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Saskatoon business leaders blindsided by Air Canada service cuts

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Saskatoon business advocate Keith Moen was blindsided when he learned of Air Canada's plan to stop the twice-daily direct flights from Saskatoon and Regina to Calgary on Jan. 16, 2023.

"I've actually had some reaction from some of our members saying, 'Is this a joke? Like, are they trying to pull something over on us,’ “ said Moen, executive director of the North Saskatoon Business Association.

"But no, it's actually a reality and it's gonna be a sad day when that actually comes to pass."

Moen said there's no doubt the news will affect the city and the way people here do business, with Calgary being "a major hub."

"It's particularly hurtful because we have many, many companies that have head offices here or branch offices there or vice versa. There's a lot of commerce that happens between the two cities," Moen said.

The Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce said the move is short-sighted in light of the tailwinds that will propel Saskatoon's economy in 2023.

"It now appears that business travelers will spend more time, and money, to connect with the markets they serve," a statement from the organization said.

The chamber is taking aim at Federal Transport Minister Omar Algahbra, who hosted an Air Recovery Summit on Nov. 24 to "discuss critical issues facing aviation and the future of the air sector in Canada," as described in a federal government news release. (https://www.canada.ca/en/transport-canada/news/2022/10/minister-of-transport-to-host-an-air-sector-recovery-summit-on-november-24.html)

"So much for the summit," Chamber CEO Jason Aebig said on social media.

The chamber and Moen both commented on how Saskatoon's economy is expected to outpace all other major cities in the nation this year.

The Conference Board of Canada is forecasting Saskatoon's economy to grow by 7.2 per cent in 2022 and 3.9 per cent in 2023.

"Timing could likely not have been much worse, because we expect great things," Moen said. "We expect to see our economy rebound very strongly and we expect to see business travel commence as a result of that."

Moen also said it's the latest blow for international business partners looking to access Saskatchewan after direct flights to USA destinations were cancelled at the onset of the pandemic.

He said the cascading effect could mean less travel in the region and higher flight costs.

It all adds up to a negative situation for business travelers.

"Business time is money. It literally is. So when you're wasting time in airports or wasting time elsewhere while you should be doing business, it's going to cause problems down the road," Moen said.

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said he's doing his due diligence to understand the decision from Air Canada before stepping in any further.

"We know how critical air access is for our residents," Clark said. "We're really working to understand that."

Clark said he plans on speaking with Air Canada and Premier Scott Moe about the change and how to re-attract flights to Saskatoon so residents and visitors can travel with ease.  

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