Skip to content

GN can't force airlines to hire more local people, minister tells MLA

A First Air plane. Photo by: Mark Taylor (
First Air and Canadian North are hoping to have regulatory approval for their proposed merger by the end of the year. That process is still underway, and it won't involve public consultations in Nunavut communities. photo courtesy of First Air/MarkT Photo

With millions of government dollars flowing to Canadian North to keep the airline operational during the Covid-19 pandemic and to ensure air service to communities, this would be an idea time to pressure the airline to hire more local people, says Adam Arreak-Lightstone, MLA for Iqaluit Manirajak.

"They’re trying to keep their operation afloat, to keep their planes in the air. We need them; they need us. It has been a symbiotic relationship," Finance Minister George Hickes says of the GN's negotiations with Canadian North. NNSL file photo

"Given the fact that Canadian North is heavily reliant on fly-in rotational employees, especially here in Iqaluit, for their ramp and cargo attendants, I think that ensuring that Canadian North is taking advantage of all efficiency measures to reduce the amount of financial assistance would necessary," Arreak-Lightstone said in the legislative assembly on Friday, insisting that it would be more cost effective to hire local workers.

Finance Minister George Hickes replied, "With the airline industry, if they don’t have enough employees on the ground to do the job, planes don’t fly. So that is not an anticipated part of our negotiations... They’re trying to keep their operation afloat, to keep their planes in the air. We need them; they need us. It has been a symbiotic relationship."

Arreak-Lightstone wasn't satisfied.

"The government is giving millions of dollars to this organization and the least the organization can do is return some of these funds to Nunavut through compensation and benefits," he said.

Hickes noted that the GN has a contract in place for the airlines to provide medical and duty travel, and he said territorial government staff have their hands full as it is during the pandemic.

"We don’t have the resources to be sending people on oversight and looking at all these balances. We’ve got people that have been scrambling for months on end, weeks on end, days on end, looking after operating some of these negotiations and trying to keep Nunavummiut safe," said Hickes. "I understand where the member is going with this and if he wants to continue to lobby airlines to promote more local hiring or promote locally for people to apply for jobs, I think that’s a great initiative, but it’s not going to be part of these negotiations. The safety and well-being of Nunavummiut is my priority in this."

About the Author: Derek Neary

Read more