Dozens of farmers from the Canadian province of Quebec drove their tractors to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Montreal office Monday and dumped corn to protest the government’s inaction on a week-long railway strike.
Because of the huge size of Canada – the world’s second largest country – rails are an essential way to move products such as grain grown in the western prairie provinces and produce from Ontario and Quebec to market.
“We are on the alert – it’s an intolerable situation,” said Marcel Groleau, president of the Quebec Agricultural Producers Union (UPA).
About 3,200 Canadian National rail employees have been on strike since last Tuesday, demanding a reduction in long working hours that the Teamsters Rail Canada Conference union said creates dangerous working conditions.
Many farmers side with the union’s position. But at the same time, they are worried that they will not be able to get their produce to markets. The strike also comes at a time when the harvest was below par and amid trade disputes such as China’s ban on Canadian canola.
The rail strike has also led to a shortage of propane, which is used to warm hog barns and henhouses and to dry grain before it goes to market.
“They (the government) need either to resolve the strike, resolve the problem, resolve the negotiation or take a risk with us, because if we lose our crop, we lose our income,” said Dominique Leroux, a Quebec grain farmer.
National Farmers Union president Katie Ward said federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau needs to direct the two sides to reach a “swift agreement” and end the strike.
Bibeau was the speaker at the Canadian Western Agribition in Saskatchewan on Monday and said the federal government believes in the negotiating process, declining to intervene at this time. She said the government is strongly encouraging the railway and its workers to get a deal to end the stress and uncertainty for farmers.
Meanwhile, the premiers in the wheat producing prairie provinces want the federal government to step in to end the strike by ordering the employees back to work.
“No one wants to enter into the fray of a labor dispute, but the consequences of this one are so severe,” said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
Agriculture contributed CAN$111.9 billion to the Canadian economy in 2016.