Nunavut groups discuss air freight emergency

Nunavut groups held an emergency meeting earlier this week to talk about potentially devastating increases in air freight rates.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

ANNETTE BOURGEOIS

Organizations in Nunavut scrambled early this week to set up a meeting after hearing airline freight rates may be hiked by as much as 30 per cent this fall.

Nunavut chambers of commerce, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Iqaluit Trade and Promotions Office held an emergency meeting Monday in Iqaluit.

The groups met to discuss the proposed fee structure introduced by Nav Canada, the private corporation set up to deliver air navigation services in the country.

Nav Canada has designed a fee structure that will mean an increase of between 15-30 per cent for northern airlines to purchase the services beginning in November.

Additional fees will be added in November, 1998. Those increases would be passed along to consumers, likely through freight rate increases.

Nunavut groups missed deadline

Mike Hine, president of the Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce, said he hadn’t even heard about the proposed fees before last Friday. The deadline to submit reaction to Nav Canada’s proposal was last Wednesday.

“Most of us were really quite taken by surprise,” Hine said. “It’s pretty scary.”

When the groups contacted Nav Canada asking for an extension to repond to the proposed fees, they were initially refused, Hine said.

However, after a second request, the groups were given until Wednesday of this week to submit their responses. As well as sending a letter to Nav Canada, the groups wrote to several federal and territorial ministers expressing their concerns.

Northern leaders lulled to sleep

“I think everybody was lulled to sleep because Nav Canada said this would be equitable and fair,” Hine said.

Hine said the increases will obviously mean a higher cost of living for individuals and families, but he also questioned the extent to which the mining and tourism sectors would be affected.

“If it’s going to cost a small fortune, do you really want to fly north or do you want to fly south for the same price?”

Public should have been informed

Many groups say Nav Canada should have informed the public, not just the airline industry, about the changes.

“As far as Transport Canada or what took it’s place, Nav Canada, is concerned the world is only populated by people directly involved in the airlines,” said George Filotas, general manager of the Co-operative Federation of Northern Quebec, which depends on Air Inuit to carry its supplies from southern Quebec.

The government of the Northwest Territories spends millions of dollars every year on transportation and cargo costs.

Jim Winsor, the director of Arctic Airports, along with other department staff met with Nav Canada and airline companies recenly in Yellowknife.

“The GNWT is a very significant user of the system,” Winsor said. “All the people who travel on behalf of the government will feel the increase in that price. All the materials that we freight in to any particular community and all the people who move through the medicare system will bear that increase.”

A flawed process?

Transportation Minister Jim Antoine wrote to Nav Canada’s chairman John Crichton stating not only his concerns about the increased costs to the government, but the manner in which the consultation took place. Winsor also sees a flawed process.

“That consultation process includes the carriers primarily and us as a government, but the real consumer, the guy who’s got to ship the freight and buy the ticket, won’t know anything about it until he gets the fee increase because the process isn’t moving it down the next step.”

Winsor added the initial reponse from Nav Canada may be encouraging.

“The chairman phoned back shortly after receiving the letter to say that he will have his staff do a more detailed analysis of the impact of the fees on the North,” he said.

According to the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act, in which the federal government turned over its control of the services to Nav Canada, the corporation must consult the public.

A spokesperson with Nav Canada says it’s done just that.

“There is no process to going back to people who hadn’t heard about it because it was so well publicized,” she said about the two-month consultation process, which ended last Friday.

The Nav Canada board is expected to meet sometime this week to discuss the submissions regarding its fee structure.

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