Manitobans eye Nunavut for business growth

A delegation of political and business leaders from Manitoba arrives in Iqaluit next week looking to tap into Nunavut’s economy.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — They’re calling it a trade mission, but the delegation of Manitoban business leaders travelling to Nunavut next week anticipates more fact-finding than deal-making.

Altogether, some 18 representatives are due to arrive in Iqaluit next Tuesday accompanied by two provincial ministers, two mayors and a half-dozen senior bureaucrats.

The question on everybody’s mind is: What does Nunavut want?

“We’re there to learn and to listen,” said Mike Ogborn, vice-president of Omnitrax, a Denver, Colorado-based company which operates 1,300 kilometres of railroad between Churchill and two northern Manitoba towns, The Pas and Thompson.

“It’s really important for us to consult with the citizens of Nunavut and then be able to say, ‘Well, maybe we can help you in this way — what do you think?'”

Ironically, it was the threat of losing contracts for medical and fuel re-supply services in the Keewatin region last summer that finally stirred interest in Nunavut among Manitoban officials.

“It was a really strong wake-up call for us,” Ross Thompson, manager of community and northern development with the Government of Manitoba, said.

“People in Nunavut were saying, ‘If Manitoba really wants our business, they’ll show us how and why we’re important.'”

The potential for trade and partnerships with the North, particularly as infrastructure development in the new territory accelerates, is attracting interest from all sectors, including transportation, health, mining, housing, education and tourism.

The Manitoba government figures that trade with the NWT already generates $57 million in labor income alone.

And Jack Wilson, regional vice president of the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce/northern region, puts the value of goods shipped to the NWT through the port of Churchill at upwards of $250 million a year.

In fact, future traffic patterns at this port on the western Hudson Bay coast could well have an influence on the way products and services are delivered to Nunavut communities.

For one thing, the distance by air from Churchill to almost any point in the eastern Arctic is shorter than it is from Montreal or Ottawa, and the town is equipped with an airport.

That means that any product could, presumably, be shipped by road and rail as far as the Hudson coast, then flown into Nunavut communities at competitive rates.

“Omnitrax is being very aggressive about promoting the port and the rail line, and wanting to increase its volume of freight,” Wilson said.

“We see a kind of a tie-in.”

Whether goods are to be shipped or flown from Churchill, Omnitrax’s Ogborn thinks opening a direct line of product from Winnipeg to the communities of Nunavut could be a benefit, both in terms of service and perhaps in price.

“We think that’s a very viable opportunity for the citizens of Nunavut to explore,” Ogborn said.

Omnitrax’s strategy in the short run will be to increase exports of wheat and barley through the port, Ogborn said.

The next step will be to bring more product in a more efficient and economical manner through the port to serve the Keewatin and the rest of Nunavut.

Depending on how talks with potential clients in the North pan out, Ogborn said Omnitrax would also consider investing in the port to permit container shipping.

All shipping of dry goods in containers destined for the eastern Arctic currently originated in Montreal or Quebec City.

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