Jacques Boissinot Archives The Canadian Press “The only government program that allowed regional service, it is the one that we have just abandoned. So, obviously this will lead to service cuts, the abandonment of certain connections, with major impacts for socio-economic development,” lamented the PQ MP for Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Joël Arseneau.
The supply of air transport service could be threatened in certain remote regions of Quebec due to the end of a government program which came to the aid of Quebec carriers, denounces the Parti Québécois.
“The only government program which allowed regional service, it is the one that we have just abandoned. So, obviously this will lead to service cuts, the abandonment of certain connections, with major impacts for socio-economic development and even for the health of people in these regions,” lamented the PQ MP in an interview. of the Magdalen Islands, Joël Arseneau.
In its 2023-2024 budget, presented in March, the government allocated $10 million to extend the Assistance Program for the Maintenance of Essential Regional Air Services, which was first put in place to help carriers survive the the drastic drop in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This program aimed to offer them financial assistance to cover their operating deficit, so that they could maintain an adequate service offering in regions such as Nord-du-Québec, Nunavik, James Bay, Basse-Côte-Nord, Anticosti Island and the Magdalen Islands, which are poorly served by major players in the airline industry.
It was renewed last spring , since the government recognized that “the effects of the pandemic on regional air service traffic continue” and that air carriers are facing new challenges, such as rising fuel prices.
However, this program ended on September 30 and no new sums concerning its extension were announced in the economic update presented this week in Quebec.
In response to questions from The Canadian Press , the office of the Minister of Transport and Sustainable Mobility, Geneviève Guilbault, recalled that the program aimed to “compensate with the effects of the pandemic on air carriers”.
“Two years later, almost all carriers have regained or exceeded their pre-pandemic traffic,” it was argued.
However, Mr. Arseneau is of the opinion that this program is still essential and its abandonment will harm remote regions if the number of flights reaching them decreases.
“Every day, we talk about citizens going to seek treatment in Quebec. There are health professionals — specialist doctors, nurses, beneficiary attendants — who have to travel on a regular basis, because we are extremely dependent on independent labor, so there are immediate effects,” warned the Madelinot elected official.
Reductions already announced
In reaction to the end of the aid program, the Quebec carrier Pascan Aviation sent a letter to its employees this week in which it announced that it will reduce the number of its scheduled flights from the beginning of December, in addition to eliminating certain regional connections which are not “financially viable”.
“This government announcement also comes during the least busy period of the year when the level of our reservations will, as every year, be down significantly. This unfortunately forces us to review our operations to ensure the sustainability of our activities in this new environment,” the company said.
All of this will result in “temporary or permanent layoffs” that the company would have liked to avoid, but which are “essential in the current context”. The exact number of layoffs is not yet known, but the first employees affected will be informed in the coming days.
According to Mr. Arseneau, the Legault government's strategy of banking on the increase in he ridership to support regional air transport — notably by offering $500 tickets — has not borne fruit.
“It is incomprehensible that the government finds that its Air Access Program for regions does not work, and at the same time, we put an end to the one that is working to maintain services. “It's literally throwing the industry completely to the ground,” he said.
He therefore calls for the Standing Committee on Regional Air Transport, which was set up in February to The National Assembly is meeting urgently to find structuring solutions to help protect air connections with remote regions of Quebec.