March 28, 2020

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Omnitrax sues premier, minister over railway deal

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Premier Greg Selinger </p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Greg Selinger

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/4/2016 (1441 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NDP Leader Greg Selinger, senior cabinet minister Steve Ashton and the Manitoba government are being sued by Omnitrax Canada.

Selinger and Ashton, the province’s infrastructure and transportation minister, are accused of breaching a non-disclosure agreement in relation to the proposed deal to sell the Hudson Bay Railway and Port of Churchill to a group of First Nations.

The statement of claim, obtained by the Free Press, says the parties entered into a non-disclosure agreement in March 2015 after the defendants (Selinger and Ashton) 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 (OCN), a First Nation about 630 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

'The unlawful and wrongful conduct of the defendants... amounts to a deliberate, high-handed, wanton and outrageous interference with the plaintiff's right'‐ as-yet unproven allegation by Omnitrax in lawsuit against Premier Greg Selinger, Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton and the provincial government'Based on internal reviews already undertaken, the government intends to deny the allegations'‐ provincial government spokesman Shane Gibson

The claim states Omnitrax at the time was exclusively negotiating the sale with Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, 800 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. The deal, with a consortium of 10 northern Manitoba First Nations led by Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, was formally announced in January.

"The unlawful and wrongful conduct of the defendants... amounts to a deliberate, high-handed, wanton and outrageous interference with the plaintiff’s right," the claim, filed in the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, states.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

A spokesman for the Manitoba government said the province has not received the statement of claim and has not filed a statement of defence.

"Based on internal reviews already undertaken, the government intends to deny the allegations," said a statement from government spokesman Shane Gibson.

The NDP, in a written response, called the allegations in the lawsuit "unsubstantiated" and said government officials are reviewing the claims.

The Progressive Conservatives jumped on the news of the lawsuit Sunday, sending out a statement that the allegations raise "serious questions about potential linkages between this lawsuit and the ongoing ‘Hydro jobs for votes’ investigation currently being conducted by the elections commissioner."

In February, the Free Press reported the province’s elections commissioner was investigating allegations the provincial government offered Manitoba Hydro contract work to a First Nation in exchange for political support for Selinger.

The allegations became public in December when a letter dated April 21, 2015, from OCN Chief Michael Constant to deputy premier Eric Robinson, was released to the media. The letter alleged in exchange for support for Selinger in the "election process," contracts for Bipole III transmission line work would be awarded to OCN. Constant clarified and told a media source in December rather than there being a deal, there was an understanding the First Nation would receive the contracts.

Constant later backtracked, writing a letter to the elections commissioner in February stating the letter was written by "overzealous staff" and Robinson did not promise work on Bipole III in exchange for support for Selinger.

Omnitrax Canada operates the Hudson Bay Railway, which connects many isolated northern communities. Omnitrax also runs the Port of Churchill, which once relied heavily on grain shipments from the Canadian Wheat Board. The CWB was dismantled as a single-desk buyer of wheat and barley by the former federal Conservative government.

"The greatest threat to the Port of Churchill was the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, which Brian Pallister supported as a member of the Harper team," NDP spokesman Andrew Tod said in a prepared statement Sunday.

Merv Tweed became president of Omnitrax after he resigned as the Conservative MP for Brandon-Souris in 2013.

Prior to that, Tweed was a Manitoba Tory MLA.

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca

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