If there was one person who could truly be called an icon of the travel industry, it was Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart.
TORONTO — The federal government’s new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says he comes to the post with an understanding that the ministry’s files – which include everything from the financial assistance package for Canada’s airlines, to the proposed acquisition of Transat by Air Canada – have direct impact on Canadians, “and the livelihoods of many Canadians.”
“I realize the importance of the decisions that we make,” said Alghabra.
Asked specifically about the Air Canada – Transat deal, and whether or not today’s Cabinet shuffle, one that sees former Minister of Transport Marc Garneau take on the high-profile role of Minister of Foreign Affairs, will delay the deal, Alghabra said: “I will do my best and we will work hard together as a team.”
When the reporter repeated her question, saying “I asked if there will be a delay”, Alghabra said: “I’ve just been sworn in 30 minutes ago. My aim is not to delay anything… I want to be diligent.”
Another reporter asked about the Air Canada – Transat deal, and Alghabra said he would approach the proposed transaction “with the sense of urgency it deserves.”
Meanwhile the airline industry is in a free-fall after 10 months of the pandemic and travel restrictions. On Nov. 8 Garneau announced a financial package for Canada’s airlines, one that would be contingent on refunds, which for agents could trigger mass commission recalls. Since Nov. 8 there have been no further details about an airlines industry bailout.
Later Alghabra added: “Bear with me as I delve into these files. I accept and understand the sense of urgency that comes with these files.”
He asked reporters to give him a couple more days to look into the files. “I will get to work as soon as we wrap up this conference.”
Mike McNaney, President and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC), issued a statement this morning in response to Alghabra’s appointment as the new Minister of Transport.
“We want to welcome Minister Alghabra to his new portfolio as he assumes the role at a critical time for our industry. Decisions made by the federal government in the coming weeks and months will directly and forcefully impact the future of Canadian aviation, the future of our employees, and the future of the communities we serve.
“Aviation is in crisis. We are losing connectivity and service to communities across Canada at a rate that threatens to unwind billions of dollars in investment made over the past 10 years that has supported hundreds of thousands of jobs, and driven a level of connectivity and service that underpinned economic growth in every region of Canada.
“Canada’s major airlines are still operating without sector-specific aid and are consequently losing market share to foreign competitors who have received strong sectoral support from their governments.
“While we wish we could welcome Minister Alghabra under far less dramatic circumstances, the reality is tens of thousands of aviation employees have lost their jobs, billions of dollars in aircraft are parked and out of operation, and market capacity has been reduced by more than 80% as carriers struggle to provide some level of service, and yet maintain financial viability.
“While our challenges are many, we are committed to working with Minister Alghabra for the on-going safe restart of aviation, building on measures taken by countries around the world in particular the utilization of a robust COVID-19 testing strategy tied to quarantine and border measures.
“We also look forward to continuing to work with former Transport Minister Marc Garneau in his new portfolio as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister Champagne in his new role as Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, as well as with Minister Jim Carr as special representative for the prairies.”