Transport minister to meet with airline executives after Air Canada pullout

a close up of a sign: Quebec Transport Minister Fran?ois Bonnardel will meet with representatives of regional airlines and MNAs of the affected ridings (C) John Mahoney Quebec Transport Minister Fran?ois Bonnardel will meet with representatives of regional airlines and MNAs of the affected ridingsReplay Video
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Quebec Transport Minister Fran?ois Bonnardel has agreed to meet with regional airlines next week in a bid to help fill the void created by Air Canada’s decision to scrap dozens of flights in the province. Bonnardel will “quickly sit down with the Quebec carriers and the MNAs of the affected ridings to see how the government can help them resume the flights abandoned by Air Canada,” spokeswoman Florence Plourde told the Montreal Gazette via email Friday afternoon. The minister also wants Ottawa to get involved, she said.

Canada’s biggest airline announced Tuesday that it’s indefinitely suspending service on 30 domestic routes and closing eight stations at regional airports because of the collapse in demand for air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic . Baie-Comeau, Gasp?, Mont-Joli and Val-d’Or are among the Quebec destinations affected. Quebec’s priority “is that the people of the C?te-Nord, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Abitibi-T?miscamingue, Gasp?sie, ?les-de-la-Madeleine, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and Nord-du-Qu?bec can always have access to regional flights,” Plourde said. “First we have to find a short-term solution.

There are already airlines in Quebec that have raised their hands to improve service. We’re not closing any doors at this time.” Air Creebec said Friday it’s open to boosting links between Montreal and Abitibi in the wake of Air Canada’s announcement.

The carrier, which is partly owned by the Cree community, plans to offer service between Montreal, Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda starting in August, president Matthew Happyjack told Presse Canadienne. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he was disappointed with Air Canada’s decision, he didn’t comment on what role — if any — Ottawa might play in the matter. That’s unlikely to sit well with Bonnardel.

“Mayors and regions of Quebec expect elected officials to work together,” Plourde said. “The time is not for partisanship here, but for collaboration.” Newly minted Quebec Liberal Party Leader Dominique Anglade had earlier called on the provincial government to consider providing financing for any carrier willing to serve regional routes in the province. “All options should be considered” when it comes to financing air transport in Quebec, Anglade told reporters Friday at a news conference in Montreal. “We have an enormous territory.

Fully occupying this territory requires money.” Anglade also called on Quebec to immediately put in place mechanisms — such as a permanent government committee — to guarantee a minimum level of air service to outlying regions. Measures should also be implemented to reduce the cost of air transport within Quebec, she added.

“There is an urgency to react,” Anglade told reporters. “The government is responsible for the occupation of the territory. It’s the government that’s responsible for ensuring the development of our regions. There are fundamental issues to be solved.” Four lobby groups — including the Union of Quebec Municipalities and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Quebec — have already created a joint “crisis cell” to find solutions, without any government involvement so far.

Anglade said it should be up to the Quebec government to lead the effort. Charles Milliard, chief executive of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Quebec, said Friday he was heartened to hear that Bonnardel will soon meet with airline executives. “There’s clearly a momentum in the regions to come up with a new provincial air transport strategy,” he told the Montreal Gazette. “The time is right to do what we should have done years ago.”

Milliard said he has not heard back yet from federal transport officials, adding that he’s “hopeful they will be open to getting involved.” Various elected officials and businesspeople have been demanding air transport improvements for years. Under former premier Philippe Couillard, Quebec announced the creation of a regional air transport committee in 2018 following an industry summit.

No meetings of the committee ever took place. Health care, tourism, education, economic development and migration trends are all affected by the lack of a robust regional air transport system, Anglade said. Patients requiring specialized care will no longer be able to rely on air transport to receive treatment in major centres such as Montreal, she added.

Still, it’s not up to the government to run an airline, Anglade stressed. “I don’t think it’s Quebec’s role to operate aircraft directly,” she said. “However, there are ways to make sure the regional actors can play a bigger role. It’s also clear that the government of Quebec has a role to play, namely when it comes to airport infrastructure.”

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