A rare lunch gathering hosted by the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce (MCC) featuring the minister of innovation, science and economic development did not disappoint.
In front of a sold-out crowd at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre, Minister Navdeep Bains joined MCC President and CEO Chuck Davidson for a 40-minute conversation on a host of issues critical to Manitoba and the potential for future growth and focused within the province. In front of a crowd of business leaders, northern representatives, and technology stakeholders, Minister Bains tackled direct questions on the future of Churchill and the closed rail line, tech, and trade.
On how the federal government views Northern Manitoba:
Minister Bains said the government sees the north as critical to Canada. He continued that past governments focused their efforts on funding urban centres. This government has tried to change course, pointing to the $7.3 million provided to Churchill following the closure of the rail line. He added their needs to be a focus on areas that can deliver high impact results for communities and residents.
On the government’s long talked about Arctic Strategy:
The minister highlighted the collective effort him and his colleagues, including Manitoba’s lone federal minister Jim Carr, are putting forward on the file. They are focused on economic opportunities that will engage indigenous residents and cover all of Northern Canada. He did not give a specific date for a release but did say he was hopeful something would be released in a few months but before the end of the current mandate.
On the future of the rail line:
Admitting it remains a tricky issue, Minister Bains said things are progressing, just as not as fast as he or those impacted would like. He stayed hopeful a resolution can be found with the current line owner, but when pressed on if rail service would be in the cards for this year, he could not answer beyond “I hope so.”
On how the Manitoba fits into the government’s innovation agenda:
He admitted that Manitoba has some of the worst internet connectivity, especially in rural and remote areas. The government understand this and see it as a significant challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity to improve. They have responded by trying to bridge the “digital divide.” He pointed to an announcement made earlier in the day that committed $84 million for infrastructure that would connect more than 40 First Nations communities and improve connections for more than 25,000 people. The idea is to create a positive legacy for generations to come by helping them upgrade skills needed as technology continues to evolve.
On the challenges facing businesses in an uncertain and growing world of global trade:
Minister Bains did admit the current U.S. administration and their pro-America trade position can be challenging, but the federal government is working in good faith for deals that will benefit everyone. He reiterated the Trudeau government is open to trade, investment, and immigration. That focus continues to put Canada at the highest end of growth in the G7. They will continue to invest in people and technology and ended the lunch with a simple message to business leaders and those in the room, “we have your back.”
The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce would like to extend thanks to presenting sponsors BellMts, Norima Consulting, CPA Manitoba, lunch sponsor, Manitoba School Boards Association, and our media partner, Winnipeg Free Press for their continued support.