Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/10/2017 (1303 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Oct. 13, OmniTRAX Canada received notice from the Trudeau Government that it intends to sue if we do not meet our "obligations" to repair and maintain the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR). Leaving aside the many flaws in this argument, notably that this government has not met its own obligations under the same funding agreement, this action does nothing to resolve this issue for the people of Churchill and now risks tying the matter up in litigation for years.
When it comes to the well-being of northern Manitobans, the prime minister and his Manitoba MPs are all talk and no action. While Minister Jim Carr is dropping $35 million into a vanity project in Winnipeg’s richest neighborhood, and his own riding, the people of Churchill are left to fend for themselves.
Much has been written about this issue, and as it becomes more contentious I expect more ink to be spilled. Accordingly, I feel it is important to set the record straight on several points:
● As soon as the extent of the damage from the 200-year flood that washed out the rail line was known, OmniTRAX Canada made it clear to all stakeholders that the damage was catastrophic and that it could not fund the repairs. We recognize this was not a popular decision, but we made it quickly for good reason: to allow ample time for the federal government to act for Churchill. That was in June. Despite OmniTRAX Canada being in continuous contact with the federal government through this period, shockingly Transport Canada has yet to visit the damaged line.
● The HBR has lost money since its inception. In 2008, we were on the verge of making an orderly exit from the HBR when both the province and the federal government promised economic and marketing support if we remained. With this support, we believed in the business case for the HBR. We were, however, unaware that at the same time the federal government was taking steps to dissolve the Canadian Wheat Board and would soon after stop funding the very marketing organization (Churchill Gateway Development Corp.) that was put in place to reinvigorate the HBR and the Port of Churchill.
● Any suggestion that we believe there is a windfall awaiting us from the sale of the HBR needs to consider the following: since purchasing the line in 1997, we have invested over $100 million in this enterprise without any return. Ridiculous statements by politicians about profits flowing to Denver are nothing more than political grandstanding; the federal and provincial governments have had full access to our audited financial records, and they know the truth. Manitobans would be better served asking what happened to the $4.6-million fund that was announced in September 2016, ostensibly to support "projects that grow sustainable revenue in the region of Churchill, Manitoba."
● Throughout this crisis, our employees have gone above and beyond to ensure that fuel and other essentials can be delivered to Churchill. We did this because we believed it was the right thing to do, even in the face of criticism from Mayor Michael Spence and others.
To be clear, we believe the HBR has a future, but as a public utility and not a private enterprise. That is why we have been working with a First Nations consortium for the past six months to have them purchase and operate the line. At every turn, the federal government has stood in the way.
The snow is now falling in Churchill. The time for talking in circles is over.
Merv Tweed is the president of OmniTRAX Canada.