by Colin Smith
Morinville will be contributing financially to an effort to bring more flights to the Edmonton International Airport.
At its June 22 meeting, Council decided to contribute $28,194 this year to the Air Services Opportunity Fund, an initiative of the airport and the regional investment promotion body Edmonton Global.
The decision followed a presentation by representatives of the EIA and Edmonton Global at the June 8 meeting of Council, a subsequent discussion at Committee of the Whole June 15, and a report by Administration.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on passenger and cargo traffic at the EIA, which was not one of the four airports designated as ports of entry for international flights.
In 2020 airport revenues were $103 million, down $128 million from the previous years.
Passenger demand in 2020 fell by 68 per cent, in some months by 95 per cent. Prior to the pandemic, the airport had 52 flights, while there are currently only 13.
If the number of flights to the EIA does not return to the previous level it could have a significant impact on the regional economy, decreasing business competitiveness and resulting in a smaller number of visitors spending money here, as well as being a nuisance for residents who have to make connections for travel.
The funding goal of the Air Services Opportunity Fund is $15 million, which will be managed by Edmonton Global and would be used to offset start-up costs for targeted direct flights to and from strategic destinations, which is a three-year proposition, after which flights become self-sustaining.
Contributions over three years are being sought from the regional municipalities that are members of Edmonton Global, with each share based on a cost-sharing formula derived from equalized assessment and population. Funds will be returned to contributors if no new flights are forthcoming.
Edmonton Global has asked Morinville for a three-year contribution to the fund of $122,750.
Administration put forward a proposal that Council approve this amount, $28,194 in the first year, and $47,278 in the two following years, with the subsequent contributions to be made if the Chief Administrative Officer was satisfied with outcomes.
However, Council decided to take a somewhat different route.
Mayor Barry Turner moved that Council approve year-one expenditures outlined in the report to support the creation and implementation of an air services opportunities fund to be managed by Edmonton Global, with expenditures for years two and three to be authorized by Council on receipt and acceptance of the achievement of metrics and outcomes to Council’s satisfaction.
As recommended in the report, the first-year contribution of $28,194 would be made up of $17,000 held over from the cancellation of the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Centre contract in 2019 and $11,194 from the Planning and Economic Development promotions budget.
“We have the opportunity here to support a part of our own recovery,” said Turner. “We can join with our regional partners to do our utmost to keep our economy moving.”
Paraphrasing an earlier debate point from Mayor Turner against lowering the tax increase to zero because income support was the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments, Dafoe announced his opposition to the proposal.
“I maintain that income support for business – even a non-profit corporate entity such as EIA — should be the province of the provincial and federal governments,” he said. “It should not be the taxpayers of Morinville who pay that cost.”
Councillor Rebeca Balanko said she understood the intent of the program but failed to see the benefit for Morinville residents.
If the motion had been to approve funding for all three years she wouldn’t have supported it, said Councillor Sarah Hall.
“This approach is the right approach,” she said. “It allows us to see where we are going to be in a year and allows the next council to decide where those taxpayers’ monies go.”
“This Council has stated we are a pro-business council,” said Councillor Lawrence Giffin. “This is a concern for business. For that reason, I will support this.”
The vote on the motion was split four-three, with Turner, Deputy Mayor Nicole Boutestein, Giffin and Hall in favour, while Balanko, Dafoe and Councillor Scott Richardson were opposed.