Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling for an immediate end to rail blockades, noting that his governments calls for dialogue with First Nations protesters have been ignored and the patience of Canadians is wearing thin.
The Prime Minister held a news conference Friday afternoon in Ottawa following a meeting of his the governments Incident Response Group. The meeting focused on the current blockades, as well as last months downing of a passenger plane in Iran and the coronavirus situation.
The government noted that repeated offers to meet with Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs have not been accepted.
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Heres the reality. Every attempt at dialogue has been made. The discussions have not been productive. We cant have dialogue when only one party is coming to the table. For this reason, we have no choice but to stop making the same overtures. Of course, we will never close the door on dialogue, and our hand remains extended should someone wants to reach for it,” he said.
But the fact remains, the barricades must now come down. The injunctions must be obeyed and the law must be upheld.
Also Friday, British Columbias Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs are expected to speak publicly on the issue in Tyendinaga, Ont., where they are visiting their Mohawk supporters who have blocked the key CN Rail line linking Montreal and Toronto for more than two weeks. The protest near Belleville has been the most economically disruptive of several related rail blockades across the country.
The travelling hereditary chiefs oppose the passage of a $6.6-billion natural case pipeline through their traditional territory in northwestern B.C., though others in the community, including elected band members, support the project.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the ongoing protests risk harming the cause of reconciliation in the eyes of the broader public.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Pallister said the conversation should move toward practical measures to improve the lives of First Nations while also being clear that no individual or group has an absolute veto on natural resources projects.
Public opinion matters on these things, he said. This federal Liberal government has said that reconciliation is a priority. But if you want real reconciliation, then you have to do the real work of achieving it. And you have to establish some parameters. You have to put a fence around the discussion to some degree. And you don’t do that if you don’t make it clear that everyone does not have a veto.
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Mr. Pallisters government signed an agreement with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs this week to formalize talks aimed at transferring the provinces northern airports and marine operations to First Nations ownership and operation. He said that is the kind of practical step that contributes to reconciliation.
Earlier this week, Canadas premiers requested and received a conference call with Mr. Trudeau. The call took place late Thursday and Mr. Pallister said he appreciated federal efforts to keep premiers informed.
Quebec Premier François Legault softened his tone slightly Friday, saying its up to police to decide the best way to dismantle barricades. On Thursday he said police would intervene immediately after a court granted an injunction against the newest barricade in Saint-Lambert, Que., that day.
I expect the dismantling to happen soon, but its up to the police. Its not for me to say how and when they should intervene, he told reporters in Montreal, adding that the cost of the protest is hundreds of millions of dollars in losses every day.
The BC RCMP issued an update Friday, stating that planning is underway to move a temporary outpost known as the Community-Industry Safety Office to the nearby town of Houston, B.C.
The outpost has been a source of tension in the community and some hereditary chiefs have said protests will continue until the RCMP leaves Wetsuweten traditional territory.
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The RCMP recognizes the importance for this crisis to be de-escalated both across the country and in the Wetsuweten traditional territory. Therefore, the RCMP will alter the operational posture as proposed to the Hereditary Chiefs, said BC RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts, noting that the force has requested to discuss the issue with the chiefs. The RCMP understands that not all Wetsuweten Hereditary Chiefs are available for discussion, however, in anticipation of this meeting, planning has been set in motion to transition operations from the C-ISO to the Houston Detachment.
Canadian National Railway Co., whose line east of Toronto has been blocked for two weeks, has halted freight service on its eastern Canadian network. Passenger rail company Via Rail, which leases track space from CN, has suspended most of its trains.
The rail stoppages have stopped or slowed rail service at Canadas four main ports, Vancouver, Prince Rupert, B.C., Montreal and Halifax, forcing ships to idle at anchor or divert to U.S. destinations. In Halifax and Montreal, off-loaded containers of consumer goods and industrial components are stacked on the docks, with no CN trains to take them away to markets outside the province. The CN network blockade greatly complicates the logistics of transporting goods or completely blocks the movement of goods for CN users, said Melanie Nadeau, a spokeswoman for the port of Montreal.
An executive with German container-ship owner Hapag-Lloyd AG said the company is considering skipping calls at Halifax, but has been less affected at Vancouver and Montreal, where it uses Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. trains. The import cargo doesnt move to Toronto, neither to the [U.S.] Midwest, said Wolfgang Schoch, a vice-president of Hapag-Lloyd responsible for Canadian operations.
In an open letter to Mr. Trudeau, CPs chief executive officer Keith Creel called on the prime minister to hold talks with the Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs. Mr. Creel said the railway is severely impacted by the disputes, including a Thursday protest on a CP line near Chase, B.C., that stopped trains headed to the port of Vancouver and a 12-day blockade south of Montreal that has cut off U.S. access.
The ongoing rail blockades could reduce Canadian GDP growth by 0.2 percentage points in the first quarter, according to a report released Friday by RBC economics.
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The report said the two weeks of blockades to date will likely produce a larger negative impact on the economy than the week-long CN Rail strike in November. They also noted that November strike illustrated how rail activity can bounce back quickly once a disruption is resolved.
Rail operators layoffs should be temporary, and we dont expect other businesses will be eager to cut workers in todays tight labour markets, wrote RBC economists Nathan Janzen and Josh Nye.
Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter also said Friday that the current disruption could be a bigger drag on the economy than the November strike.
Now dragging on for two weeks, and closing down the eastern rail network, the economic costs are beginning to build and becoming more serious, he said in a research note.
– With files from Eric Atkins, Les Perreaux and Daniel Leblanc
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