Absence of air link could ground Nunavut-Greenland trade deal

“I feel that I am banging my head against the wall.”



It was, as these things go, a distinguished gathering.

Poul Kristensen, the Danish ambassador to Canada, flew up from Ottawa. Premier Paul Okalik showed up with an entourage from the Government of Nunavut, including his press secretary. Iqaluit Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik was there, along with officials from the Baffin Fishing Coalition, Nunavut Tourism, and a few other local business people.

Together with Kenn Harper, the man of the hour, they waited patiently in the lobby of the Nunavut legislature for more than an hour on Saturday for a delegation from Greenland that included Premier Hans Enoksen and representatives from three of Greenland’s top companies.

The people from Greenland were late because their charter flight was delayed. They couldn’t take a regular flight to Iqaluit, or for that matter, to anywhere else in Canada from Greenland, because there isn’t one.

That made the gathering, whose purpose was to mark, belatedly, Harper’s appointment as Danish honorary consul in Iqaluit and for the two premiers to officially pledge to strengthen trade ties between Greenland and Nunavut, a little surreal.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

Despite the best efforts of the premiers and the ambassador to make the occasion an upbeat celebration of the common trade, historical and cultural ties between Nunavut and Greenland, the unhappy reality of the missing air link kept intruding.

After the politicians and the ambassador made pleasant remarks about the warm relationship between Canada and Denmark and Nunavut and Greenland and heaped accolodates on Harper, the honorary consul himself broke the spell with his unvarnished, unstatesmanlike observations about his frustrating efforts to get someone – anyone – interested in making regular flights between Iqaluit and Nuuk.

“I’ve been pushing hard to get to anybody and everybody, any airline that will listen to me about re-establishing an air link,” Harper said. “I feel that I am banging my head against the wall.”

Harper said that he agreed to take on the job of Danish honorary consul last year on the understanding that he would be “outspoken” on the air link issue. Judging by his remarks on Saturday, Harper, an Iqaluit businessman, historian and Nunatsiaq News columnist, seems prepared to make the air link a full time campaign.

He said that governments in Greenland and Nunavut have made it clear they will not help finance regular air service between the two regions.

But he said, “We need a weekly flight where anybody off the street can get to Greenland from Nunavut or from Nunavut to Greenland.”

Every child matters, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

For this to happen, he said, both governments have to “take an interest in getting the link re-established.” Regular air service between Nunavut and Greenland ended in 2001 when First Air decided to end its flights.

Harper said he has been visiting Greenland regularly since the 1970s, when he was a teacher in Arctic Bay and encountered his first visitors from Greenland, two hunters who came over the ice by dog team to Grise Fiord and then flew to his community.

The following year, he organized a charter flight from Arctic Bay to Greenland. A group of people from Greenland then made a return visit to Arctic Bay. Harper said he came to like Greenland so much that he eventually married two women from Greenland and had two daughters, one of whom still lives there.

Harper, who has succeeded as a teacher, real estate investor, merchant and writer, may find an even greater challenge advocating for a Nunavut-Greenland air line.

Officials from First Air and Canadian North were formally invited to Saturday’s gathering. No one from either airline bothered to show up.

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