Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland participates in a virtual discussion from Ottawa on Monday, May 3, 2021, with seniors from Residence Memphremagog in Magog, Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland participates in a virtual discussion from Ottawa on Monday, May 3, 2021, with seniors from Residence Memphremagog in Magog, Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Freeland says feds will voice concerns to Air Canada over executive bonuses

Federal finance minister calls airline’s $10 million payouts ‘inappropriate’

Air Canada is heading for a bout of political turbulence as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland signalled her displeasure over millions in bonuses to the airline’s executives as the company negotiated a federal bailout.

The airline on Monday disclosed in its annual proxy circular to shareholders that it gave $10 million in bonuses to people the investor document called instrumental to the airline’s survival over the past year as air travel plunged during the pandemic.

In a lengthy comment Wednesday, Freeland, calmly and slowly, said she was disappointed in how some businesses seem not to be behaving as responsible corporate citizens while receiving taxpayer-funded federal aid to survive the pandemic.

On the bonuses themselves, she called them inappropriate.

In April, the airline and government agreed to a $5.9 billion loan package that includes money to help refund passenger tickets, but also capped executive compensation at $1 million until 12 months after the loan is fully repaid.

The government also paid $500 million for a six per cent stake in the country’s biggest airline, which Freeland says was done to ensure taxpayers could benefit once Air Canada’s revenue rose once regular travel resumed.

It also makes the government one of the key shareholders in the airline.

“That gives us a voice in decisions taken by the company, and we will not shy away from using that voice to express our very reasonable view of what constitutes responsible corporate behaviour,” Freeland said.

“Canadian companies receiving money from the government have a duty to behave responsibly when it comes to regular Canadians who are now their shareholders as well as their customers.”

In the House of Commons later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the airline’s executives needed to provide an explanation as he was pressed by the Bloc Québécois to make Air Canada claw back the compensation.

Freeland made the comments during a call with reporters where she outlined the details of a new federal program to help eligible companies rehire laid-off staff, or boosting hours for existing workers, by underwriting up to half of the payroll increase.

The government sees the program as an avenue to flow aid to recovering businesses as it winds down the wage subsidy, which has provided over $80 billion in aid to date. The official launch can’t happen until Parliament approves the Liberals’ budget bill, but the government is promising payments to be retroactive to June 6.

The value of the wage subsidy and suite of “recovery” benefits are set to decline starting next month. Freeland said the government will be looking at a suite of indicators before changing plans, including vaccination rates and case counts, how much of the economy has reopened, employment levels and hours worked.

The Air Canada investor document noted the airline benefited from $554 million through the wage-subsidy program in 2020, which the company said helped retain workers even as it laid off 20,000 staff because of the downturn.

The document said the airline plans to continue applying for the aid.

Freeland herself was scheduled to get on a plane later Wednesday to fly to the U.K. for a gathering of G7 finance ministers, which she noted was an in-person-only event.

As part of her travel plans, Freeland said she consulted the country’s chief public health officer, got tested for COVID-19 earlier this week, and plans to take precautions while at the meetings and then finally staying in a government-quarantine hotel before isolating in her home.

She said travel should be undertaken with extreme care and only where absolutely necessary.

“I undertake this trip with great reluctance because I think it is important for all of us to stay as close to home as possible,” Freeland said. “But my judgment was that it was important for Canada to have a seat at this table were some important decisions that will have a real effect on the lives of Canadians.”

Among the decisions expected are consensus on a global corporate tax rate that the United States has pushed. Freeland said Canada backs the concept, but wants to hammer out what the rate should be and the rules about how taxes are levied, which vary by jurisdiction.

Similarly, Freeland said she’s also looking for agreement on taxing digital services. Absent consensus, Freeland said the government would move ahead unilaterally with its own digital services tax starting Jan. 1, 2022.

—Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Airlines prepared for unruly passengers ahead of return to air travel

RELATED: Air Canada calls on Ottawa to lift hotel quarantine as it prepares for recovery

Air CanadaAir TravelFederal Politics

Just Posted

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Whiskey Creek gas station destroyed by fire after camper van explosion

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

New Vancouver Island University chancellor Judith Sayers was sworn in at a virtual ceremony June 17. (Submitted photo)
VIU’s new chancellor seeks innovation and equality in post-secondary education

Judith Sayers officially sworn in as Vancouver Island University chancellor

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

Most Read