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Thousands of landowners on Trans Mountain pipeline route have yet to grant access – Prince Rupert Northern View

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Barbara Gard calls her three-hectare property, nestled below the forested peak of Sumas Mountain, a “miniature Stanley Park.” Its lush trees and flowing creek reminded her of Vancouver’s majestic park, and she immediately knew she wanted to call it home.

But she said her peaceful retreat in Abbotsford now feels more like a nightmare. Gard is among thousands of landowners along the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route who have not yet granted the Crown corporation access, and she said her dealings with the project’s owners over the years have shattered her mental health.

“It’s caused me emotional devastation,” said Gard, a 64-year-old school psychologist on medical leave from work. “They are killing me through stress and legal fees.”

Numerous hurdles remain before significant construction can begin on the massive project. Trans Mountain Corp. has not signed agreements with 33 per cent of landowners, no part of the detailed route has been approved, about half of the necessary permits are outstanding and it must meet dozens of conditions with the Canada Energy Regulator, formerly the National Energy Board.

Further, it faces resistance in southwest B.C., where landowners are digging in their heels, Indigenous groups are filing legal challenges and protesters are planning to ramp up activity.

The federal Liberal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion last year. The parliamentary budget officer has said that if the expansion is not complete by the end of 2021, it would be fair to conclude the government overpaid for the asset.

The government said the expanded pipeline will now be operational by mid-2022.

“If all goes according to the government’s plan and hopes, then that is a realistic timeline,” said David Wright, an assistant law professor with the University of Calgary. “But there’s the significant caveat that not a lot has gone as hoped or planned from the government’s perspective in the last couple years.”

There are more than 2,500 tracts of private, Crown or Indigenous land to which Trans Mountain must gain access to build the expansion. As of July, some 1,730 — or 67 per cent — of owners had signed agreements granting the corporation entry.

RELATED: Trans Mountain pipeline route approved through Chilliwack residential area, school yard

Eighty-three per cent of landowners in Alberta and eastern B.C. have signed, but in the B.C. Interior and Fraser Valley, that number drops to 54 per cent. In the Lower Mainland, just 14 per cent of landowners have signed agreements.

The current Trans Mountain pipeline already runs through Gard’s property. Her frustration with the pipeline’s owners began in 2011, when she alleges workers sheared some 232 trees on her land, 80 of which they cut down entirely. The corporation denied any wrongdoing and the debate over the damage has dragged on for eight years, she said.

Gard said the corporation has not offered her fair compensation for the risk that the expansion poses to her property’s delicate ecosystem or has it explained how it will restore vegetation and protect wildlife. The process feels extremely unbalanced, where she’s facing off against the corporation’s trained negotiators and legal team, she added.

Robin Scory, another landowner in the Fraser Valley who has not yet signed an agreement, said that the pipeline’s owners have offered him “lowball” sums that are only a fraction of the property’s value. Streams on his land run directly into the Fraser River and the corporation has not explained how it would mitigate the impacts of a spill, he said.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen. I’m not against the pipeline and I’m not a ‘pay me millions of dollars’ kind of guy, but it’s just so badly run,” Scory said.

ALSO READ: Feds unveil principles for Indigenous ownership in Trans Mountain pipeline

Trans Mountain said its key objective is to treat each landowner along the route fairly and it bases its compensation on a formula related to market value, but the landowner retains ownership. The corporation also strives to be a leader in emergency preparedness and has plans for quick response in the event of any spill, it said.

In cases where Trans Mountain can’t settle with a landowner, the Canadian Energy Regulator provides a process to address differences of opinion, it said, and the regulator may ultimately grant right of entry to allow the corporation to build the pipeline.

Before a court decision last August halted the project, a process was underway to confirm the detailed route of the expansion. After the project was approved a second time in June, the regulator said the corporation must redo that process.

It means none of the detailed route has been approved. Trans Mountain has begun notifying local communities of its proposed route and is waiting for statements of opposition from affected people over 30-day periods. The energy regulator then reviews the statements and decides — segment by segment — whether detailed route hearings will be held and when.

The lack of route approval is already having an impact. Trans Mountain noted in an Aug. 19 letter to the regulator that it must begin construction of the Burnaby Mountain tunnel portal immediately and earth works must occur prior to the start of the peak rainy season in November. The regulator responded that it could not start work because the route is not approved.

