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No public consultations for proposed airline merger

Transport Canada is meeting selectively with stakeholders in Nunavut and the NWT about the proposed merger between airlines First Air and Canadian North. Everyone else has the option to respond to a questionnaire that the federal agency is circulating, and written comments must be submitted by Friday.

First Air and Canadian North are hoping to have regulatory approval for their proposed merger by the end of the year. That process is still underway, and it won't involve public consultations in Nunavut communities. photo courtesy of First Air/MarkT Photo

Everyone else has the option to respond to a questionnaire that the federal agency is circulating, and written comments must be submitted by Friday.

"Transport Canada does not intend to hold a large-scale public consultation in person. However, members of the public are welcome to request a copy of the consultation paper and to submit their comments," stated Julie Leroux, senior adviser of media relations with Transport Canada.

The six-page consultation document lists questions under a variety of topics such as fares and air travel, access for communities, cargo, employment, cultural identity/Indigenous considerations, safety, environment, tourism and operating and network efficiencies.

Madeleine Redfern, Iqaluit's mayor and president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities (NAM), met with Transport Canada representatives last week in Iqaluit about the potential merger, along with other city councillors and senior city staff.

Since Transport Canada isn't travelling to most of Nunavut's communities, Redfern said she encouraged department staff to ensure the communities have an opportunity to present their views, "at a minimum."

NAM will ensure mayors and senior administrative officers get the consultation document and some questions have been translated into Inuktitut, Redfern noted.

While she commends the federal minister for undertaking a regulatory review, Redfern said she emphasized the need for transparency in this process.

"(We want Transport Canada) to review the airlines' schedules and pricing to ensure that their commitments to efficiencies and reduced prices for both passengers and cargo actually materialize," she said, adding that she would like to see First Air and Canadian North's responses to some of the questions in the consultation documents.

"We don't have access to all the information that the airlines have," she said.

Transport Canada has merger stakeholder meetings planned this week in Yellowknife and Winnipeg.

The Quebec-based Makivik Corporation, owners of First Air, and the Inuvik, NWT-based Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which operates Canadian North, are hoping for the federal government's approval on the merger by the end of the year.

]However, the official public interest review only began on Nov. 13. The commissioner of the Competition Bureau of Canada, who is also examining the proposed merger, has up to 150 days to file concerns with the minister of Transport Canada.

The commissioner's report will be published on the Competition Bureau's website once it's in the hands of the minister, said Jayme Albert, senior communications adviser with the Competition Bureau.

Ultimately, the regulatory decision on the proposed merger rests with the federal Cabinet, which will have a recommendation from the Minister of Transport.

First Air and Canadian North each employ close to 800 people.

Kelly Lewis, Canadian North's manager of communications, previously told Nunavut News that Canadian North and First Air's numerous overlapping routes have resulted in flights with too many unsold seats and unused cargo space.

"We believe the presence of competition in absence of sufficient demand comes at a high price, and that Northern communities would be better served by one strong, reliable air carrier operating a sustainable schedule," Lewis stated earlier this year. "This merger will improve the sustainability and efficiency of Arctic air services... Our goal will be to leverage the respective strengths and experience of both teams, keeping as many people as possible."