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Someone should do something about the travel chaos: Inside the … – Vancouver Sun

Dear Diary: Someone really should do something about these transportation issues. Maybe the army?… I can’t help too much, obviously. ‘Arm’s length’ and all that

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. Photo by Patrick Doyle / The Canadian Press

Among the things recently described as “unacceptable” by Omar Alghabra, the transport minister, are the stranding of Sunwing passengers in Mexico and VIA Rail’s disastrous shutdown of the Ottawa-Toronto line in a snowstorm. In Dear Diary, the National Post satirically re-imagines a week in the life of a newsmaker. This week, Joseph Brean imagines how a bad week for any kind of travel went down at the Transportation Ministry.

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Back in the office today, Boxing Day, after a nice holiday in Ottawa. Bit snowy, but my driver handled it nicely. Now it’s nose to the grindstone. Busy busy. Never a dull moment in the world of federal cabinet oversight of Canada’s transport industry. Just kidding. It’s usually dull. But I wonder how things are going. Let’s just have a look in the ol’ inbox…. Actually, let’s leave that for tomorrow. Today’s a holiday. I’ll just have one more watch of that awesome video we made about getting Santa airspace clearance for Christmas delivery service. It was actually pretty easy this year. We called up the air force hotline and they told us there were no other planes in the sky. Like none at all. That was unusual, but convenient. The big man was all by himself up there.

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Oh wow. Shoulda opened the inbox yesterday. What a mess! Nobody’s going anywhere, and not for lack of trying. Vancouver airport’s shut down, Toronto’s baggage claim is a vision of hell, Sunwing passengers are stranded in Mexico, the police literally shut down the 401, and VIA Rail passengers are a few hours away from cannibalism on the tracks outside Cobourg, Ont. Someone really should do something. Maybe the army? The prime minister called.

“Omar, you gotta do something. The country’s in gridlock. Can’t you get those trains moving?” said Trudeau.

“I mean, I’d like to, but it’s arm’s length, right?” I said.

“What?” said Trudeau.

“Arm’s length. That’s how far Crown corporations are from ministerial control. Isn’t that the rule? How could I be expected to reach VIA Rail? It’s literally impossible. It’s farther than my arms go. That’s why they call it that,” I said.

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I’ll spare you the yelling that came next, but long story short, JT’s not above a little ministerial string-pulling. Turns out “arm’s length” means I’m not supposed to meddle in the actual operation of the trains and wheeling of the drinks cart and whatnot, but in the big picture, I’m in control. Well, to the extent anyone is, I mean.


Premier Scott Moe called from Saskatchewan. He was steaming mad and wanted help because Sunwing Airlines has just cancelled all operations out of Saskatchewan until the end of February, and they did this while their passengers were still stranded in Mexico, getting punted between hotels with no end in sight. People are getting desperate, he said. I told him Sunwing is not a Crown corporation, so I’d have to get back to him.

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Upon further reflection, I am now crafting a statement for Twitter.

“Canadians are patient when it comes to weather disruptions…”

Are we, though? Nevermind, it’s good politics.

“…but they rightly expect their airlines to keep them informed…”

Do we, though? Like do people actually expect this? I’d say most of us put it around 50/50 at the best of times, in clear weather.

“…and to manage these disruptions smoothly.”

Lol. Nope. Ah, well. Sometimes in politics you just have to say things that are false. No one expects airlines to manage disruptions smoothly. That’s just nuts.

“This ongoing situation is unacceptable…”

Unacceptable. Such a good word. I used it the other day about VIA Rail. Determined but vague. Who’s accepting this? Not me, no siree. And tweet.

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This ongoing situation is unacceptable. Canadians must receive the information they need to return home safely. We expect all airlines to keep their passengers informed when it comes to delivering a service that they were paid to do.

— Omar Alghabra (@OmarAlghabra) December 28, 2022

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Passengers have rights under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations to ensure robust passenger protection in situations like these, and our government will continue to ensure these rights are protected.

— Omar Alghabra (@OmarAlghabra) December 28, 2022

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Things finally feel like they’re getting back to normal. VIA Rail is moving again in Ontario, planes are flying out of Vancouver, anybody whose vacation got cancelled has recovered from the immediate emotional trauma by now, and I can get back to work on helping the Canadian Transportation Agency get through the backlog of 30,000 airline passenger complaints. I can’t help too much, obviously. “Arm’s length” and all that. But we got them some more money, and luckily some of the passengers are getting so impatient they’re going straight to provincial small claims court instead, and getting compensation. Because “passengers have rights in this country,” as I tweeted yesterday. And if the federal government can’t help you, maybe a provincial one can.

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