Remarks by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance: Government protects Canadian air travellers, jobs and airline sector

Speech

Hello and thank you for joining us this evening.

Airlines and our air sector are essential for maintaining connections between communities, small and large, rural and urban, across our vast country.

Preserving a competitive airline sector, and the thousands of good jobs it creates, is critically important.

Workers' livelihoods are critically important.

And Canadian travellers' rights are critically important.

Today, I am announcing that the Government of Canada will step in to support Air Canada, its nearly 15,000 active employees, and its customers. This support will be in the form of loans that Air Canada will repay to the federal government; and equity, which will give the Canadian government a stake in the company.

And this support comes with strict conditions to protect Canadian travellers, Canadians' tax dollars, and Air Canada's workers. 

The first condition is that regional communities must regain their air connections to other parts of Canada, no later than June 1st.

That includes the resumption of previously suspended service in Bathurst, Comox, Fredericton, Gander, Goose Bay, Kamloops, North Bay, Penticton, Prince Rupert, Saint John, Sandspit, Sydney, and Yellowknife.

For seven airports where Air Canada had previously and permanently canceled service, the airline will seek agreements with other carriers to ensure that Canadians continue to have convenient access to their preferred airports and the flights they need. This includes: Baie-Comeau, Castlegar, Gaspé, Îles de la Madeleine, Mont-Joli, Val-d'Or, and Wabush.
Second, any customer of Air Canada who wants a refund, for certain pandemic-related cancellations, will receive one as soon as reasonably possible. The process for refunds will begin no later than April 30, 2021.

Refunds will be available for travel purchased on or before March 22, 2020, for travel after February 1, 2020 that was cancelled by either the passenger or the airlines. Refunds will also be available for flights purchased after March 22, 2020 where the flight was subsequently cancelled by the airline.

Significantly, travel agents who were paid a commission for booking airline tickets will not be asked to repay that commission. 

Third, Air Canada workers' jobs, pensions, and collective agreements will be protected. We also have a guarantee that there will be no further job losses.

At the same time, dividends and share buybacks will be restricted, and executive compensation will be capped.

Fourth, Air Canada will continue to be a client of the Canadian aerospace sector, which employs more than 230,000 Canadians.

And finally, as with all LEEFF (Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility) financing, Air Canada will be required to provide climate-related disclosures – including how its future operations will support environmental sustainability and national climate goals.

Today's support will come in the form of $4 billion in repayable loans and an equity investment in the airline, by the government, of $500 million. The government will also provide a separate $1.4 billion loan as a voucher refund facility to Air Canada. All Canadian airlines are eligible to receive a voucher refund facility to refund their customers.   

Let me just say that my Deputy Minister, Michael Sabia, personally led these discussions and secured an agreement that is in the best interests of Canadians. I want to thank him and his team. I am confident it sets a standard for how such interventions should be designed, with the interests of Canadians and workers coming first. This is a good and fair deal for Canada and Canadians.

This is an unprecedented and difficult time for our airline industry, its workers, and Canadian travellers.

Airlines are a strategic sector and create good middle class jobs in our country. We are committed to helping workers in every sector of the Canadian economy that has been disrupted and hurt by the pandemic. We remain in discussions with other airlines as well to determine what type of support they may need.

But make no mistake: Wherever and whenever the federal government provides public support, the company that is supported will be required to offer hard guarantees, as Air Canada has, that the public interest will be upheld, workers protected, and travellers' interests defended.

Today's announcement respects these three crucial criteria.

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