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Westjet first casualty of new Liberal pre-flight COVID-19 testing

Westjet grounding more flights and laying off 1,000 employees, due to cancellations resulting from new Liberal pre-flight COVID-19 test requirement

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Calgary-based WestJet has announced the grounding of hundreds of flights and laying off of employees in an attempt to remain viable in the face of continued COVID-19 travel restrictions and the collapse of the airline business globally.

WestJet blamed the Liberal’s new pre-flight COVID-19 testing requirement for the current cliff-fall drop in business.

The layoffs come on the heels of the government’s announcement December 30 of new restrictions requiring all passengers on flights entering Canada to provide negative COVID-19 test results prior to boarding.

The new testing rules were implemented on January 7.

Under the new rules, travellers must pass a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within a 72-hour period prior to boarding, however any travellers who are unable to procure tests before their flights home will still be allowed to travel – and therefore possibly infect other passengers on the flight.

Any passengers boarding with a negative test result may of course been infected at any time during the 72 hours since testing, and may therefore also infect fellow passengers on the flight.

Immediately upon their return to Canada those passengers without pre-flight testing are required to isolate at federally-approved sites until they obtain negative test results, said Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

The remaining passengers – now possibly infected by the untested passengers, or otherwise infected since testing – will be allowed to self-quarantine following arrival.

On Friday, Westjet announced a reduction in “capacity,” – equivalent to 1,000 employees – through a combination of furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leaves and reduced hours. There is also a hiring freeze in place.

“Immediately following the federal government’s inbound testing announcement on December 31, and with the continuation of the 14-day quarantine, we saw significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations,” Ed Sims, WestJet CEO, said in a statement obtained by Global News.

“Regrettably, this new policy leaves us with no other option but to again place a large number of our employees on leave, while impacting the pay of others,” said Sims.

The company is removing around 30 per cent of its planned February and March capacity from the schedule, and will operate around 150 daily departures, “returning to levels not seen since June 2001.”

This includes the elimination of more than 230 weekly international flights and 160 domestic flights, including:

  • Edmonton to Cancun
  • Edmonton to Puerto Vallarta
  • Edmonton to Phoenix
  • Vancouver to Cancun
  • Vancouver to Phoenix
  • Vancouver to Puerto Vallarta
  • Vancouver to Cabo
  • Vancouver to Los Angeles
  • Vancouver to Palm Springs
  • Calgary to Las Vegas
  • Calgary to Orlando.

There is also “seasonal” suspension of 13 international and destinations, which include: Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Huatulco, Ixtapa, London (Gatwick), Mazatlan, Nassau (Bahamas), Port of Spain, San Jose (Costa Rica), Tampa, and Turks and Caicos, reported Global.

These are not the first such COVID-layoffs. In March of last year the company announced the layoff of nearly half of its employees – 6,900 in total – and the grounding of 120 aircraft.  

Ken Grafton is the Western Standards Ottawa Bureau Chief. He can be reached at kgrafton@westernstandardonline.com

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. UnLiberal

    January 11, 2021 at 8:55 am

    Yet foreign airlines are receiving financial support from Canadian taxpayers! Just another brilliant piece of liberal incompetence I guess!

  2. Mars Hill

    January 10, 2021 at 12:22 am

    Ed, West Jet would do better in the Republic of Alberta, jump on board….these restrictions will stop when people wake up and realize covid is less harmful than influenza and we didn’t have to shut the economy down for that; or as soon as President Trump cleans up the mess down south and gets the world back to normal

  3. Joan

    January 8, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    good….so the new restrictions are working then. The only reason someone would decline a flight is if they thought they would have a positive result. Thats the whole point of the testing, to minimize (hopefully completely stop) the virus from coming in ti Canada. The priority s would be that, not the money/flights. There should only be national flights at best right now, anyway. Its hard to lose your job, but its not like it has come out of nowhere…you plan and prepare for such things if you know they are coming…don’t worry Westjet, it will all come back to normal

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Minister says a million Afghans want to come to Canada

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser on Monday told reporters Canada has accepted 6,750 to date.

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In an effort to escape the clutches of the blood-thirsty Taliban, more than a million Afghans have asked to immigrate to Canada, says Blacklock’s Reporter.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser on Monday told reporters Canada has accepted 6,750 to date.

“We look forward to welcoming even more Afghan refugees,” said Fraser.

Cabinet last August 13 said it would allow 20,000 into Canada, later raising the quota to 40,000.

“When do you expect the Canadian government to fulfil its promise to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada?” asked a reporter.

“I know there are a lot of people who are interested in taking part in our effort,” replied Fraser.

“I anticipate that if we remain on track, sometime in the next calendar year, now that we’re in 2022, we will cross the 40,000 threshold,” said Fraser.

The number of Afghan requests to settle in Canada totaled “in excess of one million,” he added. Afghanistan has a population of 40 million.

“The circumstances of course are heartbreaking in Afghanistan,” said Fraser.

Requests to settle here “would include people who reached out by e-mail to the Department of Immigration or Department of Foreign Affairs expressing an interest in taking part in Canada’s program.”

“It is not necessarily one million distinct applicants,” said Fraser.

“I use the point to illustrate the pressures the system is facing when it comes to processing and identifying 40,000 cases that qualify.”

Canada let 405,000 immigrants from all nations into the country last year, eclipsing the previous record of 400,870 in 1913. It was the first increase in federal immigration quotas in a national recession.

Cabinet has proposed to raise the national quota to 411,000 more immigrants this year and 421,000 next.

