Struggling tour operator Air Transat is in talks with the federal government on aid but may not reach a deal by an April debt deadline, a source close to the situation said, putting pressure on Quebec to ride to the rescue of another troubled aerospace brand in the province.
Air Canada dropped its merger plans with Transat on Friday, saying European regulators had signaled it was unlikely to pass antitrust concerns.
Canada’s largest carrier first bid for Transat in 2019 and discounted its offer last year as the pandemic decimated the travel and tourism sector.
Airlines have been in talks with Ottawa since last year about a possible aid package. Transat’s aborted deal adds fresh urgency to the talks, given the jobs at risk if the carrier fails and the political importance of Quebec ahead of an expected federal election this year.
Transat, which last month suspended flights until June due to pandemic guidelines, has said it needs at least C$500 million in financing this year.
It has obligations due on April 29 for a $50 million revolving facility and a C$250 million short-term loan that matures on June 30. If it does not meet the April 29 requirements, or obtain another extension, creditors could accelerate the repayment obligation.
“There are ongoing negotiations and there is a budget coming up and there is no guarantee at this point that they will get there before the budget,” said a source close to the situation, referring to the federal budget slated for April 19.
“I think politically it would be a problem in Quebec. The federal government therefore absolutely has to come up with a solution,” the source added, noting that “Transat has more of a cachet in Quebec (than Air Canada).”
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Both airlines are Montreal-based but Air Canada originated in Winnipeg before moving its headquarters to Quebec in the 1940s. Transat was founded by a group of Quebec businessmen, including the province’s current premier, in 1986 and grew to become the country’s third-biggest airline.
The airline was “confident we will be able to secure the necessary financing in the coming weeks,” spokesman Christophe Hennebelle said on Sunday, reiterating it was at an “advanced stage” of discussions with Ottawa on sector aid and accessing specific pandemic-aid to businesses.
Asked about the status of government talks with Transat, a spokeswoman for Canada’s finance minister said: “I can’t speak to which creditors or lines of financing Air Transat is pursuing. As a private company, they’d be best placed to answer that.”
Ottawa said on Friday that protecting jobs and securing the long-term viability of Transat were a priority for the government. The carrier employs 5,000 people, mostly in Quebec, home to much of Canada’s aerospace sector.
The survival of Transat, its Montreal headquarters and employees puts significant pressure on the Quebec government to secure its future.
Quebec has come to the aid of struggling aerospace companies before. In 2015, the previous provincial government sunk US$1 billion into planemaker Bombardier’s then-struggling CSeries program. Two years later, Airbus paid Bombardier one dollar for control of the commercial jet program.
“The Quebec government is caught between a rock and a hard place on this one,” said John Gradek, a former airline executive and program coordinator at McGill University’s aviation management program.
“There will be a lot of pressure on (Premier Francois) Legault to come to (Quebec businessman) Pierre Karl Péladeau’s aid in terms of funding.”
Péladeau, who proposed buying Transat for $5 a share, said on Friday his offer is still available. Transat had previously said the bid lacked the required level of financing.
Péladeau, chief executive of Quebecor Inc, said in a statement that his offer includes “a rigorous business plan focusing on areas of the company with high growth potential, on expertise and job creation in Quebec” and a continued Montreal head office.
A second source familiar with the matter said Péladeau’s offer did not call for funding from the Quebec government, which said in February it was looking at scenarios for Transat “with or without Air Canada.”
A spokesman for Quebec’s economy minister declined comment on Sunday.
Toronto-bound passengers stuck on plane for several hours
The separatist Bloc Quebecois said it wanted to ensure Quebec ownership would be favored for the carrier and blamed Ottawa, which approved the merger in February, for delaying an airline aid package.
“Air Transat is a flagship that has made Quebecers proud while offering Francophones a career in aviation,” BQ transport critic Xavier Barsalou-Duval