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Via trains at standstill as talks to end blockades get rolling – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Trains aren’t moving but rhetoric is being rolled out as the anti-pipeline protests that have derailed vital freight movement in eastern Ontario and passenger rail travel across Canada continue.

Meetings are scheduled between Indigenous leaders and federal ministers who are looking to negotiate an end to the rail blockades in Ontario, Quebec and B.C., while premiers and opposition leaders are calling for immediate action to end the disruptions, which have already seen dozens of arrests.

The protests began last week after the RCMP enforced a court injunction against Indigenous leaders and their supporters who had been halting construction of the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline project, a major piece of a $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project on the B.C. coast, that crosses the traditional territories of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Indigenous leaders in B.C.’s northwest have invited federal and B.C. politicians to meetings, while following through on a promise to ensure a blockade of CN Rail tracks near New Hazelton, B.C. would come down during talks.

The blockade had been in place since Saturday, preventing shipments to the Port of Prince Rupert. But Indigenous leaders have warned the blockade could go back up if the province doesn’t agree to cancel Coastal GasLink’s pipeline permit during the scheduled talks.

Demonstrators who are blocking tracks near Belleville, Ont., a critical corridor linking Montreal and Ottawa with Toronto, say they’re standing with those opposed to the pipeline.

A court injunction sought by Canadian National Railway has been granted in Ontario that gives the OPP authority to clear the protesters, but as yet no enforcement action has been taken.

CN said Thursday it was starting a progressive shutdown in its eastern freight network due to the blockade, while Via Rail cancelled all service on CN tracks in Canada.

Only two northern Via routes – Sudbury-White River and Churchill-The Pas – will remain open.

In addition to being a major inconvenience to passengers, the disruptions will cause a huge economic hit. The shutdown by CN is largely seen as a move to pressure Ottawa to take action.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the rule of law must be followed and federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau says the blockades are “illegal,” the federal government has largely taken a hands-off approach, saying enforcing injunctions against protesters is a provincial responsibility.

But Trudeau is increasingly coming under fire to take action as trains sit idle.

In Munich to lobby for a seat on the UN Security Council Friday, the prime minister told reporters that his government is “fully seized” and taking a “whole of government approach” to this issue and is doing all it can to ensure the rule of law is upheld.

“Canadians are worried and we will stay engaged on this issue,” he said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer came out swinging Friday morning, saying Trudeau must order the RCMP to enforce the rule of law where they have jurisdiction and clear the protesters he says are threatening thousands of jobs.

“These protesters, these activists, may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade but they need to check their privilege. They need to check their privilege and let people whose jobs depend on the railway business, small businesses and farmers do their jobs.”

He accused Trudeau of refusing to call the protests illegal and allowing a small number of activists to hold the economy hostage while being overseas “on a vanity project” to win a UN vote.

If the rule of law is not enforced, said Scheer, the Liberals will be “setting a dangerous precedent that a small few can have a devastating impact on the lives of countless Canadians.”

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is demanding that Ottawa provide clarity on future resource development applications, saying the rail blockades show there needs to be a better process.

Pallister made the remarks after an anti-pipeline blockade of a major rail line west of Winnipeg came down. Activists have promised that more protests are coming.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has said it is up to Trudeau to solve the problem.

“One thing is clear: the path to resolution of this issue is through dialogue and seeking to build consensus,” said Garneau during a press conference in Toronto Friday morning.

Garneau says that approach has worked in New Hazelton and he’s optimistic it can lead to resolutions in Quebec and Ontario.

Garneau says the federal government has been in constant talks with rail operators, business leaders and Indigenous protesters and is “committed to working on these matters in a manner consistent with its broader commitments to reconciliation. We also are a country that is a proud democracy that believes in the rule of law.”

There are signs the protests are intensifying.

The B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction Thursday that authorizes police to arrest and remove people participating in any further blockades at the legislature building in Victoria. Those protests have spread to other government buildings in the city.

