The rail situation in Canada has been discouraging. What are your thoughts? (Anthony B. Hatch)

Tony Hatch (4)

Woe Canada?

My last trip before the lockdown was to Montreal, where I met with some good rail folks, got a tour of the port, etc. I got a good dose of Canadian pessimism at the time as well – there was talk of “peak Canada” even, and the National Post had a page one business headline declaring “Let’s Kill the Canadian” – but that turned out to be about the money-losing transcon VIA passenger train. The cause for the recent bout of gloom was a combination of called-off business investments – in the oil sands by Teck (pundits called it a watershed moment) and by Buffett pulling out of a $9B (Loonie) LNG project in Quebec. And both of those decisions were caused by or made easier by (take your pick) to the nation being brought to its knees by the First Peoples’ rail blockade. That same NP said, “Canada is now an untenable political risk”. Canada!

Now that may be going too far….but to an American, the efforts by the hereditary leaders (as opposed to the elected leaders) of the “Wet su Wet’en” tribe, backed by other sympathetic tribes (notably Mohawks in Ontario) and college students everywhere, revealed a problem of parliamentary vs centralized government – in the US the power of the Interstate Commerce Act would have prevented that type of occurrence (or certainly its duration), while in Canada it wasn’t always clear whose jurisdiction (Provincial or Federal) took precedence. However, it can be argued that our federal powers haven’t been shown to best advantage in the pandemic, but that’s another story (and of course subject to personal opinion). The impact on CN, especially, as “collateral damage,” and their shippers, was severe (~1400 trains). But that’s now over – on March 3 CN put out a press release stating it was calling back the furloughed workers in the east (note – far from the area of dispute) and was “Ready for Recovery”….if only!