Uncertain Future of Port of Churchill Should be Wake Up Call for Northern Strategy

Dec 7, 2015 | From the Desk of the President

chuck-davidson-staff-224x300The recent reports that the future of the Port of Churchill and the rail line to access the Port could leave a key northern gateway in flux are creating more uncertainty for residents of Manitoba and in particular those residents of Northern Manitoba directly impacted by the rail line.

And no one should be surprised by it. OmniTrax’s decision to accept expressions of interest, after losing money on its operations, has been a long time coming, and long rumoured.

But while the company, Government of Manitoba, First Nation interests and local community leaders debate on how to avoid a potential disaster for Northern Manitoba, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce (MCC) views this as a visionary opportunity to see the North fulfill its immense potential, especially in the areas of transportation and commerce, tourism and heritage, sustainable economic development, export, mining and healthcare for the indigenous peoples.

The Port of Churchill’s viability is more than Manitoba’s issue alone and more than the movement of grain from Manitoba. The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce recognizes that the grain catchment area includes most of Saskatchewan and the potential for economic benefits for Saskatchewan and Alberta could be huge for both importing and exporting. As well, it is the Gateway to the Central Arctic and that aspect of its future is important to all of Canada. Part of this strategic direction would be to work on the enhancement of the Port and the surrounding areas and to look for innovative solutions and opportunities together with a number of collaborative partnerships.

This is an issue that various groups, organizations, communities and levels of government have been attempting to find a solution to for decades – but with no resolve.

In an effort to work towards a potential solution, MCC has recommended the establishment of a northern commission to assess Manitoba’s transportation infrastructure and its limitations on northern development.

At the same time Manitoba needs to develop a strategy to mobilize investment in the Port of Churchill as a strategic transportation hub for Northern re-supply, arctic sovereignty, and as one of Manitoba’s main Gateway’s to international markets.

To extend the relationship further north, we have also called on the province to establish an economic partnership with Nunavut that builds on current agreements between the province and the territory in order to seek mutual opportunities to servicing remote northern communities via an effective supply chain.

For the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, this situation speaks to the importance for the immediate need for the improved infrastructure for rail service and the need for better communication to our northern constituents.

Simply asking the provincial or federal government to just arbitrarily pour money into a problem many do not comprehend is not the answer.

It is time for leaders and stakeholders to sit down and discuss a long-term strategy that benefits all Manitobans since the Port of Churchill is Manitoba’s Ocean Gateway to the Central Arctic and beyond and its future is important to us and all of Canada.

Chuck Davidson
President and CEO
Manitoba Chambers of Commerce

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