Churchill got a lot of time in the spotlight when the House of Commons finance committee visited Manitoba Oct. 6.
Broad support for finding some way to keep the port and rail line viable appeared to come from people representing municipal governments, chambers of commerce, unions and farmers.
It also provided a forum for NDP MP Niki Ashton, who represents Churchill, and a union representative to renew their recent calls for the port’s ownership to be converted into a “port authority,” and to reverse the privatization of both port and grain marketing that former Liberal and Conservative governments completed.
“It’s a major source of insecurity and also pessimism,” said Ashton, calling the federal sale of the Churchill assets by the Liberals and the breaking of the CWB monopoly an “epic failure” of privatization. Ashton said the CWB was able to ensure that Churchill got a fair share of grain.
Union of Canadian Transportation Employees representative Teresa Eschuk said the port closure this year has shown how privatization has “let down the people of Churchill.”
Fellow union representative Marianne Hladun of the Public Service Alliance of Canada said Churchill’s possible doom as a port in the north “is not a regional issue, but a national issue.”
Liberal Wayne Easter, chair of the Standing Committee on Finance, gave the Churchill issue a good hearing, stopping the discussion early to ask Ashton to provide background for all committee members on the situation, since some from outside Manitoba might not understand it.
Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president Chuck Davidson said his members want to see governments help formulate a regional economic development strategy for northern communities because the rail line serves many and the port could become an important arctic re-supply centre.
Keystone Agricultural Producers president Dan Mazier said transportation and access to ocean ports are often the biggest issues farmers face, so seeing a grain export port disappear would not be a good development.