Farmers dump corn at PM's office demanding end to CN Rail strike, propane shortage
MONTREAL -- Quebec farmers demanding immediate action to end the CN Rail strike took their message directly to the prime minister's riding Monday morning, dumping bags of corn at the steps of his Papineau riding office on Cremazie Blvd.
The strike by 3,200 rail workers has resulted in a propane shortage across Quebec, a fuel farmers rely upon to dry harvest grain in their kilns. The sense of urgency around the week-long strike's ripple effects continues to grow.
"It's critical, because it's exactly the time where most producers will use the propane to dry the grain," explained Suzanne Laplante of the Quebec Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA).
It's been a difficult growing season for many of the province's farmers, and they are in the midst of corn harvesting season.
"It lasts for about three weeks to a month, but what happened this year, especially, is that the grain is really wet. There's a lot of humidity, so it's going to take more drying than usual. It's not a normal season, and it's exactly this time of the year that they need that propane," Laplante said.
Pascal Leduc, a corn producer in Mirabel, was among the protesters and said that without propane, half of his harvest is still out in the fields.
What's more, animal farmers use propane all year round – and without it, livestock could die off if farmers can't heat barns as the weather turns colder.
Dozens of protesters rolled into Montreal streets on tractors, chanting and wielding placards before dumping dozens of bags of corn in a show of anger and frustration.
On Friday, Premier Francois Legault signalled a crisis, saying the province had less than five days' worth of propane left, and that it would have to ration that fuel if the CN rail strike doesn't come to an immediate end.
As much as 85 per cent of the province's propane comes in by rail.
In a press conference on Monday afternoon Jonatan Julien, the provincial ministry of energy and natural resources, explained that the province's propane reserves were sufficient to respond to immediate essential needs--about 2.5 million litres per day. Usually, Quebec consumes six million litres per day.
Thanks to the recent arrival of 50 train cars full of propane, Quebec has enough propane to last until "Saturday or Sunday" the minister explained.
Julien said Quebec was looking for other ways to deliver propane, including looking to Maine, in the US, but the logistics were complicated, and freight trucks would have to transport the propane.
Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau wouldn't say on Monday if Ottawa would intervene with back-to-work legislation.
"All options remain on the table, but we're really working hard on encouraging both parties to reach an agreement," she said.
The union representing CN workers insisted the industry is in crisis. CN workers need improved conditions and rest breaks, they argued, releasing an audio recording ostensibly of a CN supervisor ordering a fatigued conductor back to work.
"Okay, when you took your call, you need to be fit for 12 hours," the supervisor told the conductor. "Personal rest is not a regulatory or safety issue, so knowing that, are you refusing to bring the train to the rescue location?"
In a statement, the union president said the incident was common, and part of the reason CN workers were on strike.
Later on Monday, CN released a statement of its own. Negotiations were ongoing, the company said.
"CN has proposed solutions to end the strike or continue negotiating without further impacting the economy. The company has proposed to the union to return to work and to submit remaining differences to voluntary binding arbitration, to date the union has not accepted CN's offer," the statement reads. "CN recognizes the impact this strike is having on customers and the Canadian economy."
- With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Montreal's Angela MacKenzie