Inside Logistics

Quebec has less than five days of propane left thanks to rail strike

Premier Francois Legault warned of an ``emergency'' that could wreak havoc at hospitals, nursing homes and farms

November 22, 2019
by Christopher Reynolds THE CANADIAN PRESS

MONTREAL – A strike at Canadian National Railway Co. has left Quebec with fewer than five days before it runs out of propane, said Premier Francois Legault, who warned of an “emergency” that could wreak havoc at hospitals, nursing homes and farms.

The shortage comes as pressure mounts on the one-day-old Trudeau cabinet to reconvene Parliament ahead of schedule and legislate the 3,200 striking workers back to work.

Quebec has already started to ration propane, narrowing it to less than half the typical six million litres per day, Legault said. The province has about 12 million litres in reserve.

“We started to make choices,” he said Thursday. “That means we have enough for four days, four-and-a-half days.”

Priority has been given to health centres and retirement residences that rely on propane heating as well as farms, which use it to dry grain and heat barns and greenhouses.

“We could lose a lot of animals, a lot of food. We’re in an emergency,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City. “Honestly we can’t draw out this strike for a long time.”

The premier expressed hope for a settlement between CN Rail and the union, but called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the opposition parties to pass back-to-work legislation if necessary ahead of Parliament’s scheduled return on Dec. 5.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe put forward an emergency motion in his provincial legislature Thursday that called for “immediate action” to resolve the strike. The NDP opposition blocked the motion.

“Each day that a work stoppage continues is a day of moving product to market that our agricultural producers, potash industry and energy sector cannot get back,” Moe said.

Alberta’s energy and agriculture ministers have demanded more specific steps to avert economic damage, asking Trudeau to recall Parliament and enact a back-to-work bill.

Canadian Propane Association CEO Nathalie St-Pierre says that six-hour truck lines for propane have already formed in Sarnia, Ont.

“It’s having a huge impact. We’re very concerned, because propane infrastructure relies heavily on rail,” St-Pierre told The Canadian Press. “There’s no pipeline that brings propane to Quebec.”

About 85 per cent of the province’s propane comes via rail, the bulk of it from Sarnia and some from Edmonton _ the country’s two propane trading hubs.

The gas is critical to fuelling mining operations and heating facilities from water treatment plants to remote communications towers, though “people only think about it as barbecue,” St-Pierre said.

“There are some farmers that are being told they will not have access to propane to dry their crops, because there are priority applications that need to be taken care of,” she said. “You’re going to have to choose between chickens being alive in a barn versus drying crops.”

St-Pierre echoed various industry groups calling on the federal government for immediate action.

Conductors, trainpersons and yard workers took to the picket lines early Tuesday morning, halting freight trains across the country.

The railway workers, who have been without a contract since July 23, have said they’re concerned about long hours, fatigue and what they consider dangerous working conditions.