People flying out of the Yellowknife airport will start seeing new fees on their plane ticket receipts starting this July.
By a vote of 10-7 on Thursday, MLAs in the Northwest Territories approved the launch of Yellowknife airport improvement fees of $10 per ticket for flights heading north from the city and $20 for flights heading south.
The bill also ups fees for airlines, the cost of which will be passed on to passengers. That means passengers can expect to pay an extra $19 for flights north and $29 for flights south.
Three regular MLAs approve fees
The bill introducing the new fees passed with the support of regular MLAs Danny McNeely (Sahtu), Herb Nakimayak (Nunakput) and R.J. Simpson (Hay River North). Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake was not present for the vote
"The fee itself, combined with the revenue it's going to generate, will go towards reducing a subsidized aspect of this government and improve services which are needed, expansion of the parking lot, and establish a showcase as a capital should to attract outside visitors," said McNeely.
"I look at the tourism potential of our remote pristine area in central Mackenzie, and I also take into account if the traffic could make their way to the destination out here."
Nakimayak's supported the bill for similar reasons.
"I don't think it would change anybody's mind to come to travel to the Northwest Territories," he said.
"When you look at the business model of it into the future, I think Yellowknife is probably the place that will benefit most out of this, and I think a lot of the surrounding communities will benefit, as well, from having tourists and clients."
Bill 'galling,' says MLA
Other regular MLAs saw the bill as "galling" (in the words of Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart) given a central tenet of the government's mandate for the next two and a half years: to "not take any actions that will decrease investment, or increase the cost of living or operating a business in N.W.T."
Transportation Minister Wally Schumann hit back at that criticism with fresh statistics that supported his earlier argument that the added cost to passengers will be "minimal."
He said the new fees will increase the cost of living in Yellowknife by 0.08 per cent.
His deputy minister, Russell Neudorf, said the department arrived at that calculation by considering household expenditures and the number of times people fly south per year.
Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu said he was worried about increased freight costs for travellers, particularly his constituents who buy goods in Yellowknife and fly them back to Lutselk'e.
"They take advantage of the amount of weight that they're allowed to have and paid on their ticket. Anything above that, they pay a certain amount. If that company is hit with high fees, then they would pass that cost onto the customers."
But Schumann had a statistic ready for that, too.
"As far as freight, our business plan says that the fees that are going to be implemented will only add one cent per pound to freight. That is a very minor increase."
Timing of fees questioned
Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green that with mining and government jobs leaving the city, the timing of the fees is not great.
"This is going to increase their costs, and while that may be negligible, I think the psychological effect is more significant," she said.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly put it more blunt terms, tying the fees to the government's larger effort to cut costs.
"It was not part of the mandate, so what was really driving this? I think the motivation was the fiscal reduction targets set by cabinet to try to get [the cost of operating the airport] off the books.
"If it had been such a great idea, this should have been done years ago."
More than one MLA asked Schumann if his department would be willing to phase in the fee over time.
He said it was unwilling to do that, saying it would create uncertainty for airlines and passengers.