© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a press conference in Ottawa
By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted on Thursday that Ottawa would ensure airlines survived the COVID-19 pandemic even as industry advocates said without a package of Promised aid many routes would die, crippling the economy. Air travel is critical for Canada, the second-largest country by area and one that spans six time zones. For many communities, flights are the only reliable option. The government and major airlines such as Air Canada and WestJet have been in talks for months about an aid package, but insiders say negotiations are moving slowly. “Canada needs and will have a competitive and vibrant airline industry after all of this is done. That is one of our fundamental understandings,” Trudeau told Reuters in a telephone interview. “We are having great discussions with them (the airlines), we will continue, but we just need to make sure the package is suitable for Canadians, suitable for the industry and suitable for the future.” Air Canada has cut bases and routes, particularly in the Atlantic region, raising concerns about the impact if services do not return. The head of the Business Council of Canada and the Unifor union issued an open appeal to Trudeau on Thursday, saying it was “both puzzling and tragic” that Ottawa had yet to come up with an aid package. “Without government assistance, a vital part of Canada’s national strategic infrastructure will be seriously damaged,” they said. Trudeau said there had already been “massive disruptions” in service in Atlantic Canada and said Ottawa’s priority was to ensure the restoration of regional routes. Canada covers nearly 195,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers) with a population of just 2.3 million people. Air Canada alone has closed six bases and eliminated 17 routes in the region. Residents of Halifax, the region’s largest city, and one that has lost six Air Canada routes, urged Trudeau and the government to make sure the connections survived. “To get anywhere, you need to have a car and drive about 15 hours or you have to fly. So eliminating the option of flying affects a lot of people,” said Myra Davis, 21. “It almost became a necessity. , a basic need for the public. ” Most of the routes and bases cut are in Trudeau’s Liberal Party constituencies. it holds 26 of the region’s 32 seats in the House of Commons. If the routes do not return and he is blamed, he could pose a political risk in an election that many experts predict will take place later this year. Margaret Brigley, executive director of the Halifax Narrative Research pollster, said the topic was not making headlines at the moment because no one was traveling. The most recent survey from the firm showed that liberals still had a dominant advantage in the region, he said.