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CN Rail shuts eastern network down; Via halts passenger service – BNNBloomberg.ca

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Blockades set up by anti-pipeline protesters have forced Canadian National Railway Co. to shut down its entire network in Eastern Canada and Via Rail to cancel passenger service across the country.

CN said Thursday that the company must initiate a “disciplined and progressive” shutdown in the East and stop and safely secure all transcontinental trains across its Canadian network.

Via Rail said it has no other option but to cancel all service on CN track in Canada. There were no more departures as of 4 p.m. eastern and all trains en route were brought to the closest major train station.

“We understand the impact this unfortunate situation has on our passengers and regret the significant inconvenience this is causing to their travel plans,” Via said in a news release.

Protesters across Canada say they’re acting in solidarity with those opposed to the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would cross the traditional territories of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northern B.C.

CN said its shutdown may lead to temporary layoffs for eastern Canadian staff.

It has sought and obtained court orders and requested the assistance of enforcement agencies for blockades in three provinces, but while blockades have been dismantled in Manitoba and may be ending imminently in B.C., a court order in Ontario has yet to be enforced.

More than 400 trains have been cancelled over the last week, said JJ Ruest, CN’s president and chief executive officer, in a news release.

“This situation is regrettable for its impact on the economy and on our railroaders as these protests are unrelated to CN’s activities, and 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.”

He said while Via service will be discontinued across CN’s network, commuter rail services such as Metrolinx and Exo can keep operating as long as they do so safely.

Railway shippers called on the prime minister to “act decisively” to prevent a complete shutdown of Canada’s rail system.

Delays caused by the blockades will have immediate, unintended consequences for farmers across the country, said Grain Growers of Canada chairman Jeff Nielsen.

“We are an industry that relies on export markets in order to survive and thrive. Without access to these markets via rail, we risk compounding further losses on top of what has already been a harvest from hell,” he said in a news release.

Canada’s forest products sector is responsible for 10 per cent of total tonnage moved along the country’s railway lines.

“Some companies are now in a position that they can’t guarantee delivery dates to customers – a massive business risk and a dark cloud over Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner,” said Derek Nighbor, president and CEO of Forest Products Association of Canada.

Teamsters Canada, the country’s largest union in the transportation sector, also called on the federal government to intervene.

“Hundreds of our members have been out of work close to week. Now up to 6,000 of our members risk not being able to support their families or make ends meet this month, and they are powerless to do anything about it,” said National President Francois Laporte.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The B.C. and Alberta chambers of commerce, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and Fertilizer Canada also said the blockades are devastating the economy.

The blockades began last week after RCMP enforced an injunction against Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who were blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a key part of the $40-billion LNG Canada export project.

Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route. However, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs assert title to a vast 22,000-square-kilometre area and say band councils only have authority over reserve lands.

Passengers dealing with cancelled Via Rail trains at Toronto’s Union Station were disappointed but calm on Thursday evening. Ethan Sun and Angi Xhang, a Toronto-based couple, were headed to Montreal for a Valentine’s Day getaway. That route has been down for days, unbeknownst to them.

“We’re obviously very frustrated and disappointed, because we have our entire trip planned and we’re very excited for it, and it’s a long weekend,” said Xhang.

The federal and provincial governments worked Thursday to set up meetings with Indigenous leaders in an effort to halt the blockades.

B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett are set to meet with Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to discuss a blockade near New Hazelton, B.C.

Gitxsan hereditary chief Norm Stephens said the blockade will be dismantled during the talks but if the province doesn’t agree to cancel Coastal GasLink’s permit then it may go back up.

“They got that permit by consulting with the band council. They have no authority on the hereditary chiefs’ land,” he said.

Marc Miller, the federal Indigenous services minister, sent a letter to three Indigenous leaders requesting a meeting to halt a blockade near Belleville, Ont.

“As you well know, this is a highly volatile situation and the safety of all involved is of the utmost importance to me,” Miller said.

Tyendinaga Mohawk Chief Donald Maracle, one of the three recipients, said he expects the meeting will proceed but he can’t comment on the blockade because it wasn’t initiated by his council.

In Manitoba, protesters dismantled a blockade on an east-west CN Rail line near Winnipeg due to a court injunction but insisted that there would be more action to come.

Protesters in B.C. planned mass demonstrations at numerous government buildings on Friday, days after hundreds blocked the entrances to the B.C. legislature and chanted “Shame.”

However, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted the province an injunction on Thursday afternoon authorizing police to arrest and remove anyone blocking entrances at the legislature.

TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transit authority, also said all West Coast Express commuter trains heading eastbound from downtown Vancouver to Mission were cancelled due to protesters blocking Canadian Pacific tracks.

– With files from Chris Purdy in Edmonton, Ross Marowits in Montreal, Nicole Thompson in Toronto, David Reevely in Ottawa, Camille Bains in Vancouver and Dirk Meissner in Victoria.

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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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