Manitoba

Churchill port unions urge Trudeau to visit northern town

The unions representing port workers in Churchill, Man., want Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit the northern community, talk to people there about the challenges they face and come up with long-term economic solutions that could include taking over the port.

Unions continue calling on Ottawa to take ownership and create port authority

Earlier this year, Denver-based OmniTrax Rail laid off port workers in Churchill, Man., and cut rail service to the community in half. (CBC News)

The union representing port workers in Churchill want Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit the northern community and talk to the people about the challenges they face.

Representatives of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees spoke on Thursday to a panel of MPs from across the country. The committee is in Winnipeg doing federal budget consultations.

Earlier this year, Denver-based OmniTrax Rail laid off port workers in Churchill and cut rail service to the community in half.

The unions representing the port workers are circulating a petition calling on the federal government to take back ownership of the port and create a port authority to run it.

Marianne Hladun, PSAC's regional vice-president for the Prairies, told the committee that a recent federal funding promise for Churchill is "appreciated, but a small drop in the bucket."

What's needed, Hladun said, is a long-term strategy to make the northern town economically viable and stimulate growth. She said Ottawa must show leadership on Churchill.

The community is "strategically placed" for Canada's safety and security and for tourism and commercial activity, Hladun said.

The unions are critical of how OmniTrax has treated Manitoba's northern citizens.

"One corporation is holding all the northern communities hostage," Hladun said.

The unions are also critical of how the Liberal government has handled the Churchill issue, telling the committee they had trouble getting anyone from the federal government to meet about the economic crisis in the town.

"We were bumped from department to department, minister's office to minister's office," said Teresa Eschuk of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees.

The budget committee consists of MPs from the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP. The lone Manitoban on the committee is NDP MP Niki Ashton, who represents Churchill Keewatinook-Aski — the region where the port is located.

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