Hundreds of people marched in an anti-pipeline protest late Thursday afternoon through downtown Saskatoon and as the New Hazelton blockade was coming down, another was going up near the Pitt River bridge in Coquitlam. As a result, B.C.’s TransLink announced Friday morning that the West Coast Express service will not run, and will be replaced by buses.

As the turmoil continues, TC Energy, which is building the $6.2-billion pipeline that will take liquefied natural gas from northeastern B.C. to an export terminal now under construction in Kitimat, is proceeding with work at more than 30 sites.

The economic impact of the rail disruption has yet to be fully felt.

CN says the halt may lead to temporary layoffs for eastern Canadian staff and the Teamsters Union, which represents 16,000 works in the rail industry, warns that 6,000 works could be affected.

CN moves more than $300 billion a year in goods, much of that to the U.S., says Garneau, making it a significant trade issue. It won’t take long for the shutdown to affect a variety of key products, he said, including propane, jet fuel and de-icing chemicals, chlorine for drinking water, agricultural exports, and aluminum and lumber needed in the construction industry.

As the turmoil continues, TC Energy, which is building the $6.2-billion pipeline that will take liquefied natural gas from northeastern B.C. to an export terminal now under construction in Kitimat, is proceeding with work at more than 30 sites.

The economic impact of the rail disruption has yet to be fully felt.

CN says the halt may lead to temporary layoffs for eastern Canadian staff and the Teamsters Union, which represents 16,000 works in the rail industry, warns that 6,000 works could be affected.

CN moves more than $300 billion a year in goods, much of that to the U.S., says Garneau, making it a significant trade issue. It won’t take long for the shutdown to affect a variety of key products, he said, including propane, jet fuel and de-icing chemicals, chlorine for drinking water, agricultural exports, and aluminum and lumber needed in the construction industry.

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Oil prices fall as market weighs coronavirus demand impact – CNBC

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Oil pumpjacks in silhouette at sunset.

Oil prices fell on Tuesday, tracking losses in financial markets on lingering concerns over the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak in China and its effect on oil demand.

Brent crude was at $57.07 a barrel, down 60 cents, or 1%, by 0348 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 38 cents, or 0.7%, to $51.67 a barrel.

“Oil prices remain heavy as energy traders may have been overly optimistic as to the crude demand impact of the coronavirus, and in fading optimism that OPEC + will come through with deeper production cuts in March,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA.

“Optimism that China would see a return to normalcy in travel and trade next quarter was probably wrong… The rest of world is exercising caution on virus spreading fears and that will do no favors for crude’s demand outlook.”

U.S. stock futures slipped from record levels on Tuesday after Apple Inc, the most valuable company in the United States, said it will not meet its revenue guidance for the March quarter as the coronavirus outbreak slowed production and weakened demand in China. 

The number of new coronavirus infections in mainland China fell below 2,000 on Tuesday for the first time since January, Chinese health officials said, although global experts warn it is too early to say the outbreak is being contained. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said last week the virus was set to cause oil demand to fall by 435,000 barrels per day (bpd) year-on-year in the first quarter, in what would be the first quarterly drop since the financial crisis in 2009.

Still, with some Chinese independent refineries snapping up crude supplies after being absent from the market for weeks, traders held out hopes that China’s demand could recover in coming months. 

Investors are also anticipating that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, including Russia, will approve a proposal to deepen production cuts to tighten global supplies and support prices.

The group, known as OPEC+, has an agreement to cut oil output by 1.7 million bpd until the end of March.

Oil output from Libya has fallen sharply since Jan. 18 because of a blockade of ports and oil fields by groups loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar.

Libya’s national oil corporation, NOC, said on Monday that oil production was at 135,745 barrels per day as of Monday, compared with 1.2 million bpd before the stoppage.

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Pier 1 Imports closing all Canadian stores as it files for bankruptcy protection – Global News

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Home goods retailer Pier 1 Imports Inc. says it has filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States and plans to close all Canadian stores as part of its restructuring process.

