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Federal Conservatives, NDP call for urgent committee meeting on holiday travel mess

The federal Conservatives and NDP are calling on the Liberal transport minister to testify after hundreds of travellers were stranded over the holidays.

The Conservative and New Democrat members of the House of Commons transport committee sent a letter to the committee’s chair on Wednesday requesting a meeting as soon as possible.

“It’s not enough for the Liberal minister to tweet that the situation was unacceptable,” NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach said in a media statement on Wednesday.

“He’s the minister charged with overseeing Canada’s transportation system and has specific powers under legislation. If anyone can do something to protect passengers, it’s him. Canadians deserve to know what steps he took during the crisis and plans to take in the future to protect passengers.”

The chair of the committee, Liberal member of Parliament Peter Schiefke, tweeted Tuesday that he planned to call a meeting to address travel woes with the CEOs of Sunwing Airlines and VIA Rail.

federal conservatives ndp call for urgent committee meeting on holiday travel mess
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 16, 2021. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

The opposition MPs are requesting that any hearings also include a two-hour question-and-answer period with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

Standing committees usually meet on a previously adopted schedule or when called by the chair, but a meeting can be called at the written request of any four of its members.

In addition to Bachrach, the Conservative Party’s transport critic Mark Strahl signed the letter, as did the other three Tories on the committee.

The chair is now required to call a meeting to consider the written request within five calendar days.

A person in a coat and mask speaks with the driver of a dark blue taxi outside a Via Rail station on a snowy day.
A passenger gets in a cab after her train was cancelled near Cobourg, Ontario. (Nick Lachance/Reuters)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said earlier Wednesday that the travel woes that left passengers stranded at airports or struggling to find flights home over the holidays show there should be more competition in Canada’s airspace.

In a press conference, Singh said the lack of choice for passengers is also making flying less affordable. He’s calling on the Liberal government to find ways to make the airline industry more competitive.

The Canadian Transportation Agency requires domestic air service operators to be majority-owned and controlled by Canadians, limiting options for travellers — especially in rural or remote areas.

Over the holidays, hundreds of people were stranded in Mexico when Sunwing cancelled flights, and the airline has stopped flying from Saskatchewan entirely until next month.

Air Canada is discontinuing flights from Saskatoon and Regina to Calgary this month after it discontinued flights from Yellowknife to Edmonton last year.

Singh called on Alghabra to ensure there is better oversight.

“We need to make sure people have access to being able to get around the country, and that it is affordable,” Singh said.

“And right now, for many people, it is not at all. It’s something we need to look at and find solutions for.”

A spokesperson for Alghabra’s office said the government is doing everything it can to support travellers.

“All options are on the table to ensure that what happened over the holidays does not happen again,” Nadine Ramadan said in a written statement.

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