Five days after dozens of Port of Churchill workers received two-week layoff notices, there has still been no word from officials of Omnitrax Canada, the company that owns the port and Hudson Bay Railway.

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This article was published 30/7/2016 (2156 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Five days after dozens of Port of Churchill workers received two-week layoff notices, there has still been no word from officials of Omnitrax Canada, the company that owns the port and Hudson Bay Railway.

Emails and phone messages to Merv Tweed, the Winnipeg-based president of the company, continued to go unanswered.

Ron Margulis, the spokesman for Denver-based Omnitrax, which owns and operates 19 short line railroads across North America, continued to remain silent. He did not respond to an interview request Friday.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, who has the lead in the file for the Trudeau government, has also not been available all week. The Free Press was told he was on vacation at the time of the cuts.

Carr is scheduled to make a public appearance in Winnipeg Tuesday on behalf of Mélanie Joly, minister of Canadian heritage.

Community leaders from Churchill and other northern communities said they were trying to organize a meeting with Carr.

The layoffs at the port have effectively ended the 2016 shipping season even before it began and has left the future of the country’s only deep sea Arctic port in doubt.

The 14-week Churchill shipping season typically runs from early August to late October or early November.

In addition to the layoffs — which also ends work prospects for the year for at least another 30 workers who are usually called back to work once the ships start arriving — Omnitrax has told customers it was cutting back rail freight service to Churchill to one train per week from two.

On Friday the National Farmers Union blamed the crisis on the former Harper government for passing legislation that ended the Canadian Wheat Board’s marketing monopoly for Prairie grain in 2011. The wheat board was responsible for about 95 per cent of the grain shipped out of Churchill.

The group said the Tory government knew the port could not survive the end of the wheat board, and $25 million worth of subsidies for grain handlers, which is to end next year, would not be enough to make the difference.

"How can Omnitrax unilaterally decide to close a port that is of such strategic importance to Canada?" president Jan Slomp asked. "The federal government should intervene."

Terry Boehm, the group’s past president, said privatization as an economic strategy often hurts the greater interests of the Canadian economy.

"The closure of Churchill is another huge example of this," he said.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

 

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.