Unifor president Jerry Dias is once again making headlines by claiming the original $7 billion estimate for a Canadian airline aid package is “now the floor, not the ceiling,” saying that the actual number under discussion is closer to $9 billion.
CBC News reports the union leader said talks between the airlines and the government originally focused on the prospect of a $7 billion loan to be repaid at 1 per cent interest over 10 years — but now the final package could be substantially larger.
“I think the sticking point is money. The loan, the interest on the loan,” said Dias.
“It’s probably not inconceivable to be talking about $9 billion,” he speculated.
He also said the government support package under discussion “isn’t a bailout,” rather a loan to the industry.
Dias said he’s been speaking to both government and airline representatives and described the negotiations as “contentious and difficult.”
No other sources have provided details of the talks as those involved have signed non-disclosure agreements preventing them from speaking publicly about the negotiations.
An Air Canada spokesperson was not able to confirm the report for Open Jaw, saying only that “discussions are continuing.”
In a statement to the media, WestJet said negotiations are ongoing and has nothing new to report, leading some observers to wonder if Dias’ media appearances are a strategy to put pressure on the government to quickly conclude a deal.
CBC sources say most of the airlines are calling for financial help from Ottawa, but some have other demands. WestJet has asked the federal government to prioritize development of a plan to safely restart air travel. This, according to the sources, is causing some tensions at the talks.
Air Canada also has told the government that restarting the sector is a priority. The airline has worked with McMaster HealthLabs to seek alternatives to quarantine measures and, like most aviation industry players, has been calling for testing at airports almost since the very beginning of the pandemic.
Government officials have reiterated over the past several months that any taxpayer support will come with strings attached, including commitments from the airlines to refund passengers for flights cancelled during the pandemic, to restore and retain regional routes and to protect jobs.
As Open Jaw reported, Dias said Wednesday Air Canada had agreed to offer refunds to customers for flights that were postponed or cancelled during the pandemic, a statement he repeated on Thursday, but has not been confirmed by the airline.
Catherine McKenna, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, said a deal is close, adding Thursday that “good progress [is] being made.”