Legislation to create Churchill Arctic Port Canada Inc., a non-government agency, to develop economic opportunities, spur job creation and ensure the viability of Churchill, was introduced in the Manitoba legislature Nov. 21.
OmniTRAX Canada, which owns the port and the railway that serves it, supports the move, its president Merv Tweed said in a news release distributed late Friday afternoon.
However, earlier in the day the Winnipeg Free Press reported Tweed as saying OmniTRAX was caught flat footed about the announcement.
“It just seems odd as the sole owner of the port and the rail (that serves it) that we would not be more intimately involved,” Tweed was quoted as saying.
Calls requesting an interview with Tweed were not returned by press time Monday. But Sinc Harrison, president of the Hudson Bay Route Association (HBRA), said he was told OmniTRAX was not consulted.
“That isn’t fair to OmniTRAX since it is the major player,” Harrison said.
The HBRA was created to promote Churchill. If the new corporation will do that the association supports it, Harrison said. However, the devil is in the details and they won’t be spelled out until the regulations are prepared, he added.
The Manitoba government’s news release the Churchill Arctic Port Canada Inc. legislation, included words of support from Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of Winnipeg and chair of the board of directors of the Churchill Gateway Development Corporation and Diane Gray, president and CEO, CentrePort Canada Inc., but not a peep from OmniTRAX.
However, in his own release Tweed said OmniTRAX is pleased.
“We look forward to working with the province and to providing our input through the legislative process to ensure that the new corporation continues to build on the joint success we’ve had over the last 16 years,” he said. “This includes key infrastructure investments of over $110 million from OmniTRAX and $20 million each from the governments of Manitoba and Canada.”
The corporation will attract and co-ordinate investment linked to the Port of Churchill and support research, planning and partnership development, Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said.
The idea for the new agency was first raised by the Canada-Manitoba Task Force on the Future of Churchill. The task force suggested a more inclusive governance model could enable the port to handle multiple commodities with multiple shippers.
The announcement prompted some observers to wonder if the new agency would take over ownership of the port.
That isn’t the case, a Manitoba government official said in an email.
Another official likened the new agency to Winnipeg’s CentrePort Canada.
Details about the corporation’s board of directors and definition of the land area involved will be in the regulations, an official said. OmniTRAX and other interested parties will be consulted, he added.
The port took a hit when the federal government ended the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk Aug. 1, 2012. The wheat board was the port’s biggest customer and observers predicted grain exports would decline because grain companies would prefer exporting through their own facilities, all located at other ports.
The federal government announced a five-year, $25-million subsidy for firms exporting grain through Churchill. There are three years of funding left. By then OmniTRAX hopes to have built grain exports and have found other products to ship, including light sweet crude oil.
Ashton is quoted in the Free Press as saying there are environmental and safety concerns with moving oil through the northern port.
One of Churchill’s best shipping seasons ended earlier this month when the last grain ship left the port bringing total grain exports in 2013 to 635,000 tonnes compared to 450,000 last year.