For the last number of years, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce (MCC) has called for a long-term economic development plan for Northern Manitoba, including Churchill. After yesterday’s announcement of layoffs and the closure of the Port of Churchill, it is apparent that time is of the essence to develop a plan for the future of the north.

The Port of Churchill is not the powerhouse port it once was and is not the only port shipping grain in this country. Any closure, for any length of time, will only serve to lessen its importance and impact on the movement of product. The Port’s viability is more than Manitoba’s issue alone and more than the movement of grain. It is the Gateway to the Central Arctic, and 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 some collaborative partnerships.

The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce has advocated both the owners of the Port and the Manitoba government to:

  • Establish a Northern Commission to assess Manitoba’s transportation infrastructure and its limitations on northern development. The Commission should document and identify the current facilities, assess additional requirements and propose options for repayment of capital costs;
  • The Province of Manitoba develop a strategy and mobilize investment in the Port of Churchill as a strategic transportation hub for Northern resupply, Arctic sovereignty, and as an Arctic Gateway to international markets; and

The decision by OmniTrax to close the Port and lay off its workers is a troubling development, not only for the message it sends to potential buyers, but to the community of Churchill. At a time of the year where grain should be flowing from the Port, this decision will hurt a community that relies on the economic spinoffs. It also highlights the need to focus our efforts on redeveloping and reinvesting in the Port of Churchill.

The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce is calling on OmniTrax, all levels of government, and the business community to come together and start the difficult, but critical, development of a long-term solution to this important asset to both Northern and all Manitoba. Time is running out to inject new life into the Port of Churchill.