Kiiwetinoong MPP and Deputy Leader of the NDP, Sol Mamakwa, is calling for ‘long overdue’ safety and runway improvements to airports across the far north.
During Question Period at Queen’s Park on September 1, Mamakwa says there are 27 remote First Nations in Ontario that are air access only, with many of them being within his riding, and they’re still operating on gravel runways as short as 3,500 feet long.
“We would never say it is safe to drive a car, bus or truck on a gravel road at 160 kilometres per hour, yet every day, planes are landing under these conditions at Ontario’s far northern airports,” explains Mamakwa.
In his home community of Kingfisher Lake First Nation, Mamakwa says people have been relying on the same gravel runway that was built over 30 years ago in 1987 – a situation that he’s seen across Kiiwetinoong.
“For the 27 Ontario First Nations that are air access only, the province’s far northern airports are lifelines to essential services such as healthcare, education, groceries, mail and policing. Ontario’s investments in far northern airports have not kept up with the need,” adds Mamakwa.
The MPP is calling for increased staffing levels for northern airports as many of them report being underpaid and overworked, improved technology for planes and pilots to help planes land more safely, and significant infrastructure improvements including paved runways and new terminal buildings.
In response, House Leader of the Conservatives, Paul Calandra, says the Conservatives are continuing to focus on growing and modernizing northern Ontario, which includes the development of the Ring of Fire mining area.
“The Premier and this government have put an emphasis on developing the North because we understand how important the north is to the economic success of the entire province. That wasn’t always the case. For many years, the north was ignored.”
The Kenora Airport received over $500,000 in federal funding earlier this year to purchase new equipment and implement new modernization features in their recently updated terminal. The Red Lake and Atikokan airports also received FedNor funding in 2022.