The decision was met with enthusiasm by nearly all of council. The first point of the proposal, stating that the City and airport collaborate on getting provincial and federal support was voted through unanimously.
Coun. Mark King was the only one who voted against the final two points of the proposal which stated that the City will pay for the NBJGA’s remaining 2020 budget in addition to $1.5 million in 2021 operating costs. King believes that the final two points take negotiating leverage away from the city.
“There is [nothing] to say that this is a huge regional lever that we can take to the province and the federal government and say: ‘you need to help with this process,’” King said. “In my mind, it was not the right direction to go.”
Council elected to vote on the first point and the final two points of the motion separately with the aim of sending a message to the provincial and federal governments. King does not think that it was a strong enough message.
“FedNor and the province – they all watch these things and are suited to understand what’s going on in these communities. I would suspect that FedNor is happy with this decision because they know full well that there won’t be that much political pressure on the local MP to come up with some funding to support it,” King explains.
King also mentioned that when the NBJGA repaired its runway in 2019, the Ontario government ended up providing some financial assistance to the project while the federal government did not.
While King remained firm on his stance, Coun. Scott Robertson was adamantly in favour of the motion. He says that he agrees with King’s thought process, but wants to maintain the City’s relationship with the NBJGA.
“I agree that the provincial and federal governments have a role to play in supporting this airport through this pandemic…The trouble is, if we wait for that, we’re sending a signal to the airport that says: ‘you’re on tenuous ground…if you run out of money then you’re forced to shut down,’” Robertson said. The councillor added that it would be a large expense to taxpayers to re-open the airport if it were to shut its doors completely.Jack Santerre, the NBJGA Manager, and Accountable Executive says that the airport is looking at all possible ways to stay open through the pandemic.
“We’re working on turning the tide, putting a contingency plan in place to get over the hump,” he said, adding that the industry believes that it will take up to five years to reach pre-COVID profitability. The pandemic has resulted in the NBJGA losing money for the first time since 2003.
Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli provided a statement, saying “Our government understands that the recovery and long-term prosperity of North Bay and Northern Ontario will depend on the availability of reliable air travel options.”
Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota says that he’s been in contact with North Bay Mayor Al McDonald to look at all possibilities of federal help. He says that the NBJGA is an important part of the local economy and that he will try to keep it open.
When the airport runs out of savings, the City will provide around $125,000 per month to help the NBJGA’s operating costs. Council is also considering dipping into the City’s reserve funds to support the airport’s 2021 budget.