Churchill-Keewatinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton brought up the Port of Churchill during question period in the House of Commons Nov. 23, asking when the Liberal government would put the concerns of ordinary Canadians at the top of their agenda.
“We keep seeing how this government puts a priority on their Bay Street friends instead of everyday Canadians,” said Ashton. “We have a minister who won’t stand up to the billionaire to whom the Liberals sold the Port of Churchill and a prime minister who’s busy going to cash-for-access fundraisers and yet hasn’t visited Churchill or the Arctic since the election. Manitoba municipalities are calling for federal action to reopen the port in 2017 so when will the Liberals stop catering to their billionaire friends and stand up for Canada by saving the Port of Churchill.”
Denver-based OmniTrax, which bought the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Railway in Northern Manitoba in 1997 announced in July that no grain would be shipped out of Churchill this shipping season, resulting in layoffs and job losses equivalent to about 10 per cent of the Hudson Bay port town’s population.
“When this issue came to fruition, I reached out to her and her office and she was very reluctant to get involved so we took leadership,” replied Liberal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains. “I had the opportunity to work with my colleagues from Manitoba who’ve shown leadership on this file. That is why we invested $4.6 million in Churchill. That is why I personally went to Churchill and met with the Northern Delegation. We’re committed to finding a solution, we’re committed to creating jobs, Mr. Speaker and that funding will help with Arctic research, that funding will help with tourism, that funding will help the community. Mr. Speaker, that’s leadership.”
The federal government announced $4.6 million for economic development projects in the Churchill region Sept. 30 but did not commit to nationalizing the community’s port. Bains, whose portfolio includes Western Economic Diversification Canada, said that organization would oversee the funding, and that the federal government would work with the provincial government and the community to explore potential projects to bring good-paying long-term jobs to Churchill and other Northern Manitoba communities. Part of the economic development funding’s aim will be to find new opportunities that build on local strengths like tourism, Arctic research and delivering services to the region.
A Winnipeg Free Press-Probe Research poll conducted in September found that 67 per cent of Manitobans supported the federal government taking over the port and railway, with 21 per cent opposed. Winnipeg residents and NDP supporters were even bigger supporters of nationalization, at 71 per cent and 85 per cent respectively, while those least supportive of such a move included rural residents at 25 per cent and those with annual household incomes greater than $100,000, at 27 per cent. The poll found no statistical differences in support between aboriginal and non-aboriginal respondents.