Canadian North says its special fares for Inuit beneficiaries of the Nunavut land claim will not change, but that’s not enough to quell fears in the territory that a proposed merger with First Air will leave Nunavut Inuit out in the cold.
The two northern airlines provide the majority of air travel and cargo services in the North and are a lifeline to many Nunavut communities.
Until recently, Nunavut Inuit owned half of Canadian North.
On April 1, one week before talk of a merger was announced, Nunasi Corporation, a birthright corporation wholly owned by the Inuit of Nunavut, sold its 50 per cent stake in Norterra, the company that owns Canadian North.
The airline is now entirely owned by the Inuvialuit of the northern Northwest Territories, while First Air is owned by the Inuit of northern Quebec.
Tununiq MLA Joe Enook says if a new airline is born, Nunavummiut will be most affected in terms of jobs loss and customer service.
“What kind of service will be provided to us once we have no more say over it and no partnership with them?” Enook asks. “I feel this needs to be answered to Nunavummiut.”
Pond Inlet mayor Charlie Innuarak is also concerned about the airlines’ plans, and about Nunavut Inuit losing control of an airline.
“We have a huge territory with a land claims agreement which translates to a lot of money,” Innuarak says. “The fact that we don’t have control over the airlines weakens us.”
A merger agreement could happen by the end of the year.
The federal Competition Bureau has said it will undertake a review of how that could affect consumers.
Canadian North has offered a special fare to beneficiaries of the Nunavut land claim and the Inuvialuit final agreement since 2005.
The Pivut fare offers beneficiaries and their spouses unlimited travel at a savings of at least 65%.
The company has pledged to offer the discount again this year between June 2014 and May 31, 2015.