Airlines

Omar Alghabra, a Cabinet neophyte, takes Transport reins

Omar Alghabra takes over Transport as aviation faces its worst crisis due to COVID-19

Mississauga MP takes position vacated by Marc Garneau, who has been moved to Foreign Affairs

Liberal MP and now Transport Minister Omar Alghabra speaks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau August 25, 2020 (Twitter/Omar Alghabra).

With many details still up in the air and an aviation industry ailing after 10 months of pandemic, Liberal MP Omar Alghabra is assuming a new role as Canada’s Transport Minister.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the shuffle Tuesday morning, details of which were first reported Monday night.

Alghabra represents the riding of Mississauga Centre, a short distance from Toronto-Pearson, Canada’s busiest airport.

“I recognize the Ministry of Transport affects Canadians directly, affects the economy, affects livelihood of many Canadians,” Alghabra said at news conference following his swearing-in. “I’m looking forward to getting to work. I recognize how important many of the decisions are that we have to make that are ahead of us.”

Alghabra takes over at a critical time. Airlines in Canada are crying out for aid, almost alone around the world not receiving government aid to weather the pandemic. Former minister Marc Garneau laid out conditions for government aid on November 8, but two months later, no deal has been signed. At the same time, Ottawa has promised to support airports for capital projects and operations, but details have not been announced.

He must also decide the fate of Air Canada’s proposed takeover of Transat. Garneau launched a review of the deal to see if it’s in the public interest. Alghabry sidestepped questions about the fate of the transaction.

“I will do my best and we will work hard together as a team,” he said when asked directly about the Transat takeover. “I’ve just been sworn in 30 minutes ago. My aim is not to delay anything. But we need to be diligent. We need to be thoughtful. We need to be considerate.”

Mechanical engineer and MBA grad

The ministry is a major step up for the Liberal MP. Alghabra graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Ryerson and an MBA from York University. While Alghabra has worked for General Electric, Enbala Power and the Ontario Energy Board, there is no indication of transport experience in his biography or LinkedIn profile. He is also the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, a relationship that may be key to aviation’s survival.

“We welcome Mr. Alghabra to this challenging portfolio and hope to start working with him immediately,” said Canadian Airports Council president Daniel-Robert Gooch in a statement. “Unfortunately, we are in a crisis situation, and there is no time to waste.”

“While we wish we could welcome Minister Alghabra under far less dramatic circumstances, the reality is tens of thousands of aviation employees have lost their jobs, billions of dollars in aircraft are parked and out of operation, and market capacity has been reduced by more than 80% as carriers struggle to provide some level of service, and yet maintain financial viability,” said Mike McNaney, the head of the National Airlines Council of Canada. The council represents the country’s largest carriers, including Air Canada, Transat, and Westjet.

“Decisions made by the federal government in the coming weeks and months will directly and forcefully impact the future of Canadian aviation, the future of our employees, and the future of the communities we serve,” he said.

However, as for his potential priorities as a minister, Alghabra’s speeches in the House of Commons give very little indication.

While he has spoken dozens of times in the House on a variety of topics over the past five years, Alghabra has spoken twice about air transportation. Both times were to introduce legislation on behalf of a minister.

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