Canada’s newly appointed Transport Minister Omar Alghabra will have to deal with several major airline decisions in the coming weeks, as the industry continues to grapple with significant challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Alghabra was sworn in during a virtual ceremony on Tuesday amid a cabinet shuffle that was prompted by the resignation of Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Alghabra replaces Marc Garneau, who has been Canada’s Transport Minister since 2005. Garneau will now serve as Minister of foreign affairs.
“I recognize how important the decisions [are] that we have to make,” Alghabra said in a press conference on Monday.
The new Transport Minister will have to contend with several issues in the coming weeks, including determining whether to approve Air Canada’s purchase of travel and tour company Transat A.T. Garneau had reiterated last week that the government was following the transaction carefully, and while he did not disclose when a decision would be made, he said it would be based on the public interest.
When asked about whether Alghabra’s appointment could potentially delay a decision on the Transat purchase, Alghabra said his aim is “not to delay anything.”
“But we need to be diligent, we need to be thoughtful, we need to be considerate,” he said.
“I know a lot of work has been done by Minister Garneau, and I’m looking forward to continuing to build on that work.”
The government is also in the midst of discussions with representatives from the airline industry over a financial aid package. Canada’s airline industry has been calling on the federal government to provide a financial relief package for the battered sector since the pandemic struck in March. Ottawa has said it will provide support but only if airlines provide refunds to passengers whose flights were cancelled as a result of COVID-19.
The chief executive officer of the National Airline Council of Canada, an industry group that represents Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Jazz Aviation, issued a statement Tuesday welcoming Alghabra to his new portfolio.
“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,” CEO Mike McNaney said.
“Aviation is in crisis... 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.”
Alghabra was first elected as a Member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre in 2006. He lost the seat in the 2008 election, but was reelected in 2015 and 2019. He has most recently served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.