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A strike at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (CP-T), Canada's second biggest railway, will continue at least into Friday as the result of a decision by the Liberal opposition to delay passage of back-to-work legislation.
The House of Commons passed the Conservative government bill in the early hours of Wednesday, and Labour Minister Lisa Raitt had said she hoped the trains would be able to start rolling on Thursday.
That will not happen now, because the Liberals are preventing the Senate from taking the bill up immediately.
"We're not sure how long they want to delay it, but it appears that they do not want to deal with it today," the government leader in the Senate, Marjory LeBreton said.
Liberal spokesman Marc Roy confirmed Liberal Senate leader James Cowan would not let the Senate handle it right away.
Because of the Conservative majority in the Senate, its passage is eventually assured, but opposition senators must agree to waive normal rules if it is to be fast-tracked.
Canada's two main opposition parties, the New Democrats and the Liberals, have criticized Ottawa for repeatedly stepping in to halt strikes, arguing that this tramples on workers' rights. The Conservatives argue that their action is needed to protect a fragile economy still emerging from recession.
CP's freight operations across Canada have been halted for a week after 4,800 unionized locomotive engineers, conductors and rail controllers walked off the job on May 23 over the company's plan to cut pension payments in their new labor contract.
CP's customers, including automakers, grain groups and miners whose products are stranded in warehouses, silos or on the railroad's tracks, have urged the government to end the strike.
The government did not need much prodding. Raitt has said a strike at CP would cost C$540 million ($525 million) in economic activity each week.
The Liberals will let debate begin on Thursday in the Senate. If it passes the bill later that day, it still will not be till Friday that the workers will be required to return to work, since the provisions of the bill only take effect 12 hours after it becomes law.
And it was not even certain it would pass on Thursday. Asked if Liberal Senate leader Cowan would let the bill pass in one day, once debate starts, Roy said: "He's not going to say before a bill is even received in the Senate."
LeBreton said the Liberals would be breaking with the tradition of allowing rush legislation to go through the Senate within a day of passing the House.
"If the Liberals decide that they're not going to honor this tradition, they can answer to the Canadian public about the loss to the economy," LeBreton told reporters in Parliament.
Roy challenged the idea that the Liberals were delaying the bill, since formal rules provide for bills to be taken up only two days after passing the House, and they were allowing this to be shortened to one day.
The striking Teamsters workers have been without a contract since December 31, 2011. The main disagreement is over CP demands to cut back on pension costs.
The strike comes at a difficult time for CP, whose chief executive and chairman quit less than two weeks ago after losing a boardroom dust-up with the company's largest shareholder.
The shareholder, Pershing Square Capital Management, has vowed to improve CP's operating performance, which is the weakest in the industry.