The offer of air transport service could be threatened in certain remote regions of Quebec due to the end of a government program that came to the aid of Quebec companies, reports the Parti Québécois.
“The only government program that allowed regional service is the one we have just abandoned. So, obviously, this will lead to cuts in services, the abandonment of certain connections, with major impacts for the socio-economic development and even for the health of the people of these counties”, lamented the PQ deputy in an interview of the Magdalena Islands. Joel Arseneau.
In its 2023-2024 budget, presented in March, the government provided $10 million to extend the Essential Regional Air Service Maintenance Assistance Program, which was first launched to help carriers to survive the drastic drop in attendance during COVID-19. pandemic
This program was intended to offer them financial assistance to cover their operating deficit, so that they could maintain an adequate service offer in regions such as Nord-du-Québec, Nunavik, James Bay, Basse-Côte-Nord, Anticosti Island and the Magdalena Islands. , which are poorly served by the major players in the airline industry.
It was renewed last spring as the government acknowledged that “the effects of the pandemic on regional air service traffic continue” and that airlines face new challenges, such as rising fuel prices.
However, that program ended on September 30 and no new amounts were announced regarding its extension 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 “offset the effects of the pandemic on airlines”.
“Two years later, almost all carriers have recovered or exceeded their pre-pandemic traffic,” it argued.
However, Mr. Arseneau believes that this program is still essential and that its abandonment will harm remote regions if the number of flights arriving there decreases.
“Every day, we talk about citizens going to seek treatment in Quebec. There are health professionals – specialist doctors, nurses, beneficiary assistants – who have to travel on a regular basis, because we are extremely dependent on the workforce independent, so there are immediate effects”, warned the elected of Madelinot.
Reductions have already been announced
As a reaction to the end of the aid program, the Quebec company 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 off-peak period of the year when the level of our reserves will, as every year, drop significantly. Unfortunately, this requires us to review our operations to ensure the sustainability of our activities in this new environment,” the company said.
All this will lead to “temporary or permanent redundancies” which the company would have liked to avoid, but which are “indispensable in the current context”. The exact number of layoffs is not yet known, but the first affected employees will be reported in the coming days.
According to Mr. Arseneau, the Legault government’s strategy of betting on increasing the number of travelers to support regional air transport, especially by offering tickets at $500, has not paid off.
“It is incomprehensible that the government finds that its Regional Air Access Program does not work and that, at the same time, we end what works to maintain services. “It’s literally running the industry completely into the ground,” he said.
It therefore calls for the Standing Committee on Regional Air Transport, which was established in February in the National Assembly, to meet urgently to find structuring solutions to help protect air links with remote regions of Quebec.
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