Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it is “unacceptable” that Air Canada paid out some $10 million in bonuses to senior executives after laying off thousands of staff, refusing to grant customer refunds and negotiating a federal COVID-19 aid package that limited its ability to do exactly that.
The airline on Monday informed shareholders that its top executives and managers were getting millions in special stock options and bonuses for their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Air Canada spent the past year cutting regional air routes, slashing roughly 25,000 jobs and refusing to issue refunds to passengers whose flights were cancelled by COVID-19 travel restrictions.
A $5.9-billion federal support package made up largely of loans by the federal government limited executive compensation to $1 million while restricting dividends and share buybacks.
“We signed an agreement with Air Canada that among other things limited bonuses and share purchases of executives but even when they were negotiating those contracts with us, they were giving out huge bonuses to their senior officials,” Trudeau said in French during question period on Wednesday.
“That was unacceptable. I hope that Air Canada will explain their decision and their reasoning to Canadians who are shocked by the choices that Air Canada has made.”
Bloc Quebecois MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval called the airline’s executives “grifters” and pressed Trudeau for more information on what the government would do in response.
“I understand full well the … shock of Canadians with regards to this news that seniors executives at Air Canada have an explanation to give to Canadians,” Trudeau said, again in French.
“We all are waiting for Air Canada to explain itself.”
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government plans to voice its concerns about the airline.
She told reporters during a phone call on Wednesday that she’s disappointed some businesses receiving taxpayer-funded federal aid to survive the pandemic aren’t behaving as good corporate citizens.
The government’s aid package for Air Canada included a $4-billion loan and $500 million in federal equity, plus a separate $1.4-billion loan to be used specifically to get the airline to refund customers.
–With files from The Canadian Press