“It’s hard to see the (detailed route approval) happening before the rainy season that they’ve cited,” said Wright.

READ MORE: More gasoline, less bitumen in Trans Mountain pipeline, B.C. premier urges Trudeau

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

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CN strike could hit country hard

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Thousands of Canadian National Railway workers went on strike Tuesday, threatening a crucial artery for exports of oil, grain, chemicals and minerals and leaving some vulnerable Prairie regions potentially without any mode of commercial transportation.

Talks in Montreal were ongoing Tuesday after 3,200 CN conductors, train and yard personnel stopped work at midnight. The company and union have been unable to bridge an impasse on items ranging from pharmaceutical benefits to time-off provisions.

The strike at Canada’s largest railway comes despite a push for a deal by Labour Minister Patty Hajdu and Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who met with union and CN representatives Monday. Union concerns include fatigue, safety and ensuring workers’ breaks aren’t reduced.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservatives, and Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage each separately urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter to immediately recall Parliament. Trudeau has said he is not reconvening Parliament until Dec. 5 and the government cannot start the process to force workers back on the job until then.

Neither Via Rail nor commuter trains in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto – which run on CN tracks – are affected.

While grain farmers warned of massive economic damage that could result from a service reduction during peak shipping season, mining industry leaders foresaw layoffs and a threat to Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner.

A rail stoppage impacts both the ability of companies to deliver fuel and other inputs to their operations and to move mineral products and by-products out to customers.

“This strike will result in a severe reduction or elimination of railway capacity and will trigger the closure of mines with concurrent lay-offs of thousands of employees beginning in a matter of days,” Pierre Gratton, chief executive of the Mining Association of Canada, said in a statement.

He urged the government to impose binding arbitration on current and future labour disruptions involving Class 1 railroads.

Past strikes at CN and Canadian Pacific, the country’s second-largest railway, have tended to be brief, ending in a few days or less after back-to-work legislation was threatened or imposed. But the political calendar in Ottawa could make that solution difficult to implement this time around, said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

“I am concerned this one will be a different animal because Parliament is not sitting,” said Porter, adding the lack of a recent extended rail strike makes estimating the economic impact difficult. “The fact that we are in a minority government situation and we haven’t even had a throne speech really complicates the timing.”

CN will likely be able to fill about 60 per cent of the lost conductor jobs with office managers and other workers that hold those certifications, limiting the impact on the railway, economists at CIBC World Markets said in a note.

“We therefore don’t see a material impact on GDP at this point,” CIBC economist Katherine Judge wrote.

The potential is for massive economic harm

Ward Toma, general manager, Alberta Canola

The strike comes during peak shipping season for wheat and canola farmers. Canada’s two largest commodity exports are typically harvested in September and October and transported via rail to shipping ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, B.C. There, they are transferred onto large vessels and shipped to key markets including China, Japan and Indonesia.

With little storage available at the ports, farmers rely on CN and CP to continuously move grains on most days of the year. Indeed, during the current shipping season, CN alone deploys about 5,600 rail cars a week for this purpose, said Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat Commission.

“That’s over half a million tonnes of grain that won’t move if those cars aren’t able to be delivered into the system,” Steve said.

This year’s wheat and canola harvests have been delayed due to heavy snowfall across all three Prairie provinces, he added, leaving a significant amount of the crop under a blanket of snow. Farmers have also been struggling to dry canola and wheat due to unusually wet conditions.

“(Farmers) may not have harvested the crop yet and what they do have, well, if they can’t deliver it, they’re not paid,” Steve said. “So even a one-week interruption of rail service would be extremely concerning to us.”

Some northern Prairie communities that count canola farming and forestry among their most important industries are serviced entirely by CN. Companies in the Peace River region of northern Alberta and British Columbia, for instance, rely on CN to ship farm and forestry products, said Ward Toma, general manager of Alberta Canola.

“There’s a lot of agricultural acreage up there and a good million and a half acres of canola, most of it still under the snow,” he said. “The potential is for massive economic harm.”

Canada will export 21 million tonnes of wheat this year and about nine million tonnes of canola seed.

Any disruption in (oil) shipments would have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage

Catching up on shipments of commodities after rail service is disrupted is extremely difficult given the limited capacity in the system, said Neil Townsend, a senior analyst at FarmLink Marketing Solutions.

