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 Media file photo)
School parking problems plague Oak Bay residents

Need exceeds official requirements for parking at St. Michaels school

In January 2019, Grade 5 students from Glenlyon Norfolk School, accompanied by Grade 11 student Anastasia Castro, gave a presentation to Oak Bay council seeking a ban on plastic bags in the district. (Black Press Media file photo)
Oak Bay set to survey businesses on single-use plastic products

Survey gathers information ahead of expected legislation on provincial, federal level

Brian Korzenowski rides with Athena, left, and Venus who are safely strapped in and goggled up with the wind in their fur. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
Double-dog motorcycle sidecar brings smiles to Sooke Road commuters

Athena and Venus are all teeth and smiles from their Harley-Davidson sidecar

Camper the dog was found Wednesday night by someone walking their own dog along Hollywood Crescent. She had gone missing after a violent attack on June 11. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Camper the dog found safe after fleeing violent van attack in Victoria

Camper was found on Hollywood Crescent Wednesday night

A lift on marine border restrictions by next summer would bring an economic gain to Greater Victoria through the cruise industry. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich calls for opening of marine borders by summer 2022

Council to ask feds to end restrictions in time to allow planning for next cruise ship season

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko, a Vancouver lawyer, has been suspended from practice for two months after admitting that his firm mismanaged $44,353.19 in client trust funds. (Acumen Law)
High-profile B.C. lawyer suspended over $44K in mismanaged client trust funds

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko admits to failing to supervise his staff and find, report the shortage

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
B.C. casino workers laid off during pandemic launch class-action lawsuit

Notice of civil claim filed in Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo against Great Canadian Gaming

John Kromhoff with some of the many birthday cards he received from ‘pretty near every place in the world’ after the family of the Langley centenarian let it be known that he wasn’t expecting many cards for his 100th birthday. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Cards from all over the world flood in for B.C. man’s 100th birthday

An online invitation by his family produced a flood of cards to mark his 100th birthday

Most Read