Canada’s federal government launches $75M fund for essential air service to remote communities

Ottawa seeks bilateral agreements with provinces and territories to ensure service continues.

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The federal government has launched a $75-million fund to support essential air services to remote communities. (Meagan Deuling / Nunatsiaq News)

Canada’s federal government has launched a $75-million fund to ensure that essential air services to remote communities continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marc Garneau, minister of transport, along with Dan Vandal, minister of northern affairs, and Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous services, announced the new fund on Thursday.

The $75-million fund will cover the next six months and an additional investment of $174 million will be available to support essential air service for the next 18 months after that if needed, a news release said.

Additional funding will depend on the pace of recovery of air travel to remote communities, the release said.

Vandal said the new funding is an “excellent announcement” for the North.

“We understand that the COVID pandemic has created a real crisis for the country, but especially the North and the aviation industry,” Vandal told Nunatsiaq News.

The funding will be retroactive to July 1, Vandal said.

Vandal could not say how much Nunavut’s airlines will receive through the new program, but said precise details will be settled soon.

“It makes sense that those territories with more communities that are remote are going to receive more than those that have less remote communities,” he said.

Vandal said he hopes the money will start flowing in the next few weeks.

“There needs to be more investment. I understand that. I think everyone does. What’s important now is to make sure the money flows, to make sure that those supply chains aren’t broken,” Vandal said.

Under the new initiative, the federal government will also seek bilateral agreements with provinces and territories to ensure air service continues for at least the next six months.

Provinces and territories would be responsible for determining the minimum essential services needed to their communities and administering a program with air operators.

A fixed amount will be allocated to each jurisdiction based on historic passenger volumes, the news release said.

“This funding, in partnership with investments by the provincial and territorial governments, will ensure minimum levels of essential transportation services to remote communities, and ensure the continued supply of food, medical supplies, and other essential goods and services,” the release said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on Nunavut’s airlines, Canadian North president Chris Avery told Nunatsiaq News last month.

In a territory with no roads connecting communities, Nunavut’s airlines have to remain operational to provide passenger service for medical travellers and essential workers and to transport cargo, “whether it’s [to fly] hardware for a sewage truck or food to put bread on the table,” Avery said.

As of June, The Government of Nunavut had spent $24 million since March 30 to support Calm Air and Canadian North.