Canada working on possible aid for the airlines and travel sector, says finance minister

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland takes part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government is very aware of the challenges facing airlines and the travel sector during the coronavirus pandemic and is working on possible aid, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Tuesday.

Freeland said she had spoken to the heads of Canada’s major airlines and unions last week but did not give details. Carriers and travel industry executives have repeatedly urged Ottawa for assistance as passenger numbers slump.

“We are obviously aware of the particular challenges that the travel sector, the airlines are facing right now,” she told a news conference when asked about an aid package.

“It’s definitely an issue we are looking at closely and working on,” she said.

Airlines have already received more than C$1 billion ($763 million) from a wage subsidy program that Ottawa introduced to help businesses deal with the pandemic, she said.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told CTV on Sunday that Ottawa might take a stake in major airlines such as Air Canada and WestJet Airlines. Both carriers have suspended dozens of routes.

The Canadian branch of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers on Tuesday urged Freeland to consider partially or fully nationalizing Air Canada.

Earlier this month major labor unions said the aviation sector would suffer permanent damage unless Ottawa provided a C$7 billion 10-year low-interest loan to offset the effects of the pandemic.

($1=1.3113 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by David Ljunggren, Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool