OTTAWA – The transportation sector is really struggling financially because with travel restrictions, passenger numbers are down massively, and there is no sure path forward for the transportation sector. With Porter Air under suspension of operation until June, Air Canada and Westjet have reduced service and suspended some routes. VIA Rail, Greyhound Canada, and Kasper Transportation have all suspended operations after massive reductions. Ontario Northland Transportation has stepped back postponing its Thunder Bay route, and has reduced services and routes.
There are calls from some companies for federal support to recover from COVID-19. Greyhound Canada is reportedly seeking $112 million in funding to continue forward post-pandemic. Some airlines are looking for financial support.
Federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu told NetNewsLedger in an interview that there are federal funds available for the transportation sector, however they have to flow through the provinces.
Federally, the Green Party of Canada is calling on Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the federal government to ensure that any taxpayer bailout for the airline industry is contingent on full cash refunds for COVD-19 cancellations. Green MPs are receiving numerous complaints from constituents who are unable to obtain reimbursement for flights booked before the lockdown. Instead, passengers are being offered vouchers. In many cases, these vouchers expire after 11 months or even less from the date of the cancellation.
The Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) has indicated that the use of vouchers could be a reasonable approach in the case of COVID-19, when passengers have no option to complete their itineraries. However, the American and European legislative frameworks include a minimum requirement for airlines to issue refunds when flights are cancelled for reasons outside their control.
“Offering passengers a time-sensitive voucher to rebook airline tickets cancelled due to pandemic travel restrictions is not good enough,” said Green parliamentary leader and caucus transport critic Elizabeth May (MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands). “Considering that European and American airlines have taken into consideration the extraordinary circumstance instigated by the pandemic, it would be fitting if Canadian companies would follow suit. We do not know when international travel will open up again. Even when it does, given the very real possibility of a second and even a third wave of this pandemic, people may not feel safe travelling for quite some time.
“My caucus colleagues and I have received numerous complaints from our constituents on this matter. I urge Minister Morneau to address the situation as quickly as possible,” said Ms. May. “I would also like to suggest that this would be an opportune time for the government to insist that Canadian airlines adopt climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement. As we move into the recovery phase from this pandemic, let’s ensure all businesses are in line with the green economy of the future.”
Green Party Interim Leader Jo-Ann Roberts said that the airline industry has been hit hard by this crisis but, like other large corporations, has been able to benefit from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
“While we appreciate the timely implementation of federal government aid programs, the reality is that many Canadians and businesses are still hurting financially due to this crisis,” said Ms. Roberts. “Greens feel strongly that there should be no government bailout of the airlines until passengers affected by COVID-19 are given refunds. It’s the right thing to do.”