Yesterday Nunatsiaq Online published an important piece of news for people living in Nunavut. As known, flights between this High Arctic community and Ottawa can cost more than $6,000: “phenomenal costs” of transportation and food are an “impediment” for the people of the High Arctic. A completely new plan is now being developed by the Government of Nunavut.
Nunatsiaq Online: The Government of Nunavut plans to scrap a High Arctic transportation strategy that’s been under development since before 1999 and develop a new strategy from scratch, Transportation Minister Monica Ell-Kanayuk said in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly Feb. 29. Ell-Kanayuk was answering questions posed by Quttiktuq MLA Isaac Shooyook, who told the minister flights between his High Arctic community and Ottawa can cost more than $6,000.
“I will direct my staff to look at a totally new strategy as the High Arctic Transportation Strategy is outdated and was never completed to date,” Ell-Kanayuk said.
The High Arctic Transportation Strategy is part of a larger transportation strategy that the GN has been developing since before the creation of Nunavut to help address challenges posed by costly air travel in the territory. In 2013, Shooyook’s predecessor in the assembly, former MLA Ron Elliott, asked Premier Peter Taptuna questions about offsetting the high cost of air travel to the High Arctic in the house. At the time, Taptuna said the “phenomenal costs” of transportation and food were an “impediment” for the people of the High Arctic. A draft strategy had been shared with the federal government and the affected communities, Taptuna said in 2013.
“We’re fairly close to making a decision on what we’re discussing between the parties involved,” Taptuna said at the time.
But it appears that decision was never made. Shooyook asked Taptuna in the house Feb. 25 for an update on HATS.
“We determined that the only way to bring the cost down was through subsidies from the federal government,” Taptuna said. On Feb. 29, Shooyook asked Ell-Kanayuk, “My position is that the High Arctic is a unique situation. Is my position shared by the [GN]?” “We have meetings with our counterparts nation-wide, and we try to make sure our concerns are heard nationally, because of course... there’s no other alternative mode of transportation but by air,” the minister said.
Ell-Kanayuk said federal subsidy programs are available, but before applying for those subsidies, her department will examine transportation strategies in other northern jurisdictions to create a Nunavut-specific plan. Shooyook wasn’t the only MLA who took the minister to task Feb. 29 over air travel concerns in Nunavut. Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak asked Ell-Kanayuk for the government’s response to two recommendations made in a review report on the Canada Transportation Act, tabled in the House of Commons Feb. 25.
Mikkungwak read one of those recommendations in the Nunavut Legislature Feb. 29: “The federal government should provide targeted financial support for runway extensions and surfacing as well as for 24-hour automated weather systems and modern landing and approach systems in applicable communities in the territories.” These are exactly the kinds of improvements Mikkungwak said he’s requested, many times, for his community.
“Will the minister formally commit to requesting the federal department of transportation to include Baker Lake in its list of airports that will receive these enhancements?” Mikkungwak asked Ell-Kanayuk.
“We will definitely be relaying to the [federal transportation minister] the priorities and potential actions we require for many Nunavut issues,” the minister said.
Mikkungwak referred to another recommendation contained in the federal transportation act review, namely that Ottawa should either “augment” the Airport Capital Assistance Program, or create a new Northern Airport Capital Assistance Program. The capital assistance program provides federal funding to upgrade Canada’s airports, improve safety and meet regulatory standards.
“Can the minister confirm what the [GN’s] position is on establishing a new Northern Airports Capital Assistance Program?” Mikkungwak asked Feb. 29.
“We are looking into a formal response to the federal minister of transportation... and we’ll be submitting that in the near future,” Ell-Kanayuk said.
For his final question, Mikkungwak asked Ell-Kanayuk to table a presentation she gave to the federal transportation ministry during its review of the act. Ell-Kanayuk said the presentation was technical and therefore not useful to table. But she said her presentation referred to the “substandard” instrument approach procedures used by pilots in Nunavut.
“Substandard instrument approach procedures result in a negative impact to the Nunavut economy and safety,” Ell-Kanayuk said.