Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut February 22, 2017 - 1:10 pm

Nunavut airline medical, duty travel contracts extended two years

Dissolution of codeshare deals convinced GN to keep the status quo

STEVE DUCHARME
Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak asked Health Minister George Hickes Feb. 21 about the status of the GN's medical and duty travel contracts with airlines. Hickes replied that the GN has extended its contracts with Canadian North and Calm Air for two years and expects to negotiate a similar extension with First Air. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak asked Health Minister George Hickes Feb. 21 about the status of the GN's medical and duty travel contracts with airlines. Hickes replied that the GN has extended its contracts with Canadian North and Calm Air for two years and expects to negotiate a similar extension with First Air. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

The Government of Nunavut has extended its current medical and duty travel contracts with at least two airlines—and likely three—after negotiating two-year extensions to agreements that were set to expire this August.

“At this time, for two of the airlines involved, there’s been a negotiated two-year extension to the existing contract, bringing us to Aug. 31, 2019,” Health Minister George Hickes said in response to a question from Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak, who requested an update on the contracts during question period at the Nunavut Legislative Assembly Feb. 21.

Hickes told Nunatsiaq News during a break that the two airlines in question are Calm Air and Canadian North.

Hickes added that he expects to work out a third extension with First Air that is currently being negotiated.

The deals extend existing medical and duty travel contracts first put out to tender by the GN in 2011, which, according to Mikkungwak, are supposed to have a maximum life-span of six-years.

“Can the minister clarify under what authority the government has extended the current standing offer agreements?” he asked.

“We do have the authority,” Hickes responded, saying the extensions are allowed if they remained grounded in the existing medical travel contract. 

“At that time [of negotiations], it was recognized that it wouldn’t change the parameters of that contract in any substantial way, so it allowed us to negotiate an extension.”

The extensions come after comments made in 2015 by former health minister Paul Okalik and Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna suggesting the lucrative GN medical and duty travel contracts could be up for grabs when they expired this summer.

Hickes explained that the collapse of controversial codeshare agreements between First Air and Canadian North alleviated some of the government’s concerns.

During codeshare, multiple complaints surfaced of botched bookings for medical travels, as well as growing delays for duty travel that produced added expenses for the GN.

“There was some concern around the codeshare agreement that we just recently found out has been dissolved between two partners,” he said.

Now, the GN can bide its time over the next two years to explore new procurement procedures that “will give the best value to us as a legislative assembly and the Government of Nunavut overall,” Hickes said.

The GN spent about $50.6 million on medical travel and $58.8 million on duty travel respectively during the 2015-16 fiscal year, Mikkungwak said, adding that under the current structure of the contract, the Department of Health is responsible for managing both types of travel.

“While it makes sense for the Department of Health to have the primary responsibility for managing medical travel contracts and standing offers, it does not necessarily make sense for this department to also be responsible for all of the government duty travel,” he told Hickes.

“Will the government be separating its medical duty travel contracts into two different sets of agreements?”

Hickes responded that he couldn’t say whether the contracts will be handled by separate departments in the future.

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