The Quebec government has ended an aid program supporting air travel to some remote Quebec regions, sparking cutbacks in at least one air carrier and fears of harm to the areas' socioeconomic development.
In the letter to employees, Quebec air carrier Pascan Aviation said it learned of the decision earlier this week and will have to make cutbacks as a result.
The company said it has to reduce the number of flights starting in December and eliminate flights to "certain regions which are not financially viable," it said in the letter.
It said it would have to lay workers off — temporarily or permanently.
In its 2023-2024 budget, the government granted $10 million to extend the program set up to help carriers survive the drastic drop in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aid program was renewed last spring but ended in September.
The program was designed to provide financial aid to offset operating deficits, so that carriers could maintain services offered in regions such as the Quebec regions of Nunavik, the Lower North Shore and the Magdalen Islands — all of which only see a limited number of air travel.
Joël Arseneau, Parti Québécois MP for the Magdalen Islands, said the move will cause serious harm to the people in the regions.
Joël Arseneau, Parti Québécois MP for the Magdalen Islands, said the move will cause serious harm to the people in the regions. (Daniel Coulombe/Radio-Canada)
"The Legault government is completely abandoning the regions and its duty to help airline services in our regions," he told CBC.
"We're completely isolated on the Magdalen Islands, and we're entirely dependent upon maritime or airline services," he said.
Quebec Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault told Presse Canadienne the companies have bounced back since the pandemic — the reason the program was created.
"Two years later, almost all carriers have recovered or exceeded their pre-pandemic traffic levels," said Guilbault.
But Arseneau believes the program remains essential, and abandoning it means remote regions will suffer if the number of flights there dwindle.
"Every day, we hear about people going to Quebec City for treatment. There are healthcare professionals — specialists, nurses, orderlies — who have to travel on a regular basis because we're extremely dependent on independent workers, so there are immediate effects," Arseneau told Presse Canadienne.
At the same time, the government's plan to increase tourism to the regions with subsidized flights — for $500 or less — has failed, he said.
Last month, CBC reported the government reduced the number of $500-or-less flights by more than 30 per cent for 2023-2024 back in April.