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Coronavirus: Quebec wants federal government to force airlines to offer reimbursements

The Quebec government passed a motion Thursday asking the Canadian government to force airlines to reimburse whose trips have been cancelled amid the pandemic. May, 28, 2020. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The National Assembly voted in favour of a motion on Thursday asking the Canadian government “to order the airlines … to allow customers whose trips have been canceled due to the current pandemic to be reimbursed.”

The motion was presented by Parti Québécois (PQ) MP Véronique Hivon and adopted unanimously without debate.

READ MORE: ‘People are livid’: Advocates call on feds to make airlines give refunds amid COVID-19

After the vote, the PQ demanded that the motion be sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as to the other leaders of the federal parties and to the Option consommateurs — a consumer advocacy group.

“It will be done,” said the president of the National Assembly, François Paradis.

With the motion, the Quebec government took a clear stance on the issue, adding its voice to consumer advocacy groups and tens of thousands of Canadians that have been calling on the federal government to force airlines to offer passengers the option of a refund for flights they can’t take amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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House Leader Simon Jolin-Barrette said Thursday that his government was “in favor” of a refund.

“It is fundamental,” he said. “We must find a mechanism that will ensure that Quebecers are reimbursed.”

He acknowledged that Quebecers had sunk “several hundred dollars” in the purchase of plane tickets for trips abroad, money “hard earned,” according to him.

The Minister of the Economy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, nevertheless issued certain caveats.

Airlines are under federal jurisdiction, while travel agencies are provincial. These small businesses should not be jeopardized, he said, adding he was looking to strike a “balance.”

READ MORE: Booking or changing a flight? Here are the rules for major Canadian airlines

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Last week, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, argued that the airlines were going through “very, very difficult” moments, while Trudeau said he understood the frustration of Canadians “who also want us to have an aviation industry in the future. ”

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But not everyone was so understanding.

If carriers like Air Canada do not have the funds to reimburse their customers, “well, that’s their problem,” said PQ interim leader Pascal Bérubé.

“I don’t have much sympathy for Air Canada’s successive practices for decades,” he said in a media scrum.

“They made profits, they often eliminated the competition, once it was eliminated, they raised prices. They can work it out.”

READ MORE: Air Canada gives customers more options for cancelled flights amid coronavirus pandemic

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Together, Air Canada and Air Transat have $3.409 billion “in hard cash” in their coffers, added Lise Thériault, Quebec Liberal party spokesperson of consumer protection.

“They are not too in trouble there,” she said.

“The money is there, it has not disappeared … It is shameful. When will there be a reimbursement?”

Thériault expressed concern that many consumers could not use their travel credit within the time limits imposed by air carriers, due in particular to financial problems, health problems or still existing COVID-19-related risks.

Furthermore, the imposition of travel credits contravenes both the provisions of the Quebec Civil Code on the restitution of benefits in the event of an exceptional event or a “force majeure” and those of the Quebec Consumer Protection Act on prepaid cards, she said.

READ MORE: How big financial institutions are responding to airline passengers seeking COVID-19 refunds

She also denounces the fact that customers who bought their airline tickets with a credit card now find themselves having to pay more than 20 per cent interest on trips they will never take.

— With files from Global’s Annabelle Olivier

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