Newly-revealed emails raise questions about the independence of Canada’s transportation regulator
Recently revealed correspondence between the federal government and the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) at the start of the pandemic raises questions about the independence of the regulator.
Unredacted emails show senior officials have spoken with senior agency officials about how airlines could compensate passengers for trips canceled due to COVID-19.
Section 39 of the CTA’s Code of Conduct states that “Members shall not communicate with political actors or officials of other federal departments and agencies…regarding a matter that is, was, or may be before the agency.” “.
However, the emails indicate that the then Transport Minister‘s chief of staff, Marc Garneau, spoke with the agency’s president and the department’s top official in March 2020 about an upcoming statement. of the CTA that airlines could issue flight credits rather than refunds for canceled trips.
The correspondence also shows that a senior Transport Canada official contacted the independent agency to discuss concerns raised by Air Transat about being required to reimburse customers for flights it canceled.
The CTA’s statement in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic that vouchers rather than refunds are a “reasonable approach” to unreimbursed passengers sparked a public backlash and thousands of government complaints. transport agency.
Asked about the issue in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the Liberal government “is here to help Canadians with their refunds” as well as struggling airlines and aviation workers.
NDP Transportation Critic Taylor Bachrach says the emails and phone calls are a “troublesome” example of the government “bidding big airlines” rather than standing up for customers.
Gabor Lukacs, chairman of the air passenger rights group, said the behind-the-scenes communication shows how officials crossed “some red lines”.
The transportation agency reports to Transport Canada, and regular communication between them to keep the minister informed of relevant issues is established practice, a department spokesperson said.
“Such discussions do not in any way affect or impede CTA’s independence or its arm’s length relationship with Transport Canada. For example, it would not be uncommon for the agency to inform the ministry of an upcoming announcement or for the ministry to ask factual questions about announcements to be able to inform the minister,” Simon Rivet said in an email. Tuesday.
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