The Texas-based company has been struggling with increased competition from budget-friendly online retailers such as Wayfair.

Pier 1 says it will pursue a sale, with a March 23 deadline to submit bids.

The company last month announced it would close 450 stores, including all its Canadian locations.

A Pier 1 Imports furniture and home furnishings store in Laval, Que. on Feb. 22, 2018.

A Pier 1 Imports furniture and home furnishings store in Laval, Que. on Feb. 22, 2018.


Mario Beauregard / The Canadian Press

Pier 1’s Canadian website now directs customers to a short statement announcing the closures and thanks them for their loyalty.

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The company is also commencing creditor protection proceedings in Canada.

Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP are serving as Canadian legal advisers.

In a statement Monday, the company said it will continue to shutter stores as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. The company, which was founded in 1962, is also closing two distribution centres.


READ MORE:
Wayfair employees plan walkout after company sells beds to migrant detention centres: reports

A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In the meantime, Pier 1 said lenders have committed approximately $256 million in debtor-in-possession financing so it can continue its operations during the Chapter 11 proceedings.

“Today’s actions are intended to provide Pier 1 with additional time and financial flexibility as we now work to unlock additional value for our stakeholders through a sale of the company,” Pier 1 CEO and Chief Financial Officer Robert Riesbeck said in a statement. Riesbeck, an executive with previous corporate turnarounds, joined Pier 1 last summer.

Pier 1’s sales fell 13 per cent to $358 million in its most recent quarter, which ended Nov. 30. It reported a net loss of $59 million for the quarter as it struggled to draw customers to its stores. Pier 1 has been trying to declutter its stores, improve online sales and draw in younger customers.

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Pier 1’s shares have fallen 45 per cent since the start of the year. They closed at $3.58 per share on Friday.

— With files from The Associated Press. 

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Bombardier to sell train unit to France’s Alstom, shedding biggest division – Toronto Star

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MONTREAL— Bombardier, the supplier of Toronto’s signature streetcars and subways, has reached a US$8.2-billion deal to sell its rail business to French train giant Alstom SA. Both the TTC and Metrolinx say the sale won’t immediately impact their operations.

The company is narrowing its focus to commit itself solely to business jets while casting off its largest division, in part to help pay down US$9.3 billion in debt.

“Going forward, we will focus all our capital, energy and resources on accelerating growth and driving margin expansion in our market-leading US$7 billion business aircraft franchise,” CEO Alain Bellemare said in a statement Monday.

The news comes only weeks after the TTC took delivery of the last of 204 new Bombardier streetcars. All the maintenance of those vehicles is done in-house at the TTC, said transit spokesperson Stuart Green.

The $1.25 billion streetcar order was believed to be the biggest in the world when it was announced in 2009. But the 11 intervening years were an especially problematic chapter in the city’s long transit history with Bombardier.

The first two cars arrived in Toronto in 2014. But a series of manufacturing defects and missed delivery targets caused tempers to flare at the TTC and city hall. At one point the first 67 streetcars had to be recalled and repaired. Meantime, the TTC was desperately trying to extend the life of its old CLRV streetcars and run buses to supplement service on routes that desperately needed the new, bigger vehicles.

Toronto’s newest subways, the $1 billion Toronto Rockets, were also made by Bombardier. Ordered in 2006, they proved controversial for former Toronto Mayor David Miller, who defended the sole-source contract because it supported jobs at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant. The subways arrived late due to the bankruptcy of Bombardier’s New York door manufacturer but entered service in 2011.

Metrolinx said that “initial indications from Bombardier suggest it is business as usual,” with its order for Bombardier light rail vehicles for the Eglinton Crosstown, GO buses and the operation of GO and Union-Pearson Express trains. Most of GO’s locomotives are built by U.S.-based MotivePower.

The Finch West and Hurontario light rail lines are being furnished by Alstom, said spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins.

“We look forward to continuing with all of our rail delivery partners to bring better transit to the region,” she said.

Toronto transit historian Ed Levy said the sale of Bombardier’s train division is the end of an era that was for decades a happy match between the city and the company.

