Greg Selinger, Steve Ashton sued by OmniTrax, accused of interfering in sale

Just days before the provincial election, OmniTrax Canada filed a lawsuit against the province, NDP Leader Greg Selinger and long-time cabinet minister Steve Ashton alleging they interfered in the sale of the railway to Mathias Colomb Cree Nation by disclosing confidential information to another First Nation.
NDP Leader Greg Selinger, the government of Manitoba and NDP candidate Steve Ashton are named in a lawsuit filed by OmniTrax Canada just days before the election. (CBC)

Just days before the provincial election, OmniTrax Canada filed a lawsuit against the province, NDP Leader Greg Selinger and long-time NDP cabinet minister Steve Ashton alleging they interfered in the sale of the railway to Mathias Colomb Cree Nation by disclosing confidential information to another First Nation.

In the lawsuit dated April 15, 2016, OmniTrax Canada says it entered into a non-disclosure agreement with the province around March 17, 2015. OmniTrax provided Manitoba with confidential and proprietary financial and operating information.

OmniTrax alleges in about December 2015, the government of Manitoba, Steve Ashton and Greg Selinger, disclosed confidential financial information about the company to consulting firm MNP LLP and Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

"The unlawful and wrongful conduct of the defendants as aforesaid amounts to a deliberate, high-handed, wanton and outrageous interference with the plaintiffs' rights," the court documents allege.

Based on internal reviews, the Manitoba government plans to deny the allegations, a spokesperson told CBC on Sunday.

In December, OmniTrax Canada entered into a deal to sell the Port of Churchill and Hudson Bay rail line to a group of First Nations led by Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.

OmniTrax Canada president, Merv Tweed, told CBC on Sunday he still expects the sale to go through and would not elaborate on how the disclosure of the financial information to another First Nation — Opaskwayak Cree Nation — affected the deal.

The Port of Churchill is Canada's only Arctic seaport, located on the west coast of Hudson Bay. Denver-based OmniTrax has operated the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Rail line since 1997. The company announced a sale to a First Nations group in December 2015. (Cameron Macintosh/CBC)
Court documents say the government of Manitoba, Ashton and Selinger's alleged breach of the non-disclosure agreement "compromised and threatened the plaintiffs' negotiations for the sale of the plaintiff's business and assets thereby interfering with the plaintiffs' economic relations and causing the plaintiffs to suffer loss and damage."

When reached for comment Sunday afternoon, Greg Selinger said he was not yet aware of the lawsuit. The NDP leader stressed the importance of the Port of Churchill and the OmniTrax rail line for the economic viability of the area.

"All we know is that we want to continue to have good rail service in the north for northern Manitoba," said Selinger.

"We want to make sure we work with the First Nations and the rail company to make sure we have continuous service for the people in the north all the way up to Churchill," he said.

In an email, NDP spokesperson Andrew Tod said the party understands "government officials are reviewing OmniTrax's unsubstantiated allegations."

A government spokesperson said the Omnitrax lawsuit naming the NDP's Steve Ashton and Leader Greg Selinger as well as the Manitoba government would be denied. (CBC)
"The greatest threat to the Port of Churchill was the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board by Stephen Harper's Conservatives, which Brian Pallister supported as a member of the Harper team," he said.

A Progressive Conservative news release states the OmniTrax lawsuit "raises new questions of serious misconduct."

"Manitobans should be very concerned when the highest elected official in the province is sued for alleged misconduct as part of a string of ethical violations," the release states.

The PCs are demanding Selinger and Ashton explain whether there is a connection between allegations in this lawsuit and allegations Eric Robinson, while minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, engaged in a "Hydro jobs for votes" deal with Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

When asked why the court documents were filed only days before the 41st provincial election OmniTrax president Merv Tweed, a former Progressive Conservative MLA for Turtle Mountain and Conservative MP for Brandon—Souris, declined to offer an answer.

with files from Angela Johnston, Sean Kavanagh and Chris Glover

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