LAURA CHURCHILL DUKE
SPECIAL TO THE LABRADOR VOICE
HOPEDALE, N.L. — "We, the undersigned, are concerned citizens of Newfoundland who urge our leaders to return affordable air travel to the region of northern Labrador through subsidization of the cost of airfare between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the northern Labrador communities of Rigolet, Makkovik, Postville, Hopedale, Natuashish and Nain."
So begins the petition being brought forth by Kim Dicker, a resident of the northern community of Hopedale, Labrador.
"Our northern Labrador communities are totally isolated with no road access and marine transportation is limited to summer months only," says Dicker in her petition. "With the provincial government cancellation of the Lewisporte freight boat to northern communities, families are now struggling with increasing costs of basic needs including food security, housing, and heat" she says.
To reach these communities, Dicker says there is a ferry running once a week from June until October from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Otherwise, she says, travel is via a twin otter aircraft operated daily in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. This air transportation, she says, is provided by a single monopoly airline, Air Borealis.
Dicker said the community used to be serviced by two airlines but due to a merger last year, residents are now left with only half of the daily flights and higher prices.
“The cost of air travel for residents living in northern Labrador is grossly disproportionate to their available income, thereby restricting travel, increasing cost of living, and contributing to isolation,” Dicker said.
For example, residents living in Rigolet, 158 kilometres from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, must pay $764 for a single return flight, or $3,056 for a family of four, she said. Whereas those in Nain, 370 kms from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, pay $1,029 for a single return flight or $4,116 for a family of four.
Dicker is outraged.
“It costs the same to travel from Nain to Goose Bay as it does from Goose Bay to St. John’s,” she points out. “Also, I can fly from Goose Bay to Orlando, Florida for the same price as someone from Nain pays to go to Goose Bay.”
Dicker says when fuel prices elevated last year, airfare prices did as well. They did not, however, go back down when fuel prices did.
“On top of that, we are also bombarded with outrageous airport fees taking up almost half the price of a ticket, once you see the breakdown in pricing,” says Dicker.
Being cut off from the rest of Labrador causes isolation and separation from family.
Goose Bay, says Dicker, is the nearest centre for shopping and vacation.
"A lot of our extended families also live in the area, so with no road access between our communities, we are totally isolated with the exception of air travel and the once-a-week ferry service from July to October," she adds.
And, she points out, it takes two days to travel via ferry from Hopedale to Goose Bay and three days from the northernmost community of Nain to Goose Bay.
Dicker says she is passionate about trying to get subsidized airfares as the issues are real. Although she and her husband both work full-time, she says they still struggle with the cost of living, but it’s a choice they have made.
“Living on the coast of Labrador carries a high cost of living where we pay more for food, gas, and home heating oil,” she says. “We pay more for shipping basic supplies, household, and essential items. Food insecurity is one of the biggest issues our families face on a daily basis.”
Although she loves the quietness and small town feel of her community, Dicker says she knows it is important to travel sometimes, to get out on the open road, to go to a movie, sit in a restaurant, go shopping and try on new clothing, and visit friends and family they may not have seen for months or longer.
This is especially important in the winter months, she says, when community roads are closed to vehicles and they can only use snowmobile for travel.
Originally from the island, Dicker’s family feels the gap as much as she does. Her children see their grandparents twice a year — three times if they are lucky. It’s hard on the heart, she says, and her pocketbook. It costs $9,000 for airfare only for her family of five to visit her family on the main island.
Dicker’s petition is posted throughout the six northern communities, thanks to help from her friends. With a population of 3,500, she encourages everyone to sign. Lots of people have been complaining about the cost of airfare but talk doesn’t go far, she says, which is why she is doing something about it.
“My hopes are that we will come out with a strong voice and lots of signatures. We are a small population, but we are all affected by the results,” she says.
Dicker says there has been interest in posting the petition in St. John’s and Happy Valley-Goose Bay as well. This issue is far-reaching, not just affecting those people living within the communities, but also for family members living in other areas of the province, she says.
"There are many people who have left their home communities and can’t afford to travel back," she said.
So far, there has been no response from the government or airlines to her petition. When the petition is finished on Nov. 1; however, the original copies will be sent back to Dicker. From there, she plans to send them to their Member of the House of Assembly for the Torngat Mountains District, Lela Evans, to bring forward to the House of Assembly when it opens in mid-November. A copy of the petition will also be sent to the provincial transportation minister.
“I am hoping the provincial government will agree to provide an air transportation subsidy to reduce the cost of airfare between Goose Bay and our northern Labrador communities,” says Dicker.