EDITORIAL: Nunavummiut flying blind as merger looms

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In case you didn’t notice, the deadline for public consultations on the merger of Canadian North and First Air, the two main airlines servicing Nunavut, passed on Friday, Dec. 14.

Without last week’s reporting on the consultations, the process would have been strictly off the public’s radar until it was too late.

Transport Canada’s consultations on the merger were already limited in their scope. A select number of people were consulted on the merger to get feedback on a variety of topics, including fares, employment, cargo, access for communities, safety, environment, and Indigenous considerations, among others.

Comments from the general public were accepted in writing only.

When Transport Minister Marc Garneau issues his recommendation, expect the background materials to include very little public feedback at all. The suggestion that the general public should submit written feedback with less than one week’s notice leaves a cynical stain on the process.

Certainly there is an expediency in limiting the scope of the consultations but we are left to hope that our publicly elected officials will have the opportunity to bring all of their constituents’ concerns to the table. With the amount of concern we’ve seen about the proposed merger and the pace of the consultation, it’s hard to be convinced that the effort can properly be classified as meaningful.

As noted by Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern, who is the president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, even those who are being consulted aren’t getting a clear picture due to their lack of access to vital information about the merger.

The airlines indicate they need to merge to reduce duplication of services and increase profitability, which will lead to sustainability. This seems appropriate from a business standpoint but from a user standpoint, it’s hard to believe a monopoly will benefit the average passenger or cargo shipper.

Without competition, the merged Canadian North will have the freedom to raise prices without any opposition from a competing airline. The prospect of even higher air prices is troubling.

You’ll recall that Canadian North pulled out of Clyde River last year after the end of its code-sharing agreement with First Air. If the merger is approved, there is no stopping Canadian North from dropping a community from its route map.

One of our main concerns is that Nunavut does not have an interest in the workings of either airline, and therefore no interest in the new airline. By this we mean the airlines are owned by Inuit in the NWT and Nunavik but not Inuit in Nunavut.

The only way to ensure Nunavummiut are taken seriously as customers is to get involved financially. It’s apparent the Government of Nunavut will not be involved despite its troubles with finding an air travel supplier (see last week’s paper) and apparent lack of interest in running its own airline.

That’s why we are looking to the Inuit regional organizations to lay their money on the table. If we trust Canadian North and First Air, running a competitive airline is impossible in the North but a monopoly will be profitable.

If the merger goes through, that profit will leave the territory. We hope the regional orgs will find the money to stop that from happening by becoming an owner of the merged airline, or by starting an airline Nunavut can call its own.