by Norm Richards
There was a powerful reason to have a third major sea port in Canada as long as it made economic sense to have one. Churchill, Manitoba made just as much sense as Vancouver, the lakehead and the east coast for foreign market shipments. Maybe it still does. We are a resource based country and bulk shipments need access to world markets. Two things need to be in place to reach these markets. Demand has to exist and transportation has to be in place to reach the markets. This was all well and good when western grain was shipped to port by rail to Churchill. Governments took part to support price and protect farmers through subsidies. Through the past two decades government has taken a less active part in certain parts of the economy namely rail transportation and grain subsidies. This reduced the responsibility of the federal government to be active in this part of the economy. However, if it made sense elsewhere to sell public enterprise off to private interests, it certainly doesn’t prove wise here in Manitoba.
In the case of the rail service to Churchill, the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR) was sold to OmniTrax. Contracts were put in place to assure service continued to the north and the rails would be improved and maintained. The Manitoba government and federal government paid cash up front to assure the rail line is improved and maintained. It appears the track improvements were never carried out. Reports show maintainance equipment was even removed from the company’s base at The Pas, Manitoba. It seems to me that if a contract exists, the courts will order the terms of the contract be fulfilled.
The most recent media report shows OmniTrax are ignoring the existence of the original contract by arguing publicly they are not libel for various reasons including they would rather sell the problem they now find themselves stuck with. I ask, how can you expect to sell a pig in a poke without making the item for sale attractive? The governments involved should stop making threats immediately and take action. Seek remedy in the courts for the public’s money invested in which right now appears one of the worst deals they could have ever made with a private company on what appears to have been a high risk venture to begin with, all moral considerations aside. This is not about delivering groceries cheaper to Churchill. There is more at stake. Northern rail transportation and port resumption deserves a second chance even if it appears to be an impossible task at the moment. After all, national pride and jurisprudence deserves better treatment as far as I can tell.