Previous Liberal and Conservative cabinets cut immigration quotas in the Great Depression and by an average 22% following nine previous postwar recessions. The cuts followed economic downturns in 1947, 1951, 1953, 1957, 1960, 1974, 1980, 1991 and 2009. Cabinet in the 1957 recession cut immigration quotas by 56%.

“New Canadians who choose Canada as their home play a crucial role in our economic success, our diversity,” said Fraser.

“They help build the richness of our communities and our future prosperity, particularly as we’re seeking to fill gaps in the labour force and restore the health of our communities after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Home prices soaring from coast to coast

Figures showed “the average family must spend two-thirds of their gross income on monthly payments for the average home in Toronto or Vancouver,” he said

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Shhhh! Don’t tell the Liberals, they may want to tax it.

Six cities across the country saw house price gains averaging at or near six figures last year, Canadian Real Estate Association data showed on Monday.

Blacklock’s Reporter said members of the Commons finance committee reviewed the figures with Canada’s chief statistician.

“Housing inflation is homegrown,” said Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre (Carleton, Ont.).

Figures showed “the average family must spend two-thirds of their gross income on monthly payments for the average home in Toronto or Vancouver,” he said.

Association data indicated a total 666,995 homes nationwide were sold last year.

“This was a new record by a large margin, surpassing the previous annual record set in 2020 by a little more than 20% and standing 30% above the average of the last 10 years,” said a realtors’ report.

The year-over-year Canadian average home price increased 18% to $713,542 last month.

“There are currently fewer properties listed for sale in Canada than at any point on record,” Shaun Cathcart, senior economist for the Real Estate Association, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately the housing affordability problem facing the country is likely to get worse before it gets better,” said Cathcart.

Figures showed average price gains averaged at or near $100,000 or more in Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal and Halifax. Prices were:

  • up 31% or $286,600 to $1,208,000 in Greater Toronto;
  • up 26% or $51,700 to $252,200 in Fredericton;
  • up 24% or $172,400 to $902,700 in Victoria;
  • up 22 % or $89,162 to $490,127 in Halifax;
  • up 21% or $90,900 to $517,800 in Montréal;
  • up 17% or $181,600 to $1,230,200 in Greater Vancouver;
  • up 16% or $91,800 to $661,500 in Ottawa;
  • up 15% or $44,230 to $347,920 in Charlottetown
  • up 12% or $33,600 to $319,600 in Winnipeg;
  • up 12% or $31,700 to $301,800 in Québec City;
  • up 10 percent or $39,800 to $451,200 in Calgary;
  • up 9% or $24,900 to $292,000 in St. John’s;
  • up 6% or $19,800 to $329,000 in Saskatoon;
  • up 6% or $14,500 to $260,500 in Regina;
  • up 4% percent or $13,200 to $336,600 in Edmonton.

“Could you just speak to what the primary causes are right now, this year, to the increase in the price of housing?” Liberal MP Yvan Baker (Etobicoke Centre, Ont.) asked.

“First and foremost is demand,” replied Anil Arora, chief statistician with Statistics Canada.

“We are seeing because of COVID a desire of people to have more open space,” said Arora, adding: “The second is what we see are the interest rates. The mortgage rates are at historic lows.”

Earlier this month, a report done for the CMHC is now recommending the federal government tax home equity.

The report says bringing in a home equity tax would raise $5.83 billion for federal coffers.

It’s something the governing Liberals, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, vowed they would never do.

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BoC spokesman: ‘I deny I said what I said’

Management disclosed the blacklist last Friday moments before the start of a routine videoconference for news media.

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They may have said it on a Zoom call, but Bank of Canada managers are now denying they have a media enemies list, says Blacklock’s Reporter.

Bank Governor Tiff Macklem’s director of communications Paul Badertscher in an e-mail denied blacklisting Blacklock’s despite telling a deputy governor in an audio tape: “I do not want to be in a situation where we are allowing Blacklock’s to be asking us. So, yes, that’s where we’re at.”

“The Bank of Canada welcomes all accredited media outlets to its briefing sessions and ensures equal opportunity to ask questions as time permits,” Badertscher wrote in his Monday e-mail.

A deputy bank governor who attended the Zoom call did not comment.

“We have nothing further to add,” said Jeremy Harrison, managing director of communications for Canada’s central bank.

Management disclosed the blacklist last Friday moments before the start of a routine videoconference for news media. Blacklock’s dialed into the Zoom call and began recording the session for note-taking purposes.

Badertscher was overheard explaining to a deputy bank governor that media were given different treatment depending on who they were.

“I know who’s who,” said Badertscher.

“There’s a couple here who I absolutely — I’ll check the list to make sure he’s not listening — absolutely not keen to give questions to. I do not want to be in a situation where we are allowing Blacklock’s to be asking us. So, yes, that’s where we’re at”:

  • Unidentified man: “Paul, I think we have a journalist on the line with us right now.”
  • Badertscher: “We do. I have got to get you to drop. I’ll call you at 10:30, okay?”
  • Unidentified man: “Sure, thanks.”
  • Badertscher: “Thanks man. And I’d ask people, don’t let any, don’t admit people please. Let me do all the admitting, okay? Because I know who’s who.”

Badertscher would not name other outlets blacklisted from questioning Bank of Canada officials.

The blacklist follows repeated statements from cabinet commemorating World Press Freedom Day.

“We recognize how important it is to support our strong, independent media and to encourage journalists to continue to hold those in power, here and all around the world, to account,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Commons in 2018.

“Independent, fact-based reporting is vital,” Trudeau said in 2019.

“Media play an essential role in defending and advancing the truth,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in her 2018 World Press Freedom Day observance.

“We remind ourselves that without a free and independent press we all lose.”

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