Winnipeg rail relocation study killed by Manitoba's PC government

Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government has cancelled a task force, launched by the previous NDP government, that was to look at moving rail yards out of Winnipeg.

NDP MLA accuses Tories of not understanding city's 'geographical divide'

A view of the rail yards in central Winnipeg from the Arlington Street bridge. A task force created earlier this year to study the relocation of the city's rail yards has been put on hold by the new provincial government. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government has cancelled a task force, launched by the previous NDP government, that was to look at moving rail yards out of Winnipeg.

Indigenous and Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke announced late Thursday afternoon that her government won't be going ahead with the rail relocation study.

"Manitoba's new government was elected on a mandate to fix the province's finances, and therefore we will not be proceeding with the task force," Clarke said in a statement.

It came just hours after the province said the review was being paused. Earlier on Thursday, Clarke said the government's contract with former Quebec premier Jean Charest to lead the task force was "placed on hold pending thorough review."

Charest has been informed of the province's decision to cancel the task force, said Clarke, who added that "no costs have been incurred by the government of Manitoba" in relation to the study.

The task force was launched by then-premier Greg Selinger in January, along with a $400,000 investment in its work, to look at whether rail lines and yards should be moved out of the city.

The task force's terms of reference, and a more detailed framework, was to be developed in consultation between Charest and key stakeholders, the province said at the time.

But Clarke accused Selinger's New Democrats of promising too much in the months before they fell to the Tories in April's election.

"After 17 years in office, the previous NDP government announced a task force on rail relocation in the days before the pre-election blackout period," her statement reads in part.

"Unfortunately, the NDP's practice of saying yes to everything over more than a decade has left Manitobans with massive debt and ever-increasing taxes."

Winnipeg is home to a number of rail yards, including the massive Canadian Pacific yards that separate the North End from central Winnipeg and the BNSF yard in River Heights.

The rail yards and lines have been the subject of discussion for years, with critics proposing they be relocated to create more residential, commercial and recreational space and reduce traffic congestion.

"I think that it is so regressive by the [Brian] Pallister government not to already go through with something that we have committed to [and] $400,000 already put aside to look at rail relocation," said St. Johns NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine.

"I don't think he clearly understands how those rail lines emotionally, mentally, physically divide Winnipeg. It is a geographical divide that actually goes to creating such a division in respect of our population here."

St. Boniface Liberal MP Dan Vandal said he's frustrated by the province's move, arguing that the issue of rail relocation is not going to go away and will only cost more money in the future.

"I'm disappointed because I think this was a great opportunity for us to do some really good work," Vandal said.

"It's not often you have all three levels of government sitting at the same table with the private owners of the rail companies and Jean Charest."