Thank you, Mr. Chair, Vice-Chairs and Committee Members, for inviting me to contribute to the Committee’s study of the impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s transport sector.
I deeply respect the work of this committee. I spent many hours in physical and virtual committee rooms like this one and I know the importance of the work that is being done in rooms like these. It is an honour to appear before you today for the first time as Minister of Transport, and I look forward to working with you to improve Canada’s transportation system.
Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Transport Canada has worked with the transportation industry to introduce a layered system of measures and guidance to protect Canadians and those working in the transportation and shipping sectors.
Recently, in an effort to further curb the spread of the virus and new variants of it into Canada, we added new rules on international travel.
Under these new rules, all international passenger flights must now land at one of Canada’s four largest airports. Air travellers must also provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test before boarding an international flight to Canada. Upon arrival, they must take another COVID-19 molecular test, and reserve a room in a Government of Canada-approved hotel for three nights, also at their own expense, while awaiting the test results.
In addition, the government and Canada’s airlines have agreed to suspend all flights to and from Mexico and Caribbean countries until April 30 of this year.
These measures have been informed by the latest science and data, as well as the guidance of public health agencies.
The Government of Canada knows that the pandemic is also disproportionately affecting remote and northern communities that depend on small air carriers for essential services. That is why we have announced funding of up to 191.3 million dollars for provinces and territories to ensure that remote fly-in communities continue to receive essential supplies.
To help mitigate the decline in business at Canadian airports, we have also provided rent relief for the 21 airport authorities that have ground leases with the federal government.
Most recently, through the Fall Economic Statement, an additional 1.1 billion dollars in financial support for the air sector was announced. This will be provided through a series of targeted measures designed to support regional connectivity, critical infrastructure investments, and the continued operation of Canada’s airports.
As we look to the future, we know that a strong and competitive air transport industry is vital for Canada’s economic recovery
Allow me to address what I know is on the minds of many Canadians, particularly those working in the aviation sector. The sector has the one of the world’s best trained and committed employees.
I know many are anxious and frustrated about the fact that negotiations on financial help for the sector have not yet concluded. To those Canadians who have written to me, know that I am acutely aware of the toll this crisis has taken on your lives. Covid restrictions have dramatically and negatively impacted the sector. Nobody wants a return to pre-Covid normalcy for the sector more than myself.
That being said, I am also aware that any financial assistance package needs to address the concerns of Canadians more broadly – including the matter of refunds for air travellers who purchased tickets but were unable to use them due to Covid; or the issues of communities who have lost regional flights connecting them to the rest of the country.
We therefore have a responsibility to take the time necessary to reach an agreement with the airlines that will be broadly supported by Canadians. That’s dependent on all parties at the table. It’s also in everyone’s interests that we do so.
Among the other tasks outlined in my mandate letter, I have been asked to promote Canada’s green and innovative aerospace sector, sustain regional air infrastructure, support regional economic development, and enable growth in other key sectors, such as tourism.
In addition, I will work with my colleagues to make sure we put in place recommendations in response to the PS752 tragedy. I have personally met with the families on many occasions and remain committed to supporting them and doing everything we can that a similar tragedy never happens again.
Finally, the Prime Minister has made clear that I must continue to make progress on the commitments laid out in Minister Garneau’s 2019 mandate letter. I look forward to building on the excellent work of Minister Garneau.
Colleagues, this is a quick summary of the work that is ahead of us. Thank you once again for giving me the time to appear before you. I’ll now do my best to answer any questions.