OTTAWA—A New Democrat MP is urging the federal government to nationalize the port of Churchill, Man., which has been closed since last summer.
Niki Ashton says the port is a strategic asset that shouldn’t be at the mercy of a private American corporation.
Ashton’s call for action follows the decision last summer by Denver-based Omnitrax not to open the seasonal port this year, due to low demand.
The company has also scaled back freight service on the Hudson Bay Railway line—the only land link to Churchill and nearby communities.
Wheat shipments through the port have fallen dramatically in recent years, with only six ships loaded during the 2015 season.
Ashton says the solution would be for the federal government to take back the facility and establish a port authority to run it.
The government has already announced $4.6 million from Western Economic Diversification Canada for development in the Churchill region, where the port closure threw 60 people out of work in a town of 800.
That money isn’t enough, Ashton said Tuesday during a Parliament Hill news conference alongside union officials and laid-off workers.
“We need the federal government to nationalize the port of Churchill, to move to a port authority model where northerners, where First Nations, where agricultural producers are going to make the best decisions for the future of the port,” she said.
“Time is running out. We need to make sure that there’s a 2017 shipping season. We need to make sure that there is a future for the port of Churchill.”
Omnitrax bought the port and railway from the federal government in 1997, under a Liberal administration.
Ashton says the new Liberal government needs to help solve a problem its Conservative predecessor started.
“We expect them to be part of the solution, to recognize the strategic importance of the port of Churchill to our North, to our province and to our country.”
Omnitrax has been in talks to sell the port and railway, although no deal has materialized.
The province of Manitoba has promised to look for long-term solutions to help the battered northern economy, but has ruled out bailouts for Omnitrax and is offering no guarantees.
Churchill lies on the west coast of Hudson Bay and is the country’s only deep-water Arctic port, although it has a short shipping season of about two months.
The port opened for grain shipments in the 1930s and handled hundreds of thousands of tonnes annually for decades.
With the ending of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly under the Harper government, shipments fell as grain went to Vancouver or Thunder Bay.