Evidence of meeting #118 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was north.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Joseph Sparling  President, Air North
Shelly De Caria  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian North Inc.
Bernard Gervais  Executive Director, Northern Air Transport Association
Gladys Atrill  Mayor, Town of Smithers
Daniel Côté  President, Air Transport Commitee, Union des municipalités du Québec
Nicholas Purich  Chief Financial Officer, Canadian North Inc.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scot Davidson Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

That's a good point to be made here.

I think we've covered costs.

I think, Mr. Sparling, that you hit the nail on the head. You know, if we can lower the costs on taxes, fuel, red tape and regulations, lower input costs obviously mean lower costs for the consumer. Would you not agree?

May 30th, 2024 / 12:50 p.m.

President, Air North

Joseph Sparling

Yes, absolutely.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scot Davidson Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Would the other witnesses agree?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

Thank you very much, Mr. Davidson.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scot Davidson Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I got a red flag again. I'm sorry, everyone; I have to sign off.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

Thank you, Mr. Davidson.

Finally for today, we have Mr. Fillmore.

Mr. Fillmore, the floor is yours. You have five minutes, sir.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thanks to the witnesses.

I'd like to start off with some questions for our friends at the Northern Air Transport Association.

I wonder if you could talk about any conversations or consultations that you've undertaken with larger airlines to provide services to and from the north, and if so, what have those conversations been like? What has the content been?

12:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Northern Air Transport Association

Bernard Gervais

Are you talking about the bigger airlines, the ones in the south?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Yes.

12:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Northern Air Transport Association

Bernard Gervais

I have not been part of that. I'm fairly new with NATA, but no, I have not talked with them.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Okay. Then I'd like to open it up more broadly to the other members of the panel.

The problem, I think, that many people are trying to crack here is how we improve and make transportation more affordable back and forth between the north and the south in this context. Was anyone able to comment on investments that are being made or should be made in other modes of transportation to help improve these important transportation links?

12:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Northern Air Transport Association

Bernard Gervais

If I may, I've gone over the Auditor General's report. Looking at the northern infrastructure, obviously it's hard to build roads. In some places, they will never have roads. As we mentioned before, 117 airports or maybe more communities are touched by that. It's only air service. It's the essential service there, and there's not much more that could be done.

Regarding intermodal transport, I've looked at the auditor's report, and intermodal is something that should be and could be looked at. Then again, climate changes are impacting sea levels, fog and even ice bridges and ice roads, and even the Mackenzie River and some roads like that, natural roads. There's a study to be done on that, and there has been. It's been studied quite a bit. It's time to prioritize.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

I recall that quite a while ago, when I was in my university years, I had a friend who lived in Labrador City. At that time, getting her and her family from Labrador City to Nova Scotia involved putting their car on a train, and the train then would put the car back on the road, because there was no road. I understand that a road has been built since then.

I want to go back to the answer to the previous question about other investments we can make if air travel continues to be a serious challenge and expense for people. I appreciate your comment about climate change, and I presume that's around softening tundra and that kind of thing. Surely there are.... Maybe I shouldn't say “surely”. Are there some routes that are viable for building either rail or roads?

You may not be the right panel to ask this, but we're here casting around for ideas. If you have any other thoughts about alternatives to airlines getting north to south, that would be helpful.

12:55 p.m.

Mayor, Town of Smithers

Gladys Atrill

I could chip in as a mayor, if that's appropriate.

You know, where I live on the Yellowhead Highway, there's a major transportation route north, Highway 37, that goes to the Yukon. I would say that in all of our transportation corridors, the investment in servicing them adequately hasn't been made over time. I sense that we're in a catch-up, and the catch-up is very expensive. While we see major developments in northwest British Columbia and on the coast of British Columbia, one of the challenges for our governments to tackle is the right rate of return back to the public so that we can afford to have transportation corridors.

Our highways are not adequate for what's going on. We have a single rail line going past us to the coast. It's not double-tracked. These are massively expensive infrastructure developments that are needed, and I think the fact that they haven't kept up over time means that we are at this critical juncture.

Airlines and airport investment are needed, coupled with ensuring that when people can drive, they can. The distance by road from us to Whitehorse is 1,225 kilometres. It's the same as to Vancouver. These are huge distances, but there are large transports on those roads, and we're going to have to face the fact that collectively we're going to have to take enough out of the tax pot of those developments to help pay for all of this necessary infrastructure. I don't envy anyone trying to make their way, but I think that's where we're at.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Thank you for that.

I have a final question for Air North, if I could, Mr. Sparling.

In the not too distant past, as part of the indigenous and northern affairs committee, I visited northern and indigenous communities to speak to youth about challenges they were facing. A persistent story was the cost of getting back and forth to university. For example, they either ruled out going to university, or, if they were able to get a flight down there at the beginning of the semester, they couldn't afford to come home at Christmas or for other holidays because of the prohibitive cost.

Has there ever been any discussion about programs to help get students back and forth at a subsidized or discounted price?

12:55 p.m.

President, Air North

Joseph Sparling

Students travel back and forth almost every holiday weekend. I don't see that as an issue in our market at all. Our airfares are very affordable. In the past—you are correct—it was an impediment to kids pursuing post-secondary education, but I think that since we've been in the market, that's changed. We see kids every holiday weekend going back and forth.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Peter Schiefke

Thank you very much, Mr. Sparling, and thank you very much, Mr. Fillmore.

I'd like to thank all our witnesses, those appearing virtually and those here in person, for their testimony today and for sharing their expertise with us.

With that, this meeting is adjourned.