TORONTO — The federal government says it will conduct a public assessment of the proposed deal between the WestJet Group and Sunwing.
The notification, issued Friday as the work week was winding down before the long weekend, is in accordance with the mergers and acquisitions provisions of the Canada Transportation Act.
“The Minister of Transport has determined that the transaction raises public interest considerations related to national transportation. As such, a public interest assessment of the proposed transaction will be conducted with input from the Commissioner of Competition, who will assess impacts on competition,” says the statement, posted on Transport Canada’s site.
News of the proposed WestJet – Sunwing deal broke on March 2, just as the travel industry was in its first very early days of recovery mode following Canada’s first phase of eased travel restrictions effective Feb. 28.
If approved, the deal will see the WestJet Group acquire Sunwing Vacations and Sunwing Airlines, with a new tour operating business unit created under the WestJet Group, to include both Sunwing Vacations and WestJet Vacations Inc., and led by Sunwing CEO Stephen Hunter.
The deal is anticipated to close in late 2022 and includesSellOffVacations and Vacation Express (Sunwing’s tour operator arm in the U.S), but not Blue Diamond Resorts.
Transport Canada says the public interest assessment will include consultations with the air industry and other stakeholders, other government departments, other levels of government, as well as the public: “Canadians are encouraged to have their say on letstalktransportation.ca.”
The assessment will include an analysis of the economic benefits – or challenges – resulting from the proposed transaction.
Normally Transport Canada has up to 150 days to complete the public interest assessment. But Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has the authority to grant an extension should extra time be necessary, and he has, with an additional 50 days tacked onto the deadline. “Considering the size and scope of the proposed transaction, an extra 50 days has been granted to both Transport Canada and the Commissioner of Competition, to ensure sufficient time for thorough analysis and assessment,” says Transport Canada.
Transport Canada now has up to 200 days (until December 5, 2022) to complete the public interest assessment and submit it to Minister Alghabra, who then provides a recommendation to the Governor in Council (Cabinet).
The statement notes that Minister Alghabra’s recommendation will incorporate the findings of the Commissioner’s report on competition considerations. It also notes that “there is no legislated timeline for the Minister to make his recommendation or for the Governor in Council to make a final decision.”