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PCs inherited NDP's legal battle with Omnitrax

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Merv Tweed, president of Omnitrax Canada.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Merv Tweed, president of Omnitrax Canada.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/8/2016 (1100 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The fate of the Port of Churchill isn't the Pallister government's only battle with Omnitrax Canada — there's also a nagging lawsuit.

A lawsuit was filed a few days before the April 19 election by the Denver-based railroad, accusing then-premier Greg Selinger, then-infrastructure minister Steve Ashton, and the province of Manitoba of breaching a non-disclosure agreement with a consortium of First Nations led by the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.

Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives may have been victorious on election night, but that doesn't mean the lawsuit goes away for his new government.

"The status of lawsuits is not affected by electoral outcomes. There are numerous court cases where government is a party, and it would be unworkable if every one of those case was deemed invalid because of a change of government," said a provincial spokeswoman in a statement.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/8/2016 (1100 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The fate of the Port of Churchill isn't the Pallister government's only battle with Omnitrax Canada — there's also a nagging lawsuit.

A lawsuit was filed a few days before the April 19 election by the Denver-based railroad, accusing then-premier Greg Selinger, then-infrastructure minister Steve Ashton, and the province of Manitoba of breaching a non-disclosure agreement with a consortium of First Nations led by the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.

Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives may have been victorious on election night, but that doesn't mean the lawsuit goes away for his new government.

"The status of lawsuits is not affected by electoral outcomes. There are numerous court cases where government is a party, and it would be unworkable if every one of those case was deemed invalid because of a change of government," said a provincial spokeswoman in a statement.

Omnitrax Canada president Merv Tweed said the company has a solid circumstantial case that the former NDP government, and Selinger in particular, leaked confidential financial information to a northern Manitoba first nation.

Omnitrax had been working with the consortium of First Nations to sell the Hudson Bay Railway and Port of Churchill.

The consortium signed a non-disclosure agreement last year and was provided with detailed financial information on both the port and railway to be used to formulate a proposal for financial assistance to the federal government.

However, Tweed said earlier this year, Omnitrax learned that Opaskwayak Cree Nation in The Pas had sent a competing proposal to Ottawa for the purchase of the port and railway. This caught the company off guard because, Tweed said, OCN had never signed a non-disclosure agreement to get access to detailed financial information that would be essential for any purchase proposal.

Although Omnitrax has not seen the OCN proposal, the company strongly suspects the former NDP government shared the information it had contrary to a confidentiality agreement, Tweed said.

"How do you make a business proposal without business information?" Tweed said Thursday. "How can you do that without talking to us?"

Meanwhile, Pallister said Thursday there has been no progress in talks with the Omnitrax and future of the Port of Churchill. The company issued layoff notices last month for the entire unionized workforce at the port, effectively shutting down the country’s only deep sea Arctic port and ceasing all grain shipments through the port.

A statement of defence has not been filed by the government, Ashton or Selinger and it could be over a year before one is filed, explained Karen Busby, a law professor at the University of Manitoba.

"What you are doing is you are negotiating, you are talking, you are trying not to run up legal bills — it is a complicated action, so the provincial government really has to think through what its defence will be," Busby said. "You don't start by filing a statement of defence immediately, you start by talking and seeing what you can work out and what is the nature of what is going on."

The statement of claim says the parties entered into a non-disclosure agreement in March 2015 after the defendants (Selinger, Ashton, government of Manitoba) were provided with confidential information pertaining to the company’s business plan. The lawsuit alleges the defendants disclosed confidential information in December to an accounting firm and Opaskwayak Cree Nation, a First Nation about 630 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

It could be years before the lawsuit is ever settled and it will likely never go to court, Busby said.

'There will be a negotiated settlement to this case in one way or another, in all likelihood. It won't go to trial and if it were to go to trial it would six or seven years from now," she said.

Officials from the Pallister government and NDP caucus would not comment on an ongoing legal matter.

"Our new government is not able to comment on matters currently before the courts, including legal matters inherited from the NDP," said Cliff Cullen, the Minister of Growth, Enterprise and Trade, in a prepared statement.

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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