Town’s potential ignored: construction head

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Churchill has been treated as the “Little Orphan Annie” of investments far too long, the president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association declared Thursday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2017 (1724 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Churchill has been treated as the “Little Orphan Annie” of investments far too long, the president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association declared Thursday.

It’s up to Ottawa “to harness Churchill to national advantage,” Chris Lorenc said.

Western Canada could be sending its minerals and oil to Asia and Russia through the Port of Churchill, and with its central location and extensive road, rail and air networks, Manitoba is a natural conduit, he said.

Port of Churchill - supplied photo

“We are a prolific trading country… We should harness our geographic location,” said Lorenc.

“For too many decades, Churchill has been that Little Orphan Annie of investments that everyone has chosen to ignore.

“Churchill is caught in a quagmire of dispute” between the federal government and Denver-based Omnitrax, owner and operator of the port and flooded-out rail connection to the northern Manitoba town, he said. “The problem with Churchill is the failure by Canada to recognize Churchill is Canada’s only inland (deep sea) port.”

But should Canada be ready to give Churchill its proper role at the centre of a trade policy, association members are ready — whether it’s building a new rail line or an all-weather road to the northern town on the shore of Hudson Bay, Lorenc said.

“We would respond to whatever governments or private-sector operators decide they need or want,” he said. Lorenc said it is fortuitous the association published a 16-page supplement in Thursday’s Free Press, the day before its annual general meeting, at which Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler will announce which major 2018 provincial capital projects will be tendered.

In the supplement, Lorenc called on Premier Brian Pallister to create a “trade team Manitoba” to develop a trade strategy and a focus on economic growth.

“What is Manitoba’s economic growth strategy? It cannot simply be controlling expenditures, beating down deficits and easing the burden of red tape. It has to be ambitious and focused on return on investment,” Lorenc wrote.

The association is aware Pallister is trying to reduce the deficit, but capital projects are the industry’s lifeblood, Lorenc said.

Yet, Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen has postponed about $1-billion worth of health-care projects promised by the former NDP government, and Education Minister Ian Wishart is awaiting a report in February on whether there is a business case to be made for building four new schools through public private partnerships. (Best-case scenario: construction starts in 2019.)

Lorenc lauded Schuler for announcing tenders in plenty of time for companies to be ready to start work as early as possible next year.

“To us, that’s really exciting,” he said.

Schuler has said there would be continued work on Lake St. Martin flood mitigation, but has been guarded about specific highway and bridge projects getting a green light.

“There’s never enough money for everything we’d like to do,” Lorenc said.

Even with tighter government spending, “those budgets should be harnessed to take full advantage” to boost Manitoba’s economy.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Friday, November 17, 2017 6:08 AM CST: Adds photo

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