CN Rail Cuts Access To Small Businesses: Bill Gates Is The Major Shareholder

Jan 29 2014, 10:52pm CST | by

In Northern Ontario, a railway runs from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Hearst, Ontario.  This rail line serves a number of small business owners and they rely on the railway for access.  The Government of Canada has decided to cut this particular CN Rail line (CNI) and a vital business link could be lost.

In an article, “Feds cut funding.  Rail service from Sault to Hearst cancelled” at SooToday.com by Donna Hopper, it’s noted how this will have a ‘devastating’ impact on tourism and property owners:

Algoma Central Railway passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst will cease to exist as of Monday, March 31, 2014.

There are a number of properties, including private cottages, hunting and fishing lodges and other tourist destinations, along that stretch that can only be accessed by rail.

According to the Northern Ontario Business, in the article ‘CN to cut passenger service to Hearst’, they explain that it was a decision that came from the Canadian government.  The article states:

The rail carrier blames Ottawa for cutting a subsidy needed to keep the service operating. The service will no longer operate after March 30.

“This financial support is essential to CN’s operation of the line,” said a CN statement.

In a follow-up article, “Politicos wade in on CN passenger service cut” at the Northern Ontario Business, Member of Parliament (MP) Carol Hughes mentions how it will hurt cottage owners and small businesses:

These are Mom and Pop businesses who don’t know how they will get their guests to the remote locations they operate in without the ACR passenger service,” said Hughes. “It is a case of the government missing the big picture while they count pennies.

In a news release by MP Bryan Hayes, he blamed CN Rail for the decision.  According to the release:

The decision to discontinue federal funding for this service was based on the fact that it is not cost-effective for the Government of Canada to fund passenger railway services to communities that have year-round access to the national transportation system through other means, such as highways, as all official stops along the ACR route have year round road access,” said MP Hayes. “It was CN`s choice to determine their response to this funding cut, and unfortunately they have chosen to cancel the ACR – a drastic measure that is being met with strong opposition by stakeholders.

I contacted CN Rail for a comment, and they reinforced the idea that it came from the Government of Canada:

I can inform you that the termination of the passenger train is due to a decision by the Government of Canada to eliminate the subsidy that paid for the operation of that particular passenger train.

To make things a bit more interesting, Bill Gates is essentially the primary shareholder of CN Rail.  According to FactSet, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the 9th largest insider and they hold 17,126,874 shares of CNI.  That represents an ownership of 2% and it takes up 4% of their portfolio.  The largest shareholder of CNI is Cascade Investment and with 86,324,874 shares (worth about $4.5 billion) they hold 10% ownership of the stock.  That holding is the largest holding at Cascade Investments and it represents 22% of their portfolio.  As Cascade is controlled by Bill Gates, then Bill Gates is essentially the largest shareholder of CNI.

Oddly enough, although CNI is a publicly traded company, I’ll note that MP Bryan Hayes seems to view CNI as a private company.  I find it odd that a Member of Parliament views a public company as a private company.  In his news release it states:

Bryan Hayes, MP for Sault Ste. Marie and area is asking Canada National Rail (CN Rail), a private company with rail freight revenues

Last September, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, and Bill Gates met to discuss some ‘productive partnerships’ between Canada and the Gates Foundation.  According to the Prime Minister’s website:

The meeting provided an excellent opportunity to take stock of the productive partnership that exists between the Government of Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as to discuss future collaboration.

Although I find no mention that CN Rail was spoken about at their meeting, I can’t help but wonder:

As CN Rail / The Government of Canada (depending on who you blame) is cutting off a vital railway for small businesses and cottage owners, is this what the Prime Minister of Canada meant by ‘future collaboration’ and a ‘productive partnership’ with Bill Gates?

For a sense of national pride (I am Canadian), I must ask this question:  How do Canadians feel about some small businesses in Canada losing access to a vital transportation link?  And how do those Canadians feel when they find out that one of the wealthiest Americans is the #1 shareholder of the company that provides that link?  Perhaps, Bill Gates could help the small businesses in Northern Ontario and explore the ‘productive partnership’ that he had with Prime Minister Harper.

I tried reaching out to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  They did not respond.

Kai Petainen‘s views on the market and stocks are his alone, and do not reflect the views of the Ross School of Business or the University of Michigan.  Kai teaches a class on quant screening, F334 — Applied Quant/Value Portfolio Management, at the Ross School of Business. Kai is a MFolio master at Marketocracy, and is featured in Matthew Schifrin’s book, “The Warren Buffetts Next Door“.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 
 

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