Working together, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and its component union, the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE), have produced a video to highlight the negative outcomes of the full-scale privatization of critical public infrastructure.
Canada’s only arctic deep-water port, the town of Churchill is a small northern community, home to 850 people, on the shore of Hudson Bay. Due to its geography, the community is inaccessible by road and dependent on connections by rail, water, and air. However the geographic location of Churchill makes it an ideal spot for a port, since it provides access to the North Atlantic. The Port was conceived as “a great nation-building enterprise”, a more direct route to Europe, and a strategic gateway for Canada’s claim to the Arctic.
Instead of investing in this community and strategic Arctic port, successive Canadian governments failed this town, its citizens, and all of Canada by allowing private corporations to take over the port, with disastrous results.
In 1931, the Government of Canada opened the Port of Churchill as a major port that shipped primarily grain with a rail line connecting Churchill to other parts of the country. Sixty-six years later, in 1997, the Chrétien government sold the port to a private American corporation, OmniTRAX, for a mere $1 as an add-on to the sale of the rail line. In 2012, the Harper government dissolved the public Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), resulting in a significant and devastating decline in shipments through Churchill. In 2016 OmniTRAX shut down the port (which employed 10% of the town’s population) and cut rail service in half. The following year, a spring flood washed out the tracks, and closed the rail line, isolating Churchill from the rest of the country.
OmniTRAX refused to fix the track, while residents faced severe hardships for more than a year.
Working together, a consortium of First Nations, northern communities and a private corporation have now purchased the port, and repaired the railway, with significant funding from the Federal Government.
This new deal, now a Public-Private Partnership (P3), has allowed the port to reopen, trains to run, and goods to flow.
It remains to be seen if this new deal provides sustainable service and jobs to the people of Churchill, or if the P3 nature will result in more negative outcomes, as so many such schemes do.