While the outcome of Ottawa’s reported bailout package for the airline industry is starting to feel like a page from The Neverending Story, Canadian travel advisors are continuing to see significant wins in their fight for commission protections.
This week, on Tuesday (March 9), Members of the Opposition presented a motion entitled “Measures to Support Canadian Workers Tourism and Loans to Airlines,” in the House of Commons, which was debated in great length by all parties.
The motion, brought forth by the Conservatives, was aimed at supporting Canadian workers in tourism and travel advisors were mentioned by nine – yes, nine – different MPs throughout the day who vocalized their support for travel agents and argued against clawbacks.
Since when did Canadian politicians become so attuned to the needs and situations of travel agents? You have the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) to thank for that.
Since June of 2020, ACITA, which is led by Judith Coates of The Travel Agent Next Door and Brenda Slater of Beyond the Beach, has been educating politicians about the challenges that home-based and self-employed travel agents are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACITA rallies members on a private Facebook page and encourages agents to schedule one-on-one Zoom meetings with their local MP so they can personally explain why they need help.
Access to financial aid, commission protections, rapid testing at airports and easing the 14-day quarantine order are just some of the topics raised at each 30-minute meeting.
To date, the grassroots group has met with more than 160 politicians over Zoom, giving travel advisors a new and influential voice as Ottawa prepares a support package for airlines.
To say their fight is an urgent one would be an understatement.
The estimate for a mass recall of all Canadian travel agencies and independent contractors totals $200 million, reports the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA).
ACTA, too, reports that it has met with the Ministry of Finance to determine a framework for consumers, travel agents and airlines in establishing aid for the airline sector with commission protections in mind.
At the end of December 2020, ACITA launched a petition that called on the Minister of Transport to ensure that whatever bailout package is being prepared is conditional upon the protection of commissions.
That petition generated 5,322 signatures and was read into record in the House of Commons on Feb 7.
“It is so encouraging that we are seeing this much support for our concerns and it has given us hope that our commissions will be protected once the bailouts are announced,” ACITA’s Nancy Wilson told PAX in an email on Thursday (March 11), reacting to the latest political support.
The Opposition’s motion on Tuesday did indeed pass later that afternoon, with the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc all supporting it.
ACITA went the extra mile and edited a video compiling all the responses from MPs, which you can watch here.
The video features remarks by MPs Ed Fast (Abbotsford, BC), John Brassard (Barrie-Innisfil, ON), Gord Johns (Courtenay-Alberni, BC), Robert Kitchen (Souris-Moose Mountain, SK), Scott Duvall (Hamilton Mountain, ON), Tamara Jansen, Cloverdale-Langley City, BC), Julie Dzerowicz (Davenport, ON) and Colin Carrie (Oshawa, ON).
It adds to an already-impressive record of support ACITA has received from politicians across the country.
Last month, ACITA met with its first Canadian senator, Senator Robert Black, who was “very responsive and helpful,” Wilson said.
Several politicians have been curious about the working conditions of travel agents in recent months, says ACITA, citing a "huge shift" in interest from Ottawa.
And the support hasn’t been limited to opposition parties either.
Liberal MP Vance Badawey of Niagara Centre, who has pressed airlines on recall matters before, has been a key ally for ACITA in their fight for fairness, as he demonstrated at a Transport Committee meeting on Feb. 18.
What’s the hold up?
Meanwhile, the saga that is Ottawa’s bailout plan for aviation continues to drag on, even as reports claim that negotiations are in the final stages.
Few details about federal support for airlines have been shared as participants in the talks have reportedly all signed non-disclosure agreements.
But what we do know is that consumer refunds will play a key part in determining how financial aid will be distributed.
In November 2020, then-Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, said that future support for the airline industry is contingent on passengers receiving refunds for cancelled travel during the pandemic.
Speculation about the negotiations and unconfirmed reports that airlines have agreed to customers refunds have lit up social media in recent weeks.
A CBC report on March 4 claimed that WestJet's demand for a plan to restart domestic air travel is causing tensions at the talks.
WestJet president and CEO Ed Sims has previously indicated that WestJet doesn’t want a "bailout" but instead a recovery plan for the industry.
Another rumour swirling in the wings is that Ottawa’s support for aviation may top $9 billion dollars, as Unifor’s President Jerry Dias told CBC News on March 4.
While it isn’t 100 per cent confirmed yet if travel agent commissions have protections in whatever relief package Ottawa is preparing, the issue is, for sure, part of the negotiations.
As Transport Minister Omar Alghabra confirmed at a Committee Meeting on Feb. 18, travel agent commissions “are part of the discussions as we speak.”
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