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PM says Air Canada must follow laws, but mum on ruling


OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he expects Air Canada to honour its legal commitment to keep maintenance hangars in Winnipeg and Montreal but did not say whether he agrees with a Quebec judge the airline is not doing so.

"It is clear that the government expects Air Canada to abide by its legal commitments, which are clear," Harper said, responding in French to a question from NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair during question period Tuesday. "But as the leader of the NDP acknowledges, the reality is that this case remains in the courts, and we await those decisions."

Harper did not elaborate and his office would only say he was referring to what law says.

The law in question is the Air Canada Public Participation Act, passed in 1988 as part of the agreement to let Air Canada privatize. The act requires the airline to keep heavy-maintenance facilities operating in Winnipeg, Montreal and Mississauga. Between 2004 and March 2012, the maintenance work in those cities was contracted to a separate company, Aveos, in which Air Canada owned about a 20 per cent stake.

Aveos, however, went out of business last March, putting 2,600 Canadians out of business and shifting a lot of the maintenance work outside the country. At least 400 of the jobs were located in Winnipeg.

So Quebec took Air Canada to court, and Justice Martin Castonguay sided with the province Monday, saying if the company wanted to shift its business plan, it needed a legislative change to allow for it.

Manitoba was an intervenor in the case and is watching the outcome to determine what it will do. Air Canada plans to appeal, which means there will not suddenly be an influx of maintenance jobs in Winnipeg or Montreal.

Last May, an Air Canada spokesman said some engine work was still being done at a different Winnipeg company but there were no facilities in the city that could handle air-frame maintenance. He acknowledged some maintenance work had gone to facilities in New York, Singapore, Ireland and Hong Kong. However, the company will no longer say where the airplanes are being maintained.

"Given our pending appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada we are obliged to refrain from further comment on this matter," said company spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick in an email.

Air Canada has signed a five-year contract for maintenance to be done in Duluth, Minn.


Updated on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 8:48 AM CST:
The law in question is the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

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