Quebec plan to cap regional airfares fails, say Indigenous leaders

Officials from some Indigenous communities in northern Quebec say a provincial plan to cap some regional round-trip airfares at $500, must include the most expensive routes in the province — and must include far more detail before can be put in place.

Quebec Transport Minister Francois Bonnardel announced the Quebec Regional Air Transport Plan last month, promising an investment of $261 million over the next five years.

The aim is to reduce the cost of travel to certain outlying regions, stimulate tourism and economic growth and restore the plane to Quebecers, Bonnardel said on April 19, adding that it would be in place by June 1st.

But the plan as announced does not include some of the most expensive routes in the province, to the northern part of the Cree territory and to the Inuit communities of Nunavik.

Matthew A. Happyjack, president of Air Creebec, which serves Cree communities in northern Quebec and Ontario, said the government has yet to provide key details needed to set it up.

We have not received a contract… the serious things are not done yet.– Matthew Happyjack

“We haven’t received any contracts. The bottom line is not done yet, because companies will have to do a lot of work,” Happyjack said.

Many questions remain

“What’s the limit? How many people? How many times can people use it?” Happyjack asked.

He added that members of his team had been part of a working group with the government on regional air transport for a few years, but they were surprised by Bonnardel’s announcement.

Matthew Happyjack is the president of Air Creebec, which is 100% owned by the Crees of northern Quebec. (Air Creebec)

And while he welcomes the idea, he’s also not sure it will bring business back to pre-pandemic levels.

He said Air Creebec has only recovered a fifth of its pre-pandemic business and he doesn’t think business travel will ever return to what it once was.

“I hope they find the magic formula,” Happyjack said. “Because the need is there. Communities and cities need it.”

Noticeably absent from the eligible routes announced by the minister was anything north of Fermont, a mining town just north of the 52nd parallel, about 1,300 kilometers northeast of Montreal.

Other eligible routes include the Gaspé Peninsula and Lower North Shore of Quebec, as well as some of the routes served by Air Creebec in southern hubs like Val d’Or and Chibougamau in the Abitibi region.

Happyjack says the plan needs to be expanded to include all regions – and routes – in the province.

“They have to be fair,” Happyjack said.

Air Inuit routes not included

Nunavik travelers enjoy some of the highest airfares in the province.

A June round-trip ticket on Air Inuit between Montreal and Ivujivik costs between $2,100 and $2,500, according to the Air Inuit website. Ivujivik is the northernmost community in Quebec, located nearly 2,000 kilometers north of Montreal.

Hilda Snowball is the President of the Kativik Regional Government.

She says she wants to know why the Nunavik routes are not included in the Quebec Regional Air Transport Plan and she has requested a meeting with the provincial government on this subject.

The Quebec Regional Air Transport Plan leaves out all Inuit communities in Nunavik, or any community north of Fermont. (Jean-Luc Blanchet/Radio-Canada)

“The Quebec government is supposed to take care of the whole province of Quebec,” Snowball told Tuttavik host Alec Gordon in Inuktitut.

“[To] leaving Nunavik behind is not good. »

CBC made repeated requests for information to the office of the Minister of Transport without response.

According to a government press release, Nunavik travelers already have access to fare reductions through two programs: Ilaujuq and the Kativik Regional Government (KRG) Airfare Reduction Program.

“Nunavik residents are already benefiting from measures to make air travel more affordable,” the statement said. It is unclear who is paying for the fare reductions offered to Air Inuit travellers.

According to the Air Inuit website, Ilaujuq is a “joint initiative of Makivik Corporation and Air Inuit”.

CBC has contacted Air Inuit and Makivik Corporation for more information.