Pretty much everything is in short supply in Canada’s North, including good economic news. Last week, the community of Churchill, Man., accepted a delivery of positive tidings in the form of a deal to buy the town's port and the broken-down rail line leading there.
Ottawa unloaded both to a Denver-based company as part of a privatization initiative in 1997. While this space urged Parliament to consider buying them back last month, a private consortium has stepped forward.
They’re even Canadian. Better still, the group involves six First Nations, who will own 50 per cent; the other half is shared between a Toronto financial fund and a Regina-based agricultural concern.
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The federal government has confirmed it will continue to provide financial support for the rail link and port, which happens to be Canada's only Arctic deepwater port. That makes sense: Canada ought to help sustain national assets that could become highly strategic in the next decades.
Climate models suggest year-round access to northern navigation routes could be a reality as soon as 2040. On Aug. 28, a 200-metre Danish-registered container ship became the largest vessel to attempt a September crossing of the Bering Strait without an icebreaker escort.
Canada is investing in other Arctic maritime infrastructure – in Iqaluit and Baffin Island, notably – but we could stand to do more when it comes to asserting our sovereignty and supporting northern communities.
Experts warn the Churchill ownership change is not a panacea; that the market forces leading to the port's troubles since the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board haven’t magically disappeared.
But profitability, while a concern, is a longer-term issue. More immediately, work is expected to begin as soon as next weekend on 19 sections of the Hudson Bay Railway that have been impassable since devastating floods in 2017.
The short-run benefit of re-establishing Churchill's only land link with the south will be to ease shortages of food and building materials.
More importantly, it brings hope.