Trudeau mom on possible help for Air Canada after layoffs announced

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OTTAWA –
Less than 24 hours after Canada’s largest airline announced plans to significantly downsize due to COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was willing to see what could be done to help the struggling business – but remained silent on the details.

Speaking to reporters outside his Rideau Cottage home on Saturday, Trudeau acknowledged the plight faced by airlines and the travel industry during the COVID-19 crisis.

But even if he assured that Ottawa would continue to work with the businesses and industries hardest hit by the crisis, it is unclear what assistance Air Canada can hope to receive from the government.

“We will have conversations with Air Canada as we will with the airlines in the sector to try to see how the best way to overcome this particular pandemic is,” said Trudeau.

“We know that airlines are extremely affected by this pandemic and we will be there to work with them to see how we can best help. “

Trudeau dodged questions of whether the aid could take the form of a bailout, a federal equity interest in the business, or whether Ottawa would be willing to contribute to the company’s pension obligations and health benefits. He only agreed to speak to the company to try to determine what help might be possible.

Air Canada will lay off more than half of its 38,000 employees next month as it grapples with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline estimates that approximately 20,000 of its employees will be affected.

The layoffs, which will take place on June 7, will affect at least 19,000 people and could reach 22,800 people.

Canada’s largest airline – as well as its competitors – has seen demand for air travel evaporate due to border closings and containment measures underway, prompting Air Canada to immobilize some 225 aircraft and reduce flight capacity by 95%.

The Air Canada decision was announced after Trudeau extended the $ 73 billion emergency wage subsidy to Canada until late August earlier Friday.

The airline took advantage of the federal wage subsidy program to rehire more than 16,000 workers originally laid off in March due to the pandemic. But now the company says laid-off workers will no longer be covered by this program and will instead have to apply for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, which pays workers who lost their jobs due to COVID $ 2,000 a month. -19.

Trudeau noted that airlines and other large employers facing the pandemic can also access a bridge funding program made available to businesses with at least $ 300 million in revenue so they can stay open, keep employees on their payroll and avoid bankruptcies.

He stressed that it was “not a bailout” but rather a fund that provides loans to businesses to help them get through the crisis.

“We are still working with companies to see who does it and how the format will be developed,” he said.

The federal government will continue to work with Air Canada to try to determine the best way to overcome the crisis, said Trudeau.

“I think we all know that this pandemic has hit the travel industries and airlines in particular very hard, which is why we will continue to work with airlines, including Air Canada, to see how we can help even more than what we have with the wage subsidy. “

Meanwhile, Trudeau said Health Canada has authorized the first clinical trial of a potential COVID-19 vaccine at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

The National Research Council of Canada will work with manufacturers to ensure that if these vaccine trials are successful, Canada can produce and distribute them across the country.

Dr. Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University, said the approval of the phase one clinical trial was great news.

Halperin said it was expected that the first study using fewer than 100 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 55 would likely start within the next three weeks.

“In these studies, the main objective is to examine the safety of the vaccine and the extent to which it is tolerated by the people who get it,” said Halperin.

He said the volunteers would be followed up for the next six months and if they show a safe immune response to the vaccine, the researchers will quickly switch to an expanded phase two study before the first phase is completed.

“It will help speed things up because otherwise it could take years to go through the process,” said Halperin.

The National Research Council of Canada announced on Tuesday that it will work with a Chinese company to try to develop its potential COVID-19 vaccine more quickly.

CanSino Biologics is already conducting clinical trials in humans for the vaccine to be tested by the Halifax laboratory.

Trudeau also announced money for the Red Cross on Saturday, pledging $ 100 million to help deal with COVID-19 relief, as well as the work they do each year to help jurisdictions affected by the flooding and forest fires.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 16, 2020.

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