The ability to deliver goods to consumers quickly and efficiently is an economic miracle that allows most Canadians to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and keeps the country humming. Railways and trucks deliver a myriad of products, everything from meat and vegetables to steel and propane. That these products can be delivered without Canadians giving those deliveries a second thought underscores the complete trust these systems have earned.
But when that ability to deliver is hampered or suspended – either by natural forces, a failure in infrastructure, or man-made interruption – the impact on the consumer and manufacturer is almost immediate and our reliance on these systems is exposed.
That’s what’s happened with the blockade of lines that serve both freight and passenger rail services. The blockades have occurred at various points across Canada – most notably at Belleville – in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are opposed to a liquid natural gas pipeline in British Columbia.
Freight traffic has been ground to a halt, sparking shortages and economic upheaval.
Propane is one example. The president of the Canadian Propane Association says the fuel is now being rationed in Atlantic Canada. Trucks are being loaded with propane at Sarnia, but there are long waits. Equally problematic is the fact there are not enough trucks to sustain the demand for propane.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture says the movement of soybeans has stopped and ethanol plants are not accepting corn deliveries because they can’t ship out the ethanol by rail.
Hog farmers and food processors are also being hurt. Most of Canada’s pork is exported and relies on rail service.
“These serious economic impacts to product delivery and production are being compounded every day and will take weeks to recover from the days of disruption that have already taken place,” says OFA president Keith Currie.
Meanwhile, the Retail Council of Canada says it’s evitable there will be shortages of household products and consumer goods, everything from personal hygiene products to fresh food.
“There is an inability to move goods cross country through the various choke points,” says the Council’s Karl Littler. “It’s of major concern to retail merchants. It both interrupts the flow of retail ready goods and hampers the manufacturing process for Canadian manufacturing.”
Never before are as many Canadians becoming as aware of the crucial importance of rail traffic in this country. The service is mostly taken for granted, because it almost never stops. But when it does, the impact is immediate.
– Peter Epp