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The Columbia Journal
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June 2003

    BC Rail Sell-off Irks Union Workers

    A decision by CN to end talks to buy Ontario Northland Railway because the province demanded job guarantees should make British Columbians "deathly afraid" about a similar move by the B.C. government to private B.C. Rail, says union leader Jim Sinclair.

    "Any suggestion that a private company of any description is going to maintain employment levels in rural B.C. is absolutely ludicrous," said Sinclair, the president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, who is in Prince George tonight to host a conference on the province's economy. "At least the government of Ontario figured out they had some responsibility to the people who work and pay taxes in the province. This government hasn't figured that out yet."

    Sinclair noted a recent leaked government internal report suggested that CN would cut more than two-thirds of B.C. Rail's 1,800 employees if it took over. 

    Sinclair contended the 1,200 job cuts would kill $90 million in paycheques, many of those outside the Lower Mainland, noting there are more than 400 B.C. Rail jobs in Prince George alone. (The internal document pegged the savings from the job cuts at $71 million).

    "You're going to sign a contract for up to 80 years, there's no guarantee that those jobs will be there then, let alone in 12 months," said Sinclair.

    The B.C. government has said it needs to find a private company to operate B.C. Rail because it's suffering under a mountain of debt and not providing adequate service. Its energy plan -- which includes the break-up of B.C. Hydro -- is meant to increase energy production and create jobs in the province.

    Prince George North Liberal MLA Pat Bell said recently the proposal to find a private company to operate B.C. Rail in a long-term lease "clearly dictates" massive layoffs will not be supported.

    Paul Nettleton, Independent MLA for Prince George-Omineca, renewed his call for the government to amend the request for proposals to include job guarantees.

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