Feds promise $4.6M for economic development in Churchill area
Funds will help projects that create jobs in tourism, research and other fields
The federal government is offering Churchill, Man., a $4.6-million lifeline to help spur new jobs in the northern town, which was hit hard by layoffs from the closure of the Port of Churchill.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development minister Navdeep Bains announced the economic development funding for the region on Friday, saying the money will be available to projects that will create jobs in areas such as tourism and research.
- Northern exposure: Manitoba's northern economy facing serious challenges
- Port of Churchill layoffs 'came out of nowhere,' says town's mayor
- Stubborn northerners want to keep Port of Churchill going
Dozens of port employees received layoff notices this summer, prompting questions about the town's future, since the port employed about 10 per cent of the local population of around 800.
The federal cash is coming through Western Economic Diversification Canada, but Bains said people in Churchill — from local leaders to union representatives to entrepreneurs — will decide which proposals get the green light.
"We said that they have to determine where they see the priorities, where they see the opportunities. They understand the local needs really well, so it's really a bottom-up approach," Bains told CBC News in an interview.
"I'm not here to prescribe anything. What I'm saying is the federal government is willing to step up, the federal government is willing to make an investment, and we believe in Churchill, We understand that Churchill is important not only to Manitoba but to Canada, and it's a strong and resilient community and we want to see it succeed going forward."
'Jobs, jobs, jobs'
When asked what the federal government will want to see in successful applications, Bains said there is one priority in mind.
"Jobs, jobs, jobs. How quickly can we get jobs on the ground immediately for the employees that were treated so poorly by OmniTrax? How quickly can we find them meaningful employment?" he said.
"We're dealing with Christmas around the corner, there's challenges around EI payments, and so it's so critical that we focus on proposals that generate meaningful employment opportunities in the short term."
- OmniTrax blames provincial, federal governments for loss of 2016 shipping season
- Port of Churchill needs Trudeau government takeover, MP says
- No plans to nationalize Port of Churchill, Manitoba trade minister says
Bains said while the funding announced on Friday is a short-term measure aimed at generating jobs, the federal government wants to continue working with the people of Churchill to develop long-term economic development opportunities.
Nationalizing the port not ruled out
Long-term, when asked whether the federal government would nationalize the port, Bains did not rule it out.
"We have an open door policy and we made it very clear that we want an immediate-term focus on jobs but in the long term are open to any ideas and feedback that people have."
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said last week the future of the port is in Ottawa's hands.
NDP MP Niki Ashton called on the Trudeau government to consider turning the port into a port authority.
Pallister said he has not talked to union leaders himself about that idea and wouldn't weigh in on it.
He said in any case, the next move is not up to him.
"We're all anxious right now obviously about Churchill and about its future. We see the potential. We're hopeful. And we have to work with as partners in the public realm. as best we can to try to address this so that's what we're engaging in right now. But we do need the federal government to take a lead," Pallister said.
Churchill and other communities along the Hudson Bay Railway line have been worried since Denver-based OmniTrax announced in July that it would not operate the Churchill port this year.
The company is also scaling back freight shipments on the rail line, which is the only land route to Churchill and a handful of other communities.
Omnitrax had been in talks to sell the port and railway, and the union that represents port workers is pushing the federal government to take over operations.
With files from The Canadian Press