Question re: Dawson City Airport - May 14, 2015

Mr. Silver: About a year ago this time, the Yukon Minister of Tourism and Culture had returned from a meeting in Dawson where he had heard concerns about a gravel runway. It was limiting the number of tourists Air North could fly in and out from Alaska, for example.

The minister stood in this House and stated that the government was to pave the runway. He also told a local newspaper. His statement was — and I quote: “…meant as a message to Yukoners and the tourism industry that the government takes their requests seriously.” A year later, we know how seriously the government took this request: There is no money in this budget to pave Dawson’s runway and there is no money in next year’s forecast either. We have a new minister but no new runway.

Mr. Speaker, why has the new minister backed away from the old minister’s promise?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Just to inform members of the House, I did send an e-mail to the Member for Klondike last week regarding maintenance at the Dawson runway over the weekend. It was surfacing and an application of a substance that would firm up the runway to allow for the Holland America passengers to come in on Air North. I’m pleased to report that work was completed on Saturday evening, ahead of schedule, and the runway was reopened with no issues that I was made aware of from that work.

One of the things with respect to paving the runway in Dawson City — it’s a significant capital expense, as members can appreciate. I believe the number is close to $10 million. There’s also an ongoing O&M component of approximately half a million dollars a year.

Currently, Transport Canada is assessing the approach slope and we’re working with them, as requested, on that. What that will determine is whether or not this equipment can land there. I’m sure all members would agree that, before spending that amount of money on capital and ongoing O&M, we wait to hear back from Transport Canada to ensure that the approach slope to the Dawson airport is sufficient to accommodate the equipment that Air North is trying to run there.

Mr. Silver: The maintenance the minister just referenced will not allow Air North to bring more people into Dawson this summer or next. A year ago, the former minister promised to pave the Dawson City runway. A week after, his colleague from Watson Lake also introduced a second motion asking the government to pave the runway, just in case the public had not heard it the first time.

We know this is expensive, Mr. Speaker. Capital assets are expensive. Soccer fields are expensive. Lots of things are expensive.

A year later, the flights to Dawson are set to begin and, again, plans to pave the runway have not been advanced by this government.

Why did the government make the promise in the first place if they had no intention to follow through on it?

Hon. Mr. Kent: I think this government would look very foolish if we paved the runway and invested $10 million in capital and $500,000 in ongoing O&M if Transport Canada ruled that the approach slope was not sufficient to operate that kind of equipment. Perhaps the member opposite didn’t hear that in the first response.

We conducted some maintenance over this past weekend on the strip at Dawson, and Air North will be ready to fly in the jet. My understanding is that the first jet is coming in on May 21. The Minister of Tourism and Culture, in particular, and I have been working with companies like Air North and Holland America to address not only the current situation but — once we hear back from Transport Canada — what the future options are with respect to that airport.

We’re waiting for the Transport Canada assessment of the approach slope to be completed at which time we’ll be in a better position to make a decision on what we do going forward at the Dawson Airport.

Mr. Silver: The former minister said that his motion was to send a message about how serious this government takes the requests from the tourism industry and, a year later, I guess we’re having our answer — not very seriously at all.

I know the issue was raised at a meeting with their federal minister, Jason Kenney, some time ago. He said that it was a good project as well, and he suggested that Yukon apply under the Building Canada fund for funding. It’s very disappointing to see that these runway plans have been put on the backburner even though industry and their federal counterparts have also thought it was a good idea. It’s this government that’s holding it up.

It’s very disappointing to see the lack of potential — for these flights from Alaska cannot be fully realized because of a lack of infrastructure. It looks like more lobbying is required to see this project through.

Can the minister explain why there is no money for this budget this year or next year, and if they’re waiting for some kind of regulations, then why did they make the promise in the first place?

Hon. Mr. Kent: What’s disappointing is the fact that the Member for Klondike can’t seem to think on his feet. I guess the Liberals would pave the runway without an assessment being done by Transport Canada.

Transport Canada will be doing this assessment based on safety issues. They are assessing the approach slope at the Dawson runway. Those individuals in this House who have flown into that runway recognize that there are a number of very steep slopes in and around the airport, and I think safety is obviously a concern to Transport Canada; it’s a concern to us.

Yukon Liberals would pave that runway without an assessment. They would spend $10 million to pave it. They would spend $500,000 per year in O&M — and perhaps no 737 service there anyway. I guess if that’s the type of government that Yukoners could expect from the Liberal Leader and the Member for Klondike, they may want to think twice on the next election day.