Intermodal executive hails Trudeau’s ‘badass’ end-run around rail blockades

CN and CP trains

Something strange happened over the weekend to Transport DSquare in Montreal. The intermodal carrier got notice that rail containers from Western Canada — tied up indefinitely from weeks of protest blockades disrupting Canadian National’s network — were en route. 

“We were shocked,” Transport DSquare Director Corey Darbyson told FreightWaves.

The explanation could lie in a report from the CBC today that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government brokered a deal to let CN use rival Canadian Pacific’s network to route some freight around protest blockades — including via the U.S. The CBC said the arrangement allowed for deliveries of essential goods, including propane, to communities otherwise cut off by the blockades. 

Neither rail carrier would confirm the agreement, which apparently occurred as the Trudeau government worked to defuse indigenous-led protests connected to the route of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

“While people kicked and screamed, Trudeau and the team did a badass job,” Darbyson said.

“To get two juggernauts to share tracks and break bread together and to route through the States while negotiating the protests. It’s badass,” he added.

Trudeau’s handling of the blockades has drawn strong criticism from the left and right in Canada — for either being too easy on the protesters or not doing enough to address their underlying demands.

It remains to be seen when CN will resume freight service on its Eastern Canada network after police removed protesters from a blockade in Belleville, Ontario, on Monday.

Other isolated protests may continue to affect the supply chain. Since Monday, protests have continued to target some rail crossings, highways and the Port of Vancouver.

Shipper fears further supply chain impacts — but supports protests

Jill Van Gyn, founder and CEO of British Columbia-based Fatso Peanut Butter is considering moving a forthcoming shipment of its namesake product across Canada via truck instead of rail if the disruptions continue — at an added cost of C$6,000-C$8,000.

“I’m quite nervous about it,” Van Gyn told FreightWaves.

However, she supports the protests in solidarity with hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation who oppose the route of Coastal GasLink through their territory in British Columbia. She went public with that support in an op-ed published by the CBC, putting her at odds with many prominent business leaders in Canada.

She blamed the potential impact on her business squarely at the feet of Canada’s federal and provincial governments and their failure to address long-standing issues in the country’s indigenous communities.

“It’s crappy that we might be affected,” Van Gyn said. “But it’s a question of whom you’re mad at.”

Darbyson, meanwhile, is optimistic that freight flows will normalize as CN service resumes. He expressed doubt that lingering protests will bring serious harm to the supply chain, noting that the coronavirus poses a larger threat.

“Coronavirus is going to affect us,” Darbyson said. “A lot of shipments are not going to be shipped.”