The way in which Via Rail handles its communication around the blockades set up by anti-pipeline protesters will be pivotal to the company’s brand, according to one public relations expert.

“[Via Rail] has not had enough to say under these circumstances,” Bob Pickard, managing partner at National Public Relations, told BNN Bloomberg in a television interview Friday.

“This is a big, pervasive, system-wide issue that affects many thousands of Canadians.”

Pickard said even though the company does not control the use of rail infrastructure and cannot influence the protests, Via Rail Chief Executive Officer Cynthia Garneau should communicate her point of view on the situation, let people know what to expect and reassure customers that operations will be back to normal in the future.    

Pickard’s comments come one day after Via Rail said it would cancel passenger services on all but two of its routes as the blockades, which have been set up by protesters opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia, continue. Via’s move was triggered by Canadian National Railway Co.’s decision to start shutting down its entire network in Eastern Canada late Thursday.

A growing chorus of top Canadian executives have spoken out on the issue, warning of the potential economic and business repercussions. Earlier this week, Cenovus Energy Inc. CEO Alex Pourbaix told BNN Bloomberg the protests were “ridiculous behaviour,” and the head of Magna International Inc., Don Walker, warned of the risk to competitiveness and said the protests are “a good case of insanity.”  

“Right now, there’s this information vacuum that’s being filled by critics that don’t know what the future holds,” Pickard said.

“This is a brand-defining moment for [Via],” he added. “They need to rise to the challenge and communicate fluently, continuously, and sincerely.”