Cost of living hike
Nav Can user fees hit Northerners where it hurts, their wallets

Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 21/98) - If Northerners think the cost of travel in the North is expensive now, some say things are only going to get worse.

Now that Federal Transport Minister David Collenette has approved Nav Canada's long-disputed user-fee schedule, the North can expect cargo rates to sky-rocket and travel costs for airlines to takeoff.

"The price of milk is going to go up in Taloyoak and a head of lettuce is going to go up in Cambridge Bay and it's all because the government is imposing these new charges and completely ignoring the concerns raised by Northerners," said Robert Davies, president of the Northern Air Transportation Association.

Nav Canada highlighted last Wednesday a number of benefits a new fee schedule will bring the North. It includes a two-year phase-in of increases to the terminal service charges. The first phase-in will take place Nov. 1, 1999 with the final phase on Nov. 1, 2000.

Air ambulance flights paid for by government and all firefighting flights will also be exempted.

Total savings for the North will be $7.5 million with $5.5 million due to deferrals.

Davies has a tough time finding the value in these so-called benefits.

"The deferral does nothing. It simply defers the implementation of the new rates and they continue to ignore the concerns that have been raised," he said.

Exempting air ambulance and firefighting charges are hardly concessions too, he said, considering the rest of Canada will see the same exemptions.

Transportation Minister Jim Antoine said last week he was disappointed with the consistent refusal of Nav Canada and the federal government to recognize the impact the new fee structure will have on Northern Canada.

"In the end, fresh groceries and other essential air cargo delivered to our Northern and remote communities will cost more," he said.

Donald Ingham, Nav Canada's acting chief financial officer, vigorously defended Nav Canada's fees. He said it is the same basic user-fee structure as the rest of Canada despite the higher cost of operating North of 60.

"By law, Nav Canada is not allowed to charge more in the North for similar services it provides elsewhere in Canada, of special importance, in an area where the unit costs providing service are so much higher," said Ingham.

Yellowknife North MLA Roy Erasmus said while Nav Can made a few concessions, he insists Nav Can is still not looking at revenues generated from overflights into NWT airspace.

He said with the opening of polar routes in Russia, more flights will be made into Northern airspace which means big windfalls for Nav Canada. Erasmus speculates around $140 million will be brought in from en route fees annually.

He is still hopeful if overflight revenues accumulate, the North will see user-fee rates go down.

"The opening is there. They're listening. They know we've made it an issue. I think the door is open so that we can try to impress how much money they're going to be making off of the North and try to get some extra reductions for the North. I'm very optimistic." Antoine will meet with Collenette next week in Regina at the Council of Ministers meeting.