“They really screwed up on the streetcar thing but not on the very large orders of the subway cars over the years. When they started doing off-shore stuff that’s where their problems began,” he said.

The acquisition also signals an effort by Alstom to scale up amid rising competition from China’s state-owned CRRC, the world’s largest train maker.

The transaction will see the Caisse de depot et placement, which owns a 32.5 per cent stake in Bombardier’s train division, become Alstom’s largest shareholder.

The deal converts the Quebec pension giant’s investment in Bombardier Transportation into Alstom shares, handing the Caisse about 18 per cent of the Paris-based company with an investment of up to $4 billion, depending on closing conditions. The transaction includes an additional Caisse investment of $1 billion.

Bombardier said net proceeds from the deal will be between US$4.2 billion and US$4.5 billion after deducting the Caisse’s equity position of roughly US$2.2 billion, as well as adjustments for debts and other liabilities.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2021 if it can move through regulatory hurdles.

Alstom’s purchase is expected to come under intense scrutiny from antitrust regulators in the European Union. Last year, EU authorities blocked a proposed merger between Alstom and the train division of German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG, arguing the proposed tie-up would result in higher price tags on signalling systems and bullet trains.

Montreal-based Bombardier has sold several divisions since Bellemare took the helm in 2015, including its turboprop and aerostructure segments as well as its commercial airline unit, once touted as the company’s crown jewel.

Bombardier announced last month it was working to reduce debt and pursuing strategic options, which analysts and other observers suggested could include the sale of the company’s rail or business jet units.

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Bombardier shares have fallen about 70 per cent since July 2018 while Alstom’s have risen by more than 50 per cent over the past two years, including 3.5 per cent Monday.

The announcement was made after the Paris Stock Exchange closed Monday. The Toronto Stock Exchange was closed for Family Day.

The new deal and other recent transactions will leave Bombardier with between US$6.5 and US$7 billion of cash on hand, “putting the company on a brand-new footing” to deal with its sizable debt, Bellemare said.

The company has already ramped up production of high-margin business jets, which it expects will drive double-digit revenue growth with 160 unit sales in 2020 amid a $16.3-billion backlog. But delays and “some volatility” continue to plague several “large, challenging” rail contracts, Bellemare said last Thursday.

While its business jets are now at full production, analysts highlight the cyclical luxury market of private planes in comparison to the relatively stable field of rail car and network construction, which is fuelled by government infrastructure projects.

Nonetheless, hefty production costs and lower margins remain an issue in the rail business, said Jacques Roy, professor of transport management at HEC Montreal business school.

“You can see the fixed costs increasing all the time, because they pretty much have to establish facilities everywhere they sell equipment,” Roy said, pointing to Bombardier’s plant in Plattsburgh, N.Y., which makes trains for U.S. clients.

“If they were a little bit better at this they would be able to compete with the Chinese. They could brag that, ‘Okay, we’re not as cheap as the Chinese, but we produce much better quality, we deliver on time.’ But they don’t. That’s a concern to me,” he said.

The rail and business jet divisions represent Bombardier’s only remaining revenue streams — about 53 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively, of $15.76 billion in revenue last year — after Bombardier sold its waterbomber unit, Q400 turboprop business, CRJ regional jet program and flight-training enterprise over the past four years.

And last week, Bombardier announced the sale of its remaining stake in the A220 commercial jetliner program — formerly known as the C Series — as it reported quarterly results last Thursday, marking the end of its failed bid to take on the commercial aircraft duopoly of Airbus SE and Boeing Co.

Bombardier, founded in Valcourt, Que., in 1942 as a snowmobile manufacturer, now stares down a US$9.32-billion debt load — nearly 60 per cent of it due within five years.

The rail business, Bombardier Transportation, is based in Berlin. In Canada, it employs some 1,000 workers at factories in Quebec’s Bas-St-Laurent region and in St-Bruno-de-Montarville, on Montreal’s South Shore.

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