September 26, 2017

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Hudson Bay railway enters last-minute talks after rumours of bureaucratic drag

Omnitrax

Omnitrax

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals say talks are ongoing to get the damaged railway to Churchill in local hands, though bureaucratic resistance may have made it too late to connect the northern town before this fall’s freeze-up.

“I'm an eternal optimist,” said Jim Carr, who represents Winnipeg South Centre. As Minister of Natural Resources, Carr is the Liberals’ highest-ranking Manitoban.

Last Friday, Carr announced that Wayne Wouters, who recently retired as a top Ottawa bureaucrat, would lead negotiations to transfer the rail line from Denver-based Omnitrax to two northern Manitoba groups.

“He is getting about his business seriously and quickly,” Carr said. “We want to do everything that we can to make sure these decisions are made fast.”

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberals say talks are ongoing to get the damaged railway to Churchill in local hands, though bureaucratic resistance may have made it too late to connect the northern town before this fall’s freeze-up.

"I'm an eternal optimist," said Jim Carr, who represents Winnipeg South Centre. As Minister of Natural Resources, Carr is the Liberals’ highest-ranking Manitoban.

Last Friday, Carr announced that Wayne Wouters, who recently retired as a top Ottawa bureaucrat, would lead negotiations to transfer the rail line from Denver-based Omnitrax to two northern Manitoba groups.

"He is getting about his business seriously and quickly," Carr said. "We want to do everything that we can to make sure these decisions are made fast."

Sources familiar with the negotiations say Wouters has been tasked with presenting a plan to the Prime Minister’s Office by Wednesday. Carr wouldn’t confirm that timeline.

A thorough AECOM Canada engineering report has stressed work must start in early September to get the rail line operational before the early November freeze-up.

Omnitrax's Canadian CEO Merv Tweed warned the talks aren’t on track to meet that deadline.

"Omnitrax is disappointed at the slow pace of negotiations with the federal government, and we hope to reach a resolution as expeditiously as possible," Tweed wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who represents one of the two groups working together to take over the line, says faceless bureaucrats have been dragging their feet.

Dumas and others tell the Free Press that Transport Canada staff have prolonged the process by putting up resistance to a federal takeover.

"I've heard that there was a lot of bantering back and forth. There were some very strong supporters from the PMO," Dumas said, something repeated by others who were not authorized to speak with media.

"There was deliberate misinformation happening from some of the bureaucrats inside the government, that were not giving the proper information up to the higher decision-makers."

Carr wouldn’t confirm those comments.

"I would say that the Government of Canada is very committed to the people of Churchill," Carr said, noting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to solve the situation in late July.

"We will do everything that we can reasonably do, to make sure that the people of Churchill are well-served by the railroad, and by the port itself."

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence, who represents the other group working alongside Dumas, declined to comment Monday on the negotiations.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Dylan Robertson.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 7:53 AM CDT: Corrects headline

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