Wednesday,  April 21, 2021  3:23 am

With unfinished business, Garneau is out as Transport Minister in cabinet shuffle

With unfinished business, Garneau is out as Transport Minister in cabinet shuffle
Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau switched out some of his key ministers in a cabinet shuffle on Tuesday (Jan. 12) and one of the changes involves Transport Minister Marc Garneau. 

Minister Garneau, a long-time Liberal, leaves Canada’s Transport File and take on the role of Foreign Affairs Minister, previously held by François-Philippe Champagne.

Minister Champagne is now Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, replacing Navdeep Bains, who is leaving politics to spend more time with his family.

Mr. Garneau will be replaced by MP Omar Alghabra from Mississauga, ON, who was previously parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister.

"Tens of thousands have lost their jobs"

Minister Garneau emerged as a controversial and polarizing figure amid the COVID-19 pandemic within travel, tourism and aviation circles.

Some of Garneau’s most high-profile files over the past year included the sale of Transat AT to Air Canada (which has yet to be completed), the unrolling of mandatory COVID-prevention measures at airports and on airplanes, the implementation of travel restrictions, the suspension of cruise ships and passenger’s rights (refunds for cancelled air travel, in particular).

Aviation workers protest over the government's lack of action to save Canada's aviation sector amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (PAX Global Media)

In November 2020, Garneau, notably, said Ottawa's future support for the airline industry is contingent on passengers receiving refunds for cancelled travel – a move that could recall up to $200 million dollars in commission from travel agent communities (unless protections are part of the deal).

Garneau is also at the centre of devising a sector-specific bailout package for Canada’s struggling aviation industry – another task that has yet to be completed.

In the fall, the Minister was famously targeted on signs held by aviation workers at public protests in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, where out-of-work pilots, flight attendants, plane mechanics and others demanded concrete measures from the Liberal government for a safe reopening of air travel.

Aviation workers march in Ottawa, calling on the government for a safe reopening of air travel. (Pax Global Media)

One of the lead organizers of these demonstrations, Lisa Kampis, a flight director at Air Transat and vice-president of Locale 4041, told PAX that her hope is that Canada's new Transport Minister will act sooner, rather than later, in saving Canada's aviation sector. 

"Tens of thousands have lost their jobs," Kampis wrote PAX in an email on Tuesday. "As safety specialists, communication is key to helping restore calm.  Marc Garneau failed spectacularly in this respect. Our hope is that the new Transport Minister will move rapidly to save our sector. It’s reached beyond a critical juncture."

READ MORE: “Save Canadian aviation!” Airline & travel workers march in Ottawa, demand action

Members of the Facebook group “Aviation workers made redundant in Canada by the COVID-19 crisis,” for one, have long criticized Garneau for stalling on a plan to save Canadian aviation during the coronavirus crisis.

Mr. Garneau’s most recent initiative was the unveiling of the federal government’s new requirement that all international passengers coming to Canada have a negative PCR test result 72 hours prior to arrival – a controversial policy that has also generated its share of criticism from travel industry professionals. 

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