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The port strike in British Columbia, which has shuttered two of Canada’s top three maritime gateways, could be hurtling toward a rapid solution.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) were yesterday given a draft resolution from a federal mediator after Canada’s labour minister had declared that the two sides were not far enough apart to justify a prolonged work stoppage.

The parties were given 24 hours to decide whether or not to ratify the proposal in principle.

The ILWU has been on strike since 1 July, which has stopped operations at 30 ports in British Columbia, including Vancouver and Prince Rupert, respectively the largest and third-largest maritime gateways of Canada.

The union called the strike in late June as negotiations with the BCMEA for a new labour contract failed to reach a compromise.

Since the strike began there have been two mediated negotiating sessions, the last of which took place on Monday, after which both sides blamed each other for the failure to come to an agreement.

The BCMEA and a host of business organisations have called on the federal government to intervene and impose binding arbitration, warning of grave repercussions for the Canadian economy if the strike were to continue. According to the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters lobby group, the impact from the stoppage on trade amounts to C$500m (US$379m) a day.

Ocean carriers have diverted vessels headed for Vancouver to the port complex of Seattle and Tacoma. According to a customer update from Maersk yesterday, Canadian National has removed all loaded and empty capacity to western Canadian ports from its inland terminals and cancelled reservations for theshipments. Terminals of CPKC Rail are not loading traffic to the port of Vancouver.

On Tuesday Canada’s largest fertiliser producer announced it was cutting production because of the strike.

Ottawa has resisted calls for back-to-work legislation, reiterating its position that the best deals are struck at the negotiating table. However, labour minister Seamus O’Regan sprang into action on Tuesday, appointing and asking the senior federal mediator to submit a written proposal of settlement terms within 24 hours.

He notified both parties of this decision in a letter on Tuesday afternoon. The BCMEA acknowledged receipt of the letter, but the ILWU has not responded.

The draft resolution was submitted to the minister yesterday morning and handed to the ILWU and BCMEA with a 24-hour deadline “to review and communicate their willingness to recommend the terms for ratification to their respective members”.

They are due to give their responses by 10:30 am today.

Mr O’Regan stressed he was not forcing a settlement on the adversaries, but called the initiative a “forceful nudge over the finish line”.

Many business owners will be hoping that the labour and employer organisations share his assessment.

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