Restored Churchill rail and port hailed as “good news,” but may not offer many benefits to Nunavut
Kivalliq Inuit Association has no stake in the project—at least not yet
Kivalliq leaders are welcoming a tentative deal that would see multiple partners purchase Churchill’s port and rail line to restore transport infrastructure to the northern Manitoba community and Hudson Bay.
The federal government announced last week that two groups representing First Nations and northern communities, One North and Missinippi Rail LP, have teamed up with Fairfax Financial Holdings to purchase the port and rail from American firm Omnitrax Inc., which has owned the infrastructure since the late 1990s.
The railway is the only land transportation into Churchill, located 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg on the western shore of Hudson Bay.
But despite the port’s location just 300 km south of Arviat, Nunavut leaders also say the deal doesn’t offer many benefits to the territory, nor does Nunavut have a stake in the project—at least not for now.
Despite media reports which suggested all seven Kivalliq communities were involved in the deal, the Kivalliq Inuit Association says that’s not the case.
“Nothing has been brought to the KIA,” said its executive director, Gabriel Karlik. “We’re aware of [the deal] but we’re still waiting to hear back from the group.”
The group Karlik is referring to is One North, a partner in the new deal. While the KIA is in discussion with the group, the Inuit association has not signed onto the project for the time being.
Joe Savikataaq, Nunavut’s Arviat-based minister of economic development and transportation, said Kivalliq leaders have drafted letters of support in the past for the re-establishment of the port and rail line.
“I guess people from the Kivalliq who buy cars and other vehicles will have the option again [to ship though Manitoba],” he said.
“But in terms of government and big business, most of the shipping to the region comes through Montreal now.”
Savikataaq said the costs associated with the transfer of goods from Winnipeg to rail and then to sealift drove up shipping costs.
“Even before the rail line went down, government and big business were changing their shipping habits to Montreal, because it was cheaper,” he said. “And I can’t see that changing any time soon.”
In a member’s statement to the legislative assembly June 1, Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main called the new deal “good news.”
“As a Kivallirmiut, who sits north of this area of the country, I’m encouraged to hear that the federal government is indeed interested in investing in the North,” Main said in his statement.
But Main said he’s equally frustrated that the federal government doesn’t see the case for investing in Nunavut’s infrastructure, noting that the Kivalliq’s winter road proposal was recently rejected financing from the National Trades Corridors Fund.
“I very much look forward to the day when the federal government is announcing infrastructure deals, whether they’re private or whether it is public funds involved, that do involve Nunavut and the Kivalliq region,” he said.
Later June 1, Main asked Nunavut Premier Paul Quassa directly if he had any updates on other major infrastructure projects the Kivalliq region wishes to pursue to connect with its southern border at Manitoba, like the roadway or a hydroelectric line.
Quassa said he’s had no correspondence on those projects since he became premier last November, though he noted an upcoming meeting with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.