The Yukon Liberal government’s recently tabled Public Airports Act is drawing criticism from a major player in the territory’s aviation industry as well as the official Opposition.
Air North president Joe Sparling said Tuesday he was made aware of the legislation when it was being drawn up by the government.
Air North, however, was not “well-informed” about what exactly the Bill No. 6 was to contain, he said.
“We didn’t really until just recently actually have a chance to look at it,” Sparling told the Star.
Now that the airline is doing so, he said, aspects of the Public Airports Act are “raising some red flags with us and industry in general.”
One of those red flags is the act’s provision for the government to introduce charges like an airport improvement fee which could see passengers paying more to fly in the Yukon.
Most Canadian airports charge such a fee.
Passengers departing from the Vancouver International Airport, for example, are charged a $5 or $20 fee depending on terminal and flight
Official Opposition house leader Scott Kent confronted the government in the legislature Tuesday about the clause in the act that would allow the government to enact such a fee.
Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn responded by saying he wanted to be “very clear” that the government has “no plans” to introduce an airport improvement fee.
However, Kent was not satisfied.
“It would be better if the legislation spelled that out,” he said. “It’s already very expensive to travel to and from the Yukon.
“Any added costs to the price of airline tickets in the Yukon would only make it even more difficult for Yukoners to go on vacation, go south for school, or go visit friends in Vancouver.”
Sparling said Air North wholeheartedly objects to the introduction of a fee.
He said he would “hate to think” the Public Airports Act is being introduced to enable the government to do exactly that.
The federal government devolved all authority for Yukon public airports to the territorial government in 1996.
Currently, the Yukon is the only major airport authority in Canada without specific legislation governing its airport activities.
The territorial government currently uses powers granted in the devolution agreements to manage its public airports.
“The Public Airports Act will clarify the government’s role and enable it to better respond to tenant requests, manage traffic flow through aviation facilities and to improve service,” according to a Yukon government press release.
This is essentially what Sparling said he was told in a meeting with Allan Nixon, the assistant deputy minister for transportation.
He said at the time, this explanation of the government’s need for the legislation made sense.
However, he noted that “now that we look into it more, there’s more and more concerns coming to the surface.
“I think we’re seeing a bit of a potential for a cash grab here.”
In the legislature, Mostyn recited an extensive list of stakeholders who had been consulted over the last eight months in the legislation’s
“They have not expressed any concerns with me about the legislation as it currently stands,” he said.
However, both Kent and Sparling said Tuesday they don’t feel the government’s consultation process on the bill was adequate.
Kent questioned the brevity and the transparency of the process in the legislature.
“Thousands of Yukoners use and rely on our airports,” he noted.
“We don’t recall there being any publicly advertised consultation on this piece of legislation, in spite of it actually having the word ‘public’ in the
title of the act.”
Mostyn said the act is modeled after legislation implemented in the Northwest Territories and other jurisdictions.
That in and of itself is cause for alarm, in Sparling’s view.
“I absolutely don’t want to follow the road the (Government of the Northwest Territories) took, because I think their path will prove to be a big mistake for them.”
The territory introduced an improvement fee for the Yellowknife Airport this year.
“It’s going to cut into their tourism industry, it’s going to hurt their economy, and we don’t want to be doing something just because they’re doing it,” Sparling said.
“In fact, we should be taking advantage of perhaps a competitive advantage and keeping ourselves lean and mean.”