Editorial – The PR Airport vote

Jeff Burgar

The Peace River Airport future is far from an open and shut case. So now, Feb. 5, Peace River citizens can vote on a possible way forward.

Peace River town councillors are looking, maybe with good reason, to be done with what some call perpetual arguing and bickering over the airport, and all the services that go along with it. It doesn’t even start dealing with public criticism over dealings with some major employers at the airport.

So, we now have a vote. It reminds one of the constant arguing over closing the Edmonton City Centre Airport. Readers might remember the almost 20-year long debate. It finally ended with moving all flights from the airport, just off Yellowhead in north-cental Edmonton, to the International Airport in 2013.

As predicted, the International boomed. While passenger traffic and flight movements themselves have been up and down, the whole area around the airport, much dedicated to aircraft supply and service and air oriented business, but also including retail and hotels, has grown.

Northern politicians bemoaned the inconvenience being unable to fly into Edmonton for “meetings” and be back home the same or next day, usually on the taxpayer dime.

John and Jane Q. Public, though, had enough of changing planes in Calgary every trip abroad. They knew the value of a healthy International. Goodbye to the “good old days.”

Most people across the Peace have never flown from the Peace River Airport on any regular service. That doesn’t mean it has no value. Airports are big business. The Peace River Airport is a key business in the north. This might not be much of a political football in Peace River, but it does point in that direction.

The vote on Feb. 5, advanced voting Feb. 1, may serve no real purpose. It isn’t binding. It only hopefully serves to tell the mood of the Peace River people voting. Most people know little about the topics. It doesn’t include jurisdictions, like Northern Sunrise and Town of Grimshaw as just two, that cost-share into the airport. All can do their own votes or rely on informed councils. It doesn’t lay out rules of what a non-profit organization, if they were ever given the airport keys, would have to follow.

There are a number of ideas already in hand. This vote doesn’t go there. As in, explaining what the makeup of any new organization would be. One councillor from each of the paying jurisdictions? Two? One or two “members-at-large?”

It seems unlikely the Town of Peace River will simply hand over such an asset to a group of interested citizens. Not without a plethora of checks and balances, vetoes, a lawyer’s dream job writing the rules, and heck, maybe regulations from Transport Canada and the provincial government.

Peace River Councillor Orren Ford wanted an exit poll at the vote. To get “all the feedback we can from residents.” Done deal.

There may be few votes. That would be a shame. Nobody in Peace River should pass this opportunity to weigh in on this very, very important item. Especially the exit poll.

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