Northern Manitoba railway investment ‘great opportunity for Canada’
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After decades of “rape and pillage” of the vital link to northern Manitoba, the longtime mayor of Churchill is hailing a $147.6-million investment to turn the belaboured Hudson Bay Railway into a modern trade corridor to Canada’s lone Arctic port.
“Investment is critical so you can open your gateway,” Mayor Mike Spence said Wednesday at The Forks in Winnipeg, where Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal officially announced the joint investment. (Manitoba itself committed $73.8 million to the railway owned and operated by Arctic Gateway Group LP, a partnership of 41 First Nations and rail line communities.)
“You have a gateway here that’s underutilized, that’s been neglected,” Spence said, when asked if the investments are enough to prevent washouts such as in 2017 that shut the rail line down a year, prior to the consortium taking over operations.
“The previous owners didn’t put in a lot in terms of maintenance,” said the Churchill mayor. “The culverts were plugged up, (there was) a lack of reinvestments into proper maintenance and the ongoing investment required to make sure your line is secured.
“The difference this time around is that, as northerners, the reinvestment is going to go back in. It’s not about rape and pillage here like has been going on in the past. We own it. We’re going to invest in it… We’re in it for the long haul here.”
Amid a warming climate and Russian aggression in Ukraine, Canada’s only deep-sea Arctic port can remain open longer and enhance supply chain and food security for the globe and the people in the North relying on affordable rail service, said Vandal.
Former premier Brian Pallister maintained the railway and port of Churchill are a federal responsibility. His successor said Wednesday it is instead a sound investment for the province.
“We know that this creates significant economic opportunities for Manitoba,” Stefanson said.
Having reliable rail service to carry goods and passengers helps make life affordable in the communities that rely on it. “And it’s a great opportunity for Canada, as well, opening up that Port of Churchill.”
When asked about using the railway to ship energy products (natural gas, oil or oil pucks) through the port, Stefanson said there’s an “opportunity for a dialogue in many of those areas.”
Before there’s any chance of it being used for controversial energy shipments, as suggested by federal Conservative party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre, there must be consultation, said Vandal.
“There’s three important words: duty to consult,” said the Liberal MP for St. Boniface—St. Vital.
Churchill’s mayor said southern Canada has benefited from massive government investment in trade corridors and it’s high time the North did, too.
“We as northerners, as Indigenous people, we have a right to prosperity, as well,” Spence told the assembled crowd at The Forks. “This is what it’s all about. It’s opening an opportunity… We need to analyze the opportunities that are there.
“Climate change is before us. We’re not going to going to stop climate change. We need to adapt to the opportunities that are there.”
Morris Beardy, Arctic Gateway Group board member and chief of Gateway member Fox Lake Cree Nation, said community members are hard at work replacing culverts and thousands of rail ties along the northern line.
“We still have a lot of work to do ahead of us, but this commitment is setting us up to move beyond emergency repairs toward maximizing the full potential of the Arctic Gateway trade corridor,” Beardy said at the Winnipeg news event.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.