“There’s only so many trains that can go through the mountains in British Columbia,” he said. “You can’t just double them. So that’s our constraint. If we miss a week we never get it back.”

Canadian steelmakers rely on rail to supply iron ore to their mills and to ship finished steel products out. Unlike other industries, steelmakers have the option of using other forms of shipping.

“But will there be supply when so many other industries are trying to do the same thing?” said Catherine Cobden, president of the Canadian Steel Producers’ Association. “That’s how critical the railroad is. If this goes on for any amount of time it could impact our members profoundly.”

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said maintaining rail was particularly important given the shortage of pipeline capacity.

“CN Rail regularly ships in excess of 170,000 barrels of Western Canadian oil per day,” Savage said in a statement. “Any disruption in shipments would have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks due to cancelled and delayed pipelines. Alberta cannot see further restrictions on our ability to export our product.”

A strike may temporarily constrain CN’s volumes, but will not likely have a meaningful long-term impact on the company’s earnings, Credit Suisse analysts said in a research note on Monday.

Shares of Montreal-based CN fell one per cent Tuesday, while the benchmark Canadian share index was up slightly.

With files from Reuters

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Next phase of transit job action to be announced Wednesday

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The union representing striking Metro Vancouver transit workers is set to announce Wednesday the next phase of job action as dozens of Unifor members from the Coast Mountain Bus company prepare to receive strike training.

The union said in a statement the escalation was caused by “a failure by the employer to make new offers at the bargaining table.”

Meanwhile, transit users in Metro Vancouver had a slightly smoother commute Tuesday with no SeaBus cancellations, as the labour dispute entered its 19th day.

TransLink was reporting delays on some bus routes early Tuesday, however, and advised transit users to look up their route at alerts.translink.ca.

“Ultimately, this job action is difficult to anticipate,” TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy told CBC News Monday.

“That’s sort of how the union has designed this — that’s why they’ve gone with this overtime ban.”

On Monday the network experienced as much as a 10 per cent drop in service due to bus drivers refusing to work extra hours.

Unifor, which represents bus drivers, mechanics and SeaBus operators, says bus drivers will refuse overtime hours again on Wednesday and Friday.

Seeking wage increase

The union said CMBC remains unwilling to discuss wages, a key issue in the dispute, while the company insists its proposal is well above increases offered to other public-sector workers in the province.

Unifor has said they are seeking a wage increase that would bring their workers closer to those in other major regions, like Toronto.

“Currently, the difference is about $2.85 an hour, but Toronto is set to receive another two per cent each in the next two years. So it’s about three dollars an hour,” said Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle.

TransLink spokesperson Jill Drews said it comes down to what the company can afford.

“Money doesn’t come from nowhere, it doesn’t grow on trees and we’ve presented an offer that the region can afford,” she said.

“If we go beyond that, it could mean things like raising fares or raising taxes or cutting service that we’d hoped to roll out through expansion plans.”

Unifor’s overtime ban has so far forced the cancellations of dozens of SeaBus sailings and delayed or cancelled numerous bus routes over the past several week.

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Toronto Star shutting down StarMetro newspapers

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The Toronto Star is shutting down its StarMetro newspapers across Canada.

A Torstar spokesperson tells News media the final print editions in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax will be published Dec. 20, but that digital content will still be available.

“We are going digital-only outside of Ontario as more and more of our commuter readers are using their smartphones, laptops and tablets to access their news on their way to and from work,” Bob Hepburn told CBC News in an email.

“This trend, coupled with a corresponding decline in print advertising volumes, has decreased the need for a free daily commuter newspaper in these cities.”

An internal email sent to staff by Torstar president and CEO John Boynton stated “print advertising volumes have decreased significantly in recent months to levels below those required to make them commercially viable.”

Boynton’s memo, provided to CBC News, suggested 73 employees would be affected by the closures of the papers.

The memo also said there are plans to open new Star bureaus in the coming weeks in Vanouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax that will be staffed by Star journalists. The jobs were going to be posted internally on Tuesday and externally on Wednesday.

CBC News has learned the new digital bureaus will be staffed by five reporters in Vancouver, five reporters in Alberta and one in Halifax.

It was only a year ago the company rebranded its free Metro daily newspapers across Canada. The rebrand included an investment that more than doubled the number of Metro journalists, The Star reported at the time.

By Tuesday afternoon, reporters for the paper were tweeting about the shutdown.

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