chain is a challenge for the general health of the economy in Saskatchewan.”

Rail workers could be on strike as early as May 22. Top Stories

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