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This article was published 1/5/2018 (1101 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — As rumours continue to clog up the airspace over Portage la Prairie, the federal government isn't saying whether it plans to have all of the military's pilot training land in Saskatchewan.
The Royal Canadian Air Force does its initial pilot training at Southport Airport — a non-profit privately run facility established after the military closed CFB Portage la Prairie in 1992 — and advanced training at CFB Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan.
Personnel who will fly fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters return to Southport for final training; jet pilots stay at the Saskatchewan base. But military sources say RCAF is considering consolidating everything in Moose Jaw, which would mean a loss of 350 jobs in Portage la Prairie.
"I want to make sure that where there's already great training happening, it's how we can continue, and enhance things," Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told the Free Press.
"This isn’t about cutting, this is about supporting the work we're doing — great work."
Portage-Lisgar Conservative MP Candice Bergen said she’s been working behind the scenes for the last nine months in an effort to keep things as they are.
"I've been talking to people, having a lot of meetings, making calls, writing letters. It's a big issue, not (just) as jobs in Southport. It's good for our aerospace industry in Manitoba, and I think good for the Canadian military."
Bergen said she was trying to boost Southport’s strengths to federal officials, well before the Free Press reported the rumours April 20.
"I have been doing everything I can to ensure a fair, open, transparent procurement process; I think in Southport, that's what they’re asking for," she said. "They're not asking for favouritism. I believe they can compete and do very well; they’re very healthy and a very strong bid."
Sajjan said a fair process is exactly how the military will proceed. "They're going to go through the analysis, and once that is done, it will be vetted up to me, and then decisions will be made."
Southport CEO Peggy May told the Free Press earlier this month that the Department of National Defence indicated it would issue a request for proposals before the end of 2019 for a single contractor to provide pilot training beginning around 2023.
It’s not known whether that means it would have to be done at one location, or if Manitoba would have a better chance of being selected over Saskatchewan.
In any case, Sajjan claimed that wasn’t the military’s priority.
"I'm not looking at any single source, or anything like that. I'm looking at in terms of what is the best way to help train the Canadian Armed Forces."
The defence minister said the military had been waiting for his government’s defence policy, which the Liberals released last June, to start making long-term plans. That included a boost to air force personnel and fleet.
"We're going to have to hire more pilots. But, when it comes to the actual planning, the implementation piece, that's starting now"
Bergen said she was thrilled Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister raised the issue with officials during his visit to Ottawa this past weekend. He also called on Portage residents to rally for Southport’s future.
"It's gone through so many challenges, and that area has fought so hard," she said.