The Hamilton Spectator

CN can benefit Canada more as a public company


If railways are so strategica­lly vital to the economy that the federal government is encouraged to use “every tool at their disposal” to prevent a strike, then the time has come to renational­ize Canadian National.

From 1919 to 1995, CN was publicly owned for the simple reason that a national railway network was so strategica­lly important to the nation’s economy it simply could not be left in the hands of the private sector. Railways are no less vital today, and the climate emergency will only make them that much more valuable.

An important threshold has been crossed when the workers of a given industry or service are considered so essential they are legally prohibited from exercising the essential right to strike. Railroad workers are not normally considered to be as essential as nurses, for example, but the rail industry and its allies habitually insinuate an economic catastroph­e would occur should railroad workers ever go on strike.

Government­s, both Liberal and Conservati­ve, have demonstrat­ed ample disregard for workers’ rights, either using or threatenin­g backto-work legislatio­n several times in recent years. This situation is evidently untenable: if merely suggesting a strike sends politician­s and retail lobbyists into a frenzy, then railroad workers are indeed an essential workforce and railways ought to be a public asset.

In the United States, the self-described “friend of organized labour,” career politician President Joe Biden, used his executive powers to block a planned strike last December that was similarly characteri­zed as having the potential to cause an economic catastroph­e. While the media over-focused on the quality of life aspect of the aborted strike, endemic, industrywi­de dangerous working conditions were largely under-reported. Trains are longer and heavier, with smaller, overworked crews.

Railway profits have soared because corporate bosses have cut workforces to the bone, and have used their influence to gut safety and environmen­tal regulation­s.

On Feb. 3, a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. To ensure the railway could resume operations (and maintain its profitabil­ity) as soon as possible, Gov. Mike DeWine allowed Norfolk Southern to burn off the dangerous chemicals carried by the train. The end result was an environmen­tal disaster of unpreceden­ted proportion­s. DeWine received $29,000 (U.S.) in campaign donations from Norfolk Southern, which is refusing to compensate homeowners for their now worthless properties.

In the blink of an eye, another small part of the U.S. has been made unlivable thanks to the rapacious greed of the corporate class.

The East Palestine disaster should not be Canada’s wake-up call — that happened a decade ago when the downtown of Lac Mégantic, Que., was wiped off the face of the Earth. There has been almost no improvemen­t to rail safety in Canada since.

Renational­izing CN solves these problems. As a corporatio­n serving the public interest, it could be mandated to follow the strictest environmen­tal and safety protocols — potentiall­y setting a new industrywi­de standard for the entire continent. The same could occur with working conditions, compensati­on and benefits. A public corporatio­n aims to benefit taxpayers, not shareholde­rs.

CN has done well for its shareholde­rs, but in its privatizat­ion it also abandoned thousands of kilometres of railway across Canada (abandoning some provinces entirely) and shed tens of thousands of jobs. It has not enjoyed the best reputation as an employer, but most importantl­y, it no longer works for Canada. It would certainly be a lot easier (and cheaper) to develop both high-speed and highfreque­ncy passenger rail service throughout Canada if the federal government had access to CN’s expansive railway infrastruc­ture.

CN was better for Canada as a public corporatio­n. In its private form, it has primarily been beneficial to Bill Gates (CN’s largest shareholde­r). Railways are indeed too critically important to the nation’s economy and too potentiall­y devastatin­g in case of a disaster to be left in the hands of the profitdriv­en private sector.

 ?? JOHN RENNISON TORSTAR FILE PHOTO ?? Taylor C. Noakes argues that Canadian National should be renational­ized in order to maximize its benefit to Canadians, not just private shareholde­rs.
JOHN RENNISON TORSTAR FILE PHOTO Taylor C. Noakes argues that Canadian National should be renational­ized in order to maximize its benefit to Canadians, not just private shareholde­rs.

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