Question re: Dawson-Fairbanks flights - November 12, 2013

Hansard, November 12, 2013

Mr. Silver: Early this summer, I wrote to the Minister of Highways and Public Works, raising concerns that I had been hearing regularly about the Dawson Airport’s state of readiness and customs issues for the flights from Fairbanks to Dawson.

“Don’t worry, everything is under control.”

Last Thursday, I asked the Minister of Community Services what steps the government had undertaken to ensure these flights will proceed next summer. I received pretty much the same answer of, “Don’t worry, we’re all ready.”

On Friday, Yukoners learned that the opposite is true and that customs officials in Fairbanks have denied landing rights to Air North and to Holland America to make nine weekly flights between the two destinations. The flights could shuttle as many as 19,000 passengers during the summer seasons.

When did the government learn about these customs problems, and why did the minister not mention it on Friday and instead chose to tell us that everything was fine?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: If the member — the interim Liberal leader— was listening to my response to the Member for Mount Lorne-Southern Lakes, this is an issue. Like I said, there have been a number of issues that have come up with CBSA, Homeland Security, Holland America and Air North, and making sure that we have proper allocations set at the airport for flights coming in. These are things that we’ve had our sleeves rolled up for, for months and months and months. This reminds me of the Parks Canada issue not that long ago that the member was whining about, but we already had —

Unparliamentary language

Speaker: I’ll ask the minister to please just refrain from using that kind of language.

Hon. Mr. Nixon: As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite brought this to our attention. In fact, he indicated that this was a priority issue for him but yet only asked one question in the spring sitting of last year, and one question in the fall sitting of last year. So while we were doing the good work for the Yukon public, we are moving forward with this file and there has been lots of work done to date. We will continue to do more.

Mr. Silver: Last week, the Minister of Tourism told this House that the relationship that we have with Holland America is one that we continue to pay close attention to. Well, it’s obvious that the minister hasn’t been spending that close attention. Perhaps instead of spending $85,000 on trips to Germany, if the minister visited Fairbanks this summer, the plans by Holland America and Air North would not be hanging by a thread. This is another case of the government’s mismanagement on economic issues. Now I will ask the same question again, because the minister did not answer the question when I asked: When did the government know about these customs problems and why did he say publicly on Thursday that everything was fine?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: I don’t believe that — I’d have to check Hansard. I don’t believe that I said everything was fine last Thursday. There has been a substantial amount of work that has been done on this file with the relationship between Air North and Holland America. Yes, I did say that the relationship between the three parties — Yukon government, Holland America and Air North — is a very important one and it’s one that we’ve been following very closely.

The member opposite doesn’t seem to understand — I mean, at the end of the day, this is a private sector matter. This is a matter between Air North and Homeland Security, but we do what we can to support Air North — of course we will. I think we’ve proven that. We’ve proven that to Yukoners on the Parks Canada file when there were issues last summer and now we’re moving forward into the second season where there are privately-led tours. Congratulations to the stakeholders who received those awards. I think that’s a perfect example of how this government will work with the private sector — roll up our sleeves and get things done. I don’t think we’re seeing that from the member opposite.

Mr. Silver: So this is a private sector issue or it’s not a private sector issue? Politicians in Alaska have been very vocal on this issue, going to bat for businesses that would benefit from these new flights going ahead in Alaska. On this side of the border, we heard nothing until I raised this matter last week and the government tried to pretend that everything was fine. The Alaska-Yukon accord is a pledge to work together on issues of common concern for mutual benefit in economic development and culture.

It also states that the Premier and the government are to meet and discuss issues that foster joint economic opportunities and monitor progress toward enhancing joint cooperative efforts. If there ever was a reason to use this accord, it would be now. A lot of Yukon businesses are relying on these flights going ahead next summer.

Can the Premier explain whether or not this issue of economic opportunity was important enough for him to set up a meeting with his Alaskan counterparts, which is a responsibility that is stated in the Alaska-Yukon accord?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: Again, we’ve got another perfect example of the interim Liberal leader not listening to the answers that are provided on this floor.

The relationship between Holland America, Air North and Yukon government is key. We partner with them on all sorts of agreements — cooperative marketing agreements, and so on and so forth.

This issue that Air North is working out with Homeland Security is a private sector issue. Do we support Air North with moving forward to be able to do flights from Fairbanks to Dawson City? Darn right we do. We want to see this happen and we will do what we can to support this. We’ll continue to do the good work that we’ve been doing with the stakeholders, but at the end of the day we’ve got to stand back and see if there are requests coming from Air North for our assistance. To date, there have been none. Are we lined up if they need support? You bet we are.

I think we’ve proven our record and again I’ll bring back the Parks Canada issues last summer. We rolled up our sleeves. We have good work being done. I know the member opposite doesn’t want to recognize that, but there are stakeholders in his riding who are working today because of those agreements with Parks Canada, so I don’t think I need to say anything else.