MONTREAL — Travelers who want to go to the regions of Quebec will not have to pay more than $500 for their round-trip plane tickets, starting June 1.
Transport Minister François Bonnardel announced this new measure on Tuesday at a press conference at Mont-Joli airport.
He clarified that, in cases where the trip requires connections, the $500 maximum will still be applied to all trips, not to each flight.
Quebecers ― as well as any foreign tourist ― will not have to take steps to be reimbursed, since the discount will be applied when they purchase their ticket. The airlines can then claim the difference from the government.
All Canadian companies can participate, but “a carrier must serve a year-round destination “x” to receive the amount that we will reimburse it,” specified Mr. Bonnardel. For example, if Air Canada continues to have flights to the Magdalen Islands only in the summer, these will not be eligible for the program. But this does not prevent other flights from the same company from benefiting from the discount if they meet the requirements.
Asked about the risk that air carriers take advantage of this to raise their prices, the minister replied that these will be “negotiated each year”, according to inflation calculations.
The Quebec Regional Air Transport Plan will have a total sum of $261 million over five years.
In addition to the $500 tickets, this amount will be used to renew existing emergency assistance programs until March 31, 2023. The government will also eliminate the maximum assistance threshold of the Airfare Reduction Program, which allows residents from isolated regions to travel at a lower cost.
Quebec finally intends to conclude agreements with air carriers to ensure that it has sufficient service in the regions, which, according to Minister Bonnardel, “must be considered an essential service”, especially in isolated places where the access to health care or education depends on the ability to move around.
The Minister of Tourism, Caroline Proulx, declared that with easier transport, “a world of possibilities opens up to Quebecers” to discover the province, in particular “the municipalities which sometimes can have certain difficulties in seduce tourists by distance”. This also applies to foreign visitors, she said, since “Quebec is an international destination”.
The Parti Québécois, for its part, was skeptical of the government’s plan, judged “in several respects badly put together” by its spokesperson for transport, Joël Arseneau. In a press briefing at the National Assembly, he raised several points that had not been clarified by the minister, such as the price of a one-way ticket or the calculation of taxes in the discount.
He also pointed to the apparent lack of conditions for carriers, other than providing year-round flights. “The frequency that will be offered (…) will that change? Will the seating capacity increase according to demand?” he asked.
The Minister did not specify what the minimum required will be to be considered active all year round.
The tabling of Tuesday’s plan was long overdue for more than a year. Indeed, when the pandemic undermined air carriers, Air Canada had reduced or even canceled its regional flights. Local companies, namely Air Inuit, Air Creebec and Pascan Aviation, had taken over as best they could.
Capping ticket prices “was a long-standing request from the Union of Quebec Municipalities,” commented Guy Caron, mayor of Rimouski and representative of the organization at the conference.
Emphasizing that “air transport is a vector of economic development for our regions”, he was delighted that the discount comes into effect “just when Quebecers are starting to plan their vacations”.
The president of the Quebec Federation of Municipalities, Jacques Demers, sent “a big thank you” to the government during the press conference.
His thoughts went out to the inhabitants of more isolated regions, who will be able to move more easily, and thus have better access to essential services. “We feed Quebec in these places, there is no reason why we should not have services for these people, he said. We will be able to occupy our territory, inhabit it.”
The Quebec Employers Council also welcomed Tuesday’s announcement. “In addition to capping rates, it is a good idea to extend the assistance programs until March 2023 to ensure a gradual recovery of the sector,” CPQ president Karl Blackburn said in a press release.
The Federation of Quebec Chambers of Commerce said it was in favor of the measures in a press release, but argued that “it would be necessary to maintain close monitoring of the impact of the measures put in place not only on the price, but on the volume of passengers and on the profitability of the regional airlines”.
This article was produced with the financial support of the Meta Fellowships and The Canadian Press for News.