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Canada's CN rail system shut over blockade – BBC News

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A major Canadian rail company is shutting down trans-continental train services amid blockades protesting a pipeline in British Columbia.

CN Rail says it will be forced to shut down its eastern network, which will effectively stop all cross-country freight trains.

The stoppage will also affect passenger trains nationwide, which use CN tracks.

More than 150 routes had been cancelled previously amid protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Blockades against the proposed pipeline, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government says invigorate natural gas exports in British Columbia, began last week.

Its route cuts through indigenous Canadian land.

JJ Ruest, CN’s chief executive, called the train stoppage a “regrettable” situation, but said the cancellations were due to circumstances “beyond our control”.

“Our shutdown will be progressive and methodical to ensure that we are well set up for recovery, which will come when the illegal blockades end completely,” Mr Ruest said.

Some 5 million Canadian commuters use the intercity passenger services of Via Rail on tracks mostly owned by CN. Thousands have already been forced to find alternative means of travel.

CN said the stoppage may also lead to temporary layoffs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has written to the indigenous leaders at the heart of the rail blockade, and promised to send ministers to help reach an agreement.

“As you know, our government has been clear that there is no more important relationship to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples,” Mr Trudeau wrote.

What is the issue?

The Coastal GasLink pipeline is a 670km (416 miles) pipeline that would ship natural gas from north-eastern part of the province to the coast.

The C$6bn ($4.5bn, £4bn) project in a remote part of the province about a day’s drive from Vancouver has been in the works since 2012.

Some 28% of the pipeline route passes through Wet’suwet’en lands.

Coastal GasLink said it has reached deals with 20 elected indigenous councils along the route to move ahead with construction, including some Wet’suwet’en councils.

But Wet’suwet’en chiefs oppose it and say they, not the community’s elected officials, hold authority over traditional lands. They have warned that the project will cause pollution and endanger wildlife.

For years, protesters have erected camps have been erected along the proposed pipeline route to prevent access to construction sites.

In February, police enforced a court injunction and cleared the camps, arresting people in the process.

Meanwhile, other blockades have been erected across the country in solidarity, disrupting rail lines and ports.

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Pension giant Caisse to sell one-third of its malls in Canada amid e-commerce hit – Financial Post

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Canada’s second-biggest pension manager is preparing to sell a third of the shopping centres it owns in its home market as e-commerce finally starts to bite the country’s brick-and-mortar retailers.

Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, says it will look for an array of solutions for its 25 Canadian malls after their problems contributed to a 2.7 per cent decline in the value of its real estate portfolio in 2019. Besides a sale, the Caisse’s real-estate unit, Ivanhoe Cambridge, will consider transforming malls with everything from residential housing to logistics space.

“Canada had been relatively protected but global trends are accelerating and are hitting us too,” Ivanhoe’s President Nathalie Palladitcheff told reporters Thursday. “When you have 25 shopping centres, it’s a big amount — even if it changes just a little bit, it has a great impact immediately in terms of figures.”

Ivanhoe Cambridge held $39.7-billion (US$29.9 bililion) worth of real estate at the end of 2019, about 12 per cent of the total funds under Caisse management. Its shopping centres include the Eaton Centrein Montreal and Metropolis at Metrotown I and II in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver.

“One can’t be satisfied with the 2019 returns,” Palladitcheff said. The division will reduce traditional assets, which she described as malls and offices.

The investment shift comes as real-estate funds in the U.S. and Europe struggle to meet a surge in investor requests to get their money back, driven by mounting concerns about the health of malls at a time of rapid growth e-commerce.

As store closures and bankruptcies pile up for retailers, malls are trying to find ways to draw foot traffic and keep their properties full of rent-paying tenants.

Metrotown illustrates the changing landscape, Palladitcheff said. Five years ago, a contract with Target Corp. was considered the best outcome, she said.

“As you well imagine, things have changed,” she said. “Today when we discuss a residential development for Metrotown, we see that is the best possible transaction.”

Target closed its Canadian stores in 2015 after losing billions.

Bloomberg.com

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Victoria is the only property market in Canada still flashing high vulnerability – Financial Post

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Victoria is the only real estate market in the country still showing high vulnerability, but the overall risk of a housing crash in the country remains moderate, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“The evidence of overvaluation remains low as housing prices remain close to the levels supported by housing market fundamentals,” Bob Dugan, the CMHC’s chief economist told media as the agency released its latest quarterly report Thursday.

The Canadian Real Estate Association’s home price index rose 0.8 per cent in January compared to December, marking its eighth consecutive monthly gain. The benchmark index is now up 5.5 per cent from last year’s lowest point in May, CREA said in a report last week.

