About 40 regular employees have already been handed pink slips. A further several dozen seasonal workers have also been notified that they will not be needed. An estimed one in ten people living in Churchill are employed at the port. The closure threatens to undermine the entire town’s economy, drive up the price of food and other goods, and is already having an impact further afield.
The town of The Pas is also affected by the closure with about 30-40 seasonal rail jobs on the line as a result of the closure in Churchill, according to local union leaders. The town is located 700 km Southwest of Churchill and operates the rail lines that are the effective starting point of the route to the port.
This isn’t the only problem facing The Pas as it too faces the closure of its largest employer. The city’s paper and lumber mill, owned by Tolko Industries, is set to close on December 2nd, 2016. There are 332 workers at the mill, all of whom will be out of work. A further 250 work as subcontractors “in the bush”, supplying the company with wood, and would also lose their jobs. Many, or even a majority, of these workers are aboriginal.
This would be devastating in a city with a population of about 5,500. According to mayor Jim Scott, “It’s a one-two punch and this second punch is almost like a death blow; it really does hurt.”
If this wasn’t enough these Northern communities, Vale Canada is planning on shutting down its smelter operations in Thompson, Manitoba by 2018, which could result in 450 job losses. There is also the likely closure of the 777 mine owned by Hudbay Minerals in Flin Flon, Manitoba, due to the exhaustion of the ore reserves. The mine employs almost 1,500 workers in its primarily copper and zinc mining operations.
Northern communities handed over to corporate profiteers
Politicians and business leaders have fallen over themselves to come to the “aid” of Churchill, to provide wise advice and to point the finger at each other over who is at fault. Lloyd Axworthy, former Foreign Affairs Minister for Jean Chretien, demanded political intervention and blamed the province’s previous NDP government. Cliff Cullen, a Minister in Trudeau’s government, led a delegation of business and tourism officials to Churchill at the end of August 2016.
Cullen and Axworthy had a lot to say, but what they didn’t say was even more important. It was their party - the Federal Liberals – who privatized the Port of Churchill leading to the present crisis. In fact, Axworthy almost certainly played a personal role in the matter. The Port of Churchill was built in the 1920s and was publicly owned for over six decades. In 1997 the port was privatized by the Jean Chretien Liberals and handed over to OmniTRAX.
OmniTRAX is a private Transportation Management Company based in the United States and is one of the largest private owners of railroads in North America. It operates rail lines in 12 US states and 3 Canadian provinces. After plundering public assets and receiving government subsidies, the company has turned around and thrown its workers out.