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Air Canada says top executives returning COVID-19 bonuses after ‘public disappointment’

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Air Canada’s senior executives have decided to return their 2020 bonuses after public criticism, the airline said Sunday.

In a statement, the company confirmed that its executive vice-presidents, president and CEO all volunteered to return their bonuses and share appreciation units.

“Unfortunately, there is now public disappointment around the actions relating to these 2020 executive compensation outcomes,” read the news release.

Read more: Air Canada paid $10M in COVID-19 bonuses to top execs while negotiating gov’t rescue plan

The airline said that the bonuses were going to be returned as a result of “unintended consequence” arising from the payments. The release also said that former Air Canada President and CEO Calin Rovinescu would donate his 2020 bonus and share units to the Air Canada Foundation.

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The executives’ decision comes nearly a week after it was revealed that the airline paid its top executives and managers a combined $10 million in bonuses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, despite the airline’s loss of billions and decision to cut thousands of jobs.

According to the airline, the bonuses had come with special stock rewards meant to compensate executives and managers who took salary cuts amid the devastation caused by the pandemic on the travel industry.

However, those bonuses came as Air Canada negotiated a multibillion-dollar bailout with the federal government, which included a cap on future executive compensation.

Read more: Air Canada’s $10M bonuses ‘unacceptable’ while laying off staff, Trudeau says

Air Canada did not specify the exact amount of money or shares being returned by its executive team, and did not immediately respond to Global News’ request for comment on the matter.

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The statement also did not include whether “middle managers,” whose bonuses accounted for over $8 million, would be returning their bonuses.

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In a statement Sunday evening, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra commended the executives’ move.

“While this situation could have been entirely avoided by Air Canada, we acknowledge this step in the right direction by the top five executives to repay 2020 bonuses and share appreciation units they received,” read the joint statement.

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“Canadians are right to expect responsible corporate behaviour — particularly with respect to executive compensation — from companies receiving government financial support during the pandemic.”

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The two ministers had previously expressed disappointment earlier this week over the executives’ compensation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also called the act “unacceptable” during question period on Wednesday.

— with files from Sean Boynton.

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