Victoria, capital of British Columbia, “continues to show a high degree of overall vulnerability,” but CMHC added that the imbalances are easing.

“Moderate evidence remains for overvaluation, however, declining inflation-adjusted home prices combined with growing personal disposable income and population have further narrowed the imbalances between observed and fundamental prices in the third quarter of 2019.”

Average Victoria home prices rose 1.4 per cent in January to $858,500, compared to the same period last year, according to the Victoria Real Estate Board.

Vancouver, another major real estate market that has seen sky-high prices in recent years, is also showing signs of easing, amid government tightening.

In Toronto price acceleration and overheating indicators are currently below their critical thresholds, but “market activity continues to rise, displayed by the sales-to-new listings ratio trending towards a sellers’ market and the accompanying stronger price growth,” the CMHC said.

In fact, the risks in the Toronto housing market remained moderate for the second quarter in a row, after being consistently classified as high risk for the previous three years. But Dugan cautioned that overheating and price increases remained a concern to watch for.

Earlier this week, the federal government said it is setting up a new benchmark interest rate for determining if people qualify for an insured mortgage using actual borrowing costs rather than advertised rates. Home buyers will need to qualify at the contract rate or a new benchmark based on 5-year fixed insured mortgage rates, plus 2 percentage points in both cases, the government said Tuesday. Those changes come into effect April 6.

Dugan said the corporation is aware of the possible impact of the federal government’s recent changes to mortgage stress tests and is watching the situation closely.

“It’s something that we’ll obviously monitor,” Dugan said. “The adjusted stress test for mortgages remains an important measure to ensure that Canadians, especially first-time home buyers, take on mortgages that they can afford.”

Markets in Quebec and Atlantic Canada were also considered low-risk, but the report said there was some froth on new construction in Montreal and Moncton.

The risk of a housing crash in the Prairies also remains low, CMHC said. Most markets in the three western provinces saw vacancy rates fall or stay flat, said Dugan, easing the regulator’s concerns about a possible oversupply of new construction.

“The rental market vacancy rates remain below critical thresholds,” Dugan said.

The only market in the west where CMHC kept its moderate risk assessment was Regina, where the vacancy rate for rental apartments is 7.8 per cent, a level which raised the CMHC’s concerns about oversupply.

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Police deliver injunction to demonstrators blocking rail tracks in Saint-Lambert – CTV News

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MONTREAL —
Police have served protesters blocking rail tracks south of Montreal, in St-Lambert, with an injunction demanding they dismantle their barricades.

CN police just before 7 p.m. on Thursday approached the barricades with a box full of paper, delivering copies of the injunction to the protesters. Officers said they would give the protesters time to read it. It was unclear as of Thursday evening if police would move in against them.

Longueuil Police had tweeted just before 7 p.m., warning motorists to stay away from the area to allow the demonstrators to leave. 

The protesters, however, showed no signs of leaving.

Canadian National earlier had obtained the injunction to end the blockade of its railway line in Saint-Lambert that had snarled commuter rail traffic to Mont-St-Hilaire and Via Rail service to Quebec City.

Quebec Premier François Legault had said that the barricade would be dismantled by municipal police on the South Shore when the injunction was issued. Longueuil police had asked for the Surete du Quebec’s assistance to remove the barricades, should officers attempt to intervene.

Early Thursday afternoon the protesters were reluctant to speak to the media, though some locals had engaged with them. “I support you, but it’s enough,” St-Lambert resident David Skitt told the protesters, urging them to get off the tracks. After his conversation, where he expressed his frustration with their methods, he shook hands with one of the demonstrators and left.

Temperatures overnight Thursday were predicted to dip as low as -16 C with a windchill of -22 C, according to Environment Canada. The demonstrators had lit a fire inside of a tent and asked their supporters for wood, supplies and blankets.

The blockade of the railway line by supporters of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs has delayed the planned resumption of Via Rail service between Montreal and Quebec City. Service on the busy corridor was set to resume Thursday, but Via Rail announced that the resumption has been postponed until at least the end of the day Friday. The new blockade gave Via Rail “no other option” to push back the resumption of service, the company said in a statement.

Service between Montreal and Ottawa is scheduled to resume Saturday. Service on the complete Windsor-Quebec City corridor is currently expected to resume Sunday.

On Wednesday, Via Rail announced that it was temporarily laying off some 1,000 employees due to the impact of blockades across the country.

Blockades of railway lines across the country have caused widespread passenger and cargo train delays and cancellations.

The blockades are being set up in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en First Nation of northern British Columbia, who are opposing the construction of a new pipeline through their territory.

– With reporting by The Canadian Press.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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