Ottawa is “monitoring the situation from day to day” when it comes to its role in helping Canada’s struggling airline industry.
Speaking to reporters on Friday (May 29th), Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that he has “a responsibility to make sure that when this pandemic is over, we still have an airline industry.”
Garneau was responding to a question that asked if Ottawa would step in and help Air Canada through the COVID-19 crisis.
On account of Canada’s size and geography, “We expect and need an airline industry in this country,” Garneau said, noting that the government is waiting to see how its emergency loan program is utilized before it considers financial aid for specific sectors.
Garneau's comments come as a growing wave of consumers demand refunds for flights that were cancelled after Ottawa implemented a non-essential travel ban to halt the spread of COVID-19 in March.
As the travel industry knows well, thousands of passengers were issued vouchers valid for 24 months for cancelled travel (Air Canada’s offer, however, has since changed to include vouchers with no expiry date).
Many consumers have called upon the federal government to mandate a sector-wide provision for refunds instead.
A House of Commons petition dedicated to the cause – one of three prominent petitions making the rounds – has already garnered more than 30,000 signatures.
Weighing in on the issue on Friday for the second time this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his “top priority is Canadians” and to help people “who need money in their pockets” throughout the coronavirus crisis.
However, the PM recognized the need to support Canada’s aviation sector as well.
“We are working with Canadians and airlines to ensure that Canadians will be helped while ensuring that we have an airline industry after this crisis is over,” Trudeau told reporters from his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.
Trudeau said that he will work with Canadians and airlines to “find a fair way through it.”
“I know Canadians, at the same time, want to make sure that we continue to have an airline industry after this very difficult pandemic,” Trudeau said, speaking in French, calling the refund vs. voucher debate “a difficult situation, in many ways.”
One reporter questioned if Trudeau considered air tickets to be “luxury products” and, therefore, Canadians don’t deserve a refund.
“Well no, I understand that Canadians had to save for some time to buy those airline tickets,” Trudeau said. “We will be working with the industry, looking at what other airline companies are doing around the world. We’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks.”
Changes coming to the border?
Also on Friday: Trudeau hinted at a possible change to the Canada-U.S. border restrictions that ban the flow of non-essential travel between the two countries until June 21st (a deadline that could possibly be extended).
The Prime Minister recognized that many families placed on both sides of Canada and the U.S. are being divided as a result of the border restrictions.
Trudeau said that his government might consider a “small change” in the rules for the purpose of family reunification.
However, nothing will happen until the issue is discussed with Canada’s Premiers, Trudeau said.
“The borders are an issue that deeply concern all of the provinces,” Trudeau said, noting that some Premiers, for reasons of compassion, are open to amending the flow of transborder traffic while others still have concerns.
Trudeau clarified that the current border restrictions will remain unchanged until at least June 21st.
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