NDP Leader Carla Beck demanded on Friday Premier Scott Moe address what she has called an “air travel fiasco.”

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Saskatchewan Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison says the provincial government has spoken with Ottawa to address airline disruptions after the Opposition NDP, travellers and business groups continue to press for a resolution.

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Harrison said in an interview on Friday the province is also “working on options” with airport authorities, though was unable to say when travellers can expect better flying schedules.

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He said airlines are federally regulated, making it challenging for the provincial government to make changes, but added the province is prepared to participate in discussions.

“The reason for that is that we are very, very cognizant of the importance of having air travel and reliable, convenient connections from this province for economic reasons, for business reasons and for quality of life and social reasons,” Harrison said. “We are working and we may have more to say in hopefully the relatively near future.”

Harrison’s remarks come after Saskatchewan NDP Leader Carla Beck demanded on Friday that Premier Scott Moe address what she has called an “air travel fiasco.”

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In a letter addressed to Moe, Beck said thousands have been affected by Sunwing’s decision to cancel half of Saskatoon’s scheduled flights and all of Regina’s for the winter.

Additionally, Air Canada’s decision to axe direct routes to Calgary from Regina and Saskatoon jeopardizes economic activity, Beck said, arguing the provincial government needs to press harder on the file.

“This is work that the premier should have been doing already,” Beck said in an interview. “We haven’t seen evidence that he’s treating this with the type of urgency that industry and that businesses are feeling right now in the province.”

Disruptions to Saskatchewan’s air travel industry began in December when Air Canada announced it would no longer fly direct to Calgary from Regina and Saskatoon. The airline will instead fly to Toronto or Vancouver, where passengers can then make a connection to Calgary.

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Later that month, Sunwing travellers were caught in a whirlwind after a string of flights were cancelled in Canada and in sunny destinations, preventing passengers from going on their vacation while also leaving others stranded in Mexico.

A file photo of passengers from the Sunwing airlines line up for check in at Cancun International Airport after many flights to Canada have been cancelled.
A file photo of passengers from the Sunwing airlines line up for check in at Cancun International Airport after many flights to Canada have been cancelled. Photo by PAOLA CHIOMANTE /REUTERS

The airline blamed the cancellations on bad weather and staffing issues, later testifying that an application to bring in 63 foreign pilots was denied. These pilots would have been based out of Regina and Saskatoon.

Sunwing’s additional cancellations have caused many to re-think honeymoon or wedding plans. Travel agents have also reported not receiving commission and dealing with chaos as they rebook clients.

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The Regina Airport Authority estimates Sunwing cancelled more than 50 departures over the season, but added Sunwing would have more precise information. The airline did not respond for a request to comment by deadline.

Sunwing has said Regina travellers can continue on with their vacations by flying out of Winnipeg or Saskatoon, but the damage, for many, has already been done.

Compared to the rest of Canada, Saskatchewan has been hit harder when it comes to cancellations and airline changes.

While WestJet is looking to fill a void by adding more daily flights out of Regina and Saskatoon, business leaders say the loss of Air Canada will have economic ramifications.

Jason Aebig, the CEO of the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, has said Air Canada’s decision has already affected business in the city.

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He said a convention in Saskatoon was cancelled because of Air Canada’s decision.

Aebig has accused WestJet and Air Canada of being engaged in anticompetitive behaviour, where Air Canada decided to prioritize eastern Canada and WestJet decided to focus on western Canada. Both airlines have rejected the allegation.

Harrison declined to comment on the allegation, but said he believes more competitiveness is needed. That fix would again need to be made by the federal government, he said, noting U.S. airlines need to be operating out of Saskatchewan airports.

Beck said Regina and Saskatoon need reliable connections.

“This is not an issue that’s going to be solved by spicy tweets from the premier,” she said. “This is going to be solved by sitting down with the federal government, with industry and making the case effectively and strongly that this is simply not acceptable.”

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