Question re: Dawson City Airport - November 17, 2015

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, this spring I asked the government when it was going to move ahead with paving the Dawson City Airport runway. It was the spring of 2014 when the former Yukon Party Minister of Tourism returned from a meeting in Dawson where he had heard concerns about a gravel runway. It was limiting the number of tourists that Air North could fly in and out of Alaska, for example.

The minister said in this House that the government was going to pave the runway. He also told a local newspaper — the announcement was — and I quote: “…meant as a message to Yukoners and the tourism industry that the government takes their requests seriously.” Unfortunately, there’s no money in the spring budget to pave Dawson’s runway. There’s no money in this fall’s update and no money in next year’s forecast either, Mr. Speaker. Why is paving the Dawson Airport runway not a priority for this government?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. There are a number of priorities that many communities identify — including, of course, Dawson City — with respect to infrastructure development. This is something that has come forward from a number of parties.

Perhaps it’s worth turning back the clock a little bit. As I mentioned in the Spring Sitting of this Legislative Assembly, we were waiting for confirmation from Transport Canada that jet service would be able to use the approach path to the Dawson runway. We’ve since received verbal confirmation and are awaiting written confirmation on that. There is a bank of geotechnical knowledge with respect to the permafrost that underlies that runway. We are updating that knowledge base right now so that we can have a true estimate on what the costs are going to be to pave that runway. Mr. Speaker, it’s about $11 million capital right now: $4 million for paving and the balance in additional equipment for O&M — another half a million a year for O&M.

This is a project that we know is important to a number of Yukoners and many Yukon businesses. We want to make sure we get it right and have a proper estimate going forward, because we know, Mr. Speaker, that if we are a dollar over, the Member for Klondike would be the first to complain that we were overbudget.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Since I asked questions this spring, it has become increasingly obvious that the holdup seems to be on the Yukon government side here. Air North supports paving and so does Chief Isaac Inc. of Dawson. In February of 2014, former Minister Jason Kenney agreed that this project would be worthwhile. He said that he would support and endorse the application for Building Canada infrastructure funding. The former Yukon Party Tourism minister supported it — or at least he did before he was replaced.

Finally, the federal Conservative candidate who the Premier warmly endorsed also backed this project as well. It was interesting, however, to see that the project was not on the list of priorities to the new federal government that the Premier recently released.

Mr. Speaker, why are so many organizations behind this project and why is the Yukon government not one of them?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again as I mentioned, I know this is an important project for the community of Dawson City. There are a number of projects throughout the Yukon that are important when we develop priorities — infrastructure priorities going forward. Of course we’ve heard about access roads into mineral-rich areas like the Dawson Range and improving those roads as important priorities.

With respect to the Dawson runway, Mr. Speaker, we want to make sure that we’ve done all of our homework. We need that written confirmation from Transport Canada that the approach slope is available to have jet service land there. We’ve received verbal confirmation on that and that’s where we are.

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the capital cost of paving the runway, we’re adding to our geotech knowledge base. Right now we’re doing our homework on that.

Mr. Speaker, it’s an important project — we recognize that — to the community of Dawson and to many businesses and tourism operators throughout the territory. I know that the Minister of Tourism and Culture has spoken directly with Holland America about the importance of this as well; but Mr. Speaker, it’s also important to do our homework, and that’s what we’re doing right now.

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, paving the runway is obviously not a priority for this government or it would be done by now. This project has the support of the community; it has the support of the private sector, the development arm of the local First Nation but not the Yukon Party. Air North has been flying into Dawson City for years now and has introduced an opportunity to increase the flow of passengers through the airport by using more modern and fuel-efficient jets on that route. This move gives more passengers-per-flight at a lower cost-per-passenger in a more fuel-efficient way, thereby reducing greenhouse gases.

The paving of the runway will create an opportunity for Air North and others to operate more effectively into the airport and allow them to bring in more tourists, more workers and more residents at a lower cost and will also allow for expanded cargo operations in the area to feed our primary industries.

Mr. Speaker, will the minister release the results of the approach slope study? Also, why did the government make the promise to pave in the first place if it had no intention of following through with it?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Mr. Speaker, once again the Member for Klondike is about three or four months ahead of himself when he makes all of those accusations, I guess, in his question.

Mr. Speaker, of course we recognize the benefits of paving the Dawson runway. We have a number of airports and aerodromes throughout the territory that are important to each and every one of our communities. They’re staging grounds for not only tourism opportunities, but also mineral development and exploration opportunities. We’ve heard from the business community about the importance of this project. Underway right now is a business case study on the paving of the Dawson runway.

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of unanswered questions that we’re looking into right now — whether it’s geotech or waiting for that written confirmation from Transport Canada. I know this is important to the Member for Klondike, but also doing our homework is extremely important when we come up with cost estimates.

As I mentioned in a previous response here today, the Member for Klondike would be the first to criticize if we were even one dollar over cost estimates when the budget came out for this. If he’ll show a little bit of patience, let us do our homework so that we can make an informed decision on behalf of Yukon taxpayers.