Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa of the NDP is calling on the provincial government to invest in airports that can provide supplies and transportation for remote, northern fly-in communities.
“These airports are essential lifelines for the communities they serve,” said Mamakwa, the NDPs critic for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, during question period yesterday. “But Ontario’s northern airport investments have not kept up with the need.”
“Because of that, there are people who are not receiving urgent medical attention because planes and helicopters were unable to land. Millions of dollars of groceries and medicines have spoiled because they could not be delivered. Has this government begun to engage with fly-in First Nations communities in the Far North to begin discussion on essential improvements to these airports?”
The distribution of food and medicine has long-been an outstanding issue for many remote communities in northern Ontario. Fly-in communities are forced to pay outlandish prices for the delivery of food, which leads to a higher consumption of heavily-processed foods and high diabetes rates.
“We need to improve transportation within the north, especially with our Indigenous population to connect communities, receive supplies and receive medical help. If those conversations haven’t started, I will give you my commitment that I will get work started on that,” said Jeff Yurek, the new Minister of Transportation in response to Mamakwa’s question.
Yurek adds that the MTO has been working with Kenora Rainy-River MPP, Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Energy, and Indigenous Affairs – Greg Rickford on the matter.
“There was a great PC Minister called the Emperor of the North, Leo Bernier. He was the one who started to build those very airports and runways in those isolated communities,” said Rickford. “We will continue to ensure that we have the social, health and economic benefits for those communities. Electrification and road access are just as important as well.
Mamakwa adds that northern Ontario airports serving remote populations are among the fastest growing in the province, and serve a critical role for the safety and well-being of the people in far north First Nations communities.
“There have been needless deaths and unnecessary suffering due to a lack of landing approach infrastructure at these remote airports,” concluded Mamakwa.
Mamakwa asked the Ford government directly to outline any plans to begin working with remote Northwestern First Nations communities so that basics like up-to-date landing instrumentation equipment is available in these airports.
The process to better serve fly-in communities has already began in Sioux Lookout. The airport has secured an anchor tenant – the First Nations Inuit Health Branch – which was the first step to develop a food and medicine distribution centre for fly-in communities.
Wasaya Airways LP will now be able to load their planes with medicine provided by Health Canada. Food and supply shipments will be the next step in the initiative.