REGINA, SASK. – A chief of a remote Saskatchewan First Nation says the province’s decision not to help improve an airport runway in his community while doing so in a city outside Regina shows racism.
Louie Mercredi of the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation says the province is abandoning its commitment to develop the runway near his northern reserve.
He says the airport is in poor condition and the runway needs to be expanded. He’s been pushing for changes since one person died and nine were seriously injured following a plane crash there in December 2017.
Lori Carr, minister of government relations, says the province didn’t receive a completed application for the project.
She says officials requested in June that the First Nation hand in a full application, but it was not done.
“It should not come down to an application,” Mercredi told a news conference in Regina on Thursday.
“I have told my people that we are getting a runway upgraded so the province (has) created a liar. I’ve lied to my people.”
Mercredi said the First Nation submitted an application in March, but it was incomplete because staff lacked technical expertise.
He wants the province to help finish the application and fund the project, since the government committed to doing so.
“Now that I’ve found out a Moose Jaw airport application was also late and that was accepted by the province, what is going on here?” he said.
“Are they just supporting their ridings? What I’m seeing is racism here.”
A runway expansion for Moose Jaw was one of nearly 30 projects the province brought to the federal government in a request for infrastructure funding, which has been the subject of an ongoing dispute between Saskatchewan and Ottawa.
Mercredi said he has sent about a dozen letters to the provincial government seeking updates to his proposal and was under the impression the province was still committed to paying for runway improvements.
“Still ’til today no response.”
He said he learned through a news report that the runway wasn’t a priority for the province.
Deputy premier Gord Wyant has said the upgrades are not a priority for the government this budget year.
“What is more important than human lives?” Mercredi asked.
“What kind of government is this when they prioritize landfills before human lives?”
Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said applications shouldn’t be the issue and the province should focus on safety.
Carr said Fond du Lac’s existing runway is safe and the Transportation Safety Board didn’t find the airstrip contributed to the 2017 crash.
The safety board said in a report in December that the pilot of the plane took off despite noticing ice on the aircraft during a pre-flight inspection.
The board said people using remote, northern airports are at substantial risk because of a lack of proper equipment for de-icing planes.
The federal government announced in February that it was spending $12 million for safety upgrades at the airport.
©2019 The Canadian Press