Saturday, October 01, 2016

Updates on Churchill

There have been a few developments for the port of Churchill, Manitoba since it was abruptly closed in early August, and rail service to the area by Omnitrax was reduced from twice weekly to once a week.

Churchill has exported around 500,000 tonnes of grain per year for the past several years, but the looming expiry of the Port of Churchill Utilization Program (CPUP) subsidy of $12/tonne of grain doesn't help the the future of the port at all.

Cash Injection

The federal government has promised $4.6 million in economic development funds to the town to help find other sources of jobs beyond the port. The funds are coming through Western Economic Diversification Canada, a government agency I'd never heard of before (they employ about 300 people and have a budget of about $155 million).

The government intends for local groups to identify projects to use the $4.6 million to generate jobs in the local economy. It appears that this may not be the only incentive coming from the federal government, as they indicated they have an "open door policy" and "in the long term are open to any ideas."

Support from the Province

The Manitoba provincial government has been low key on the Churchill port closure, and the reduction of railway service.

Ministers have travelled to Churchill, and the province announced a mild increase in support for tourism in the area. The major funding announcement from the province was a previously-planned $9 million marine observatory in partnership with the University of Manitoba.

Local Ownership

A consortium of First Nations has indicated a strong interest in acquiring the port and rail line. Arlen Dumas, chief of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, has indicated that the consortium has been talking with Omnitrax, the Denver-based owners of the port and railway.

These discussions have been reported on before in the media, so it's uncertain how serious they really are.


The union representing Churchill port workers, the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, is calling on the federal government to create a port authority, similar to Saguenay, QC and Thunder Bay, ON.

The union has the support of local MP Niki Ashton, Honourable Member for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski. She is coincidentally the NDP critic for "Jobs, Employment and Workforce Development", which seems ideal for Churchill job stimulation.

Ms. Ashton has a petition on her web site that visitors are invited to sign online or download a copy to mail to her office.


There's a Twitter hashtag, #SupportOurPort, that was used in the summer to mark tweets about the port and the railway to Churchill. It hasn't seen much use recently.

What's Old is New Again

I was reading an old Branchline magazine from March 1987, and noted a news item where a former Transport Minister, Otto Lang, was stating that shipping grain through Churchill "is a costly mistake." Back in 1986, CN moved 608,000 tonnes of grain through Churchill, which was only 2% of Canada's grain exports.

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