Mayday! Save our jobs! Let us fly!
These were just some of the words aviation and travel industry workers chanted on Tuesday (Oct. 20) in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, calling for concrete measures from the federal government to restart their industry and tourism in general.
Attracting about 250 participants, with the majority being from Quebec and Ontario, the rally started in LeBreton Flats Park and headed to Parliament Hill via Wellington Street.
The scene saw dozens and dozens of pilots in uniform, flight attendants, controllers and even a few travel agents who met, just before Noon, less than a kilometre from Canada’s federal offices.
All, without some exceptions, wore masks and followed COVID-19 protocols designed for large gatherings.
Some of the masks people wore were custom made, featuring the group’s #SaveCanadianAviation hashtag woven over top a flying aircraft graphic.
Many carried signs, too, aimed at Canada’s Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, and the federal government, such as: "Save Canadian Aviation", “Rapid Testing,” "Better Borders,” and "Where’s Garno?”
At Noon, the demonstrators, in groups of 25 out of respect for public health measures outlined by the Ontario government, began their march towards Parliament, which was led by co-organizer Lisa Kampis, a flight director at Air Transat and vice-president of Locale 4041.
Megaphone in hand, Kampis rallied the demonstrators and urged them to make their voices heard loud and clear.
“This walk is open to the entire tourism industry because we are all interconnected,” Kampis told PAX at the event. “I am both happy and sad to see my colleagues protesting today. We are entering a second wave and everything is still closed. Last April, airlines predicted the revival would take place in late fall, at the start of peak tourism season. This is not the case today.”
It started on Facebook
The individuals who organized the rally belong to a Facebook group called “Aviation workers made redundant in Canada by the COVID-19 crisis,” a place where airline employees whose jobs were impacted by the COVID-19 crisis “can make their existence and their issues known to the Federal and Provincial Governments of Canada."
The online group, which boasts more than 11,800 members (and counting), is the same group that tried to organize a protest of a similar nature in Ottawa on Sept. 23rd.
(That event, unfortunately, was postponed due to timing and logistical issues).
The collective has been working alongside Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), CUPE National Air Division, CUPE National, among others groups, Kampis said.
A critical situation
"The situation is critical," said Gilles Hudicourt, another co-organizer of the march and pilot at Air Transat. “Airlines cannot survive this train. We will lose our jobs, we will lose our homes if nothing is done.”
Kampis noted how the aviation industry hasn’t had any contact with Canada’s Minister of Transport Marc Garneau.
“Where is he? What is he doing to help the airline industry?” asked Kampis.
As the rally gained steam on Parliament Hill, Bloc Québécois MP and transport critic Xavier Barsalou-Duval approached the crowd and spoke with demonstrators.
"These people are angry and need to be listened to," Barsalou-Duval told CBC News. "The signal the government sends to them is that they're not that important. I think it's important that Mr. Garneau hears them and that action comes for the air transportation industry."
NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice and Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel Garner, Stephanie Kusie and Derek Sloan were also spotted at the rally.
Time to ease restrictions?
Protesters pointed out the many travel restrictions Canadians face, and they consider these rules to be too severe.
The group’s demands don't end there, however, as they insist the government do more, such as:
- Granting special financial assistance to the aviation sector;
- Setting up rapid COVID-19 testing at airports;
- Creating travel corridors with countries, such as with Cuba;
“The pandemic is here to stay,” said Kampis. “We need to find alternative strategies to make global tourism work again. We want to go back to work! "
That same day, Canada’s Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told media that the Canadian government is considering aid to support the airline industry.
However, she suggested that struggling air carriers apply to the government’s loan program for large employers – the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF), which provides a loan of at least $60 million to Canadian employers with annual revenues of more than $300 million and whose financial needs during COVID-19 are not being met through traditional financing.
Freeland also noted that airlines have “taken significant advantage” of the government’s wage subsidy program to cover a portion of workers’ salaries since the spring, totalling an amount of more than $1 billion dollars.
Kampis rejects the notion that airlines can survive on these programs alone, telling The Star that airlines will not survive “without some form of financial sustainability package.”
The demonstration came just days after Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc hinted that the Canadian government is considering taking a stake in Canada’s airlines as Ottawa figures out just how it can help it’s aviation sector amid the pandemic.
READ MORE: Ottawa may take a stake in Canada's airlines
The move would mirror a similar action taken by Germany, which agreed to take a 20 per cent stake in Lufthansa, resulting in a 9 billion-Euro (US$9.8 billion) deal.
With files from Michael Pihach. Photos by Hortense des Dorides.
Miss out on the march? Watch PAX's video from the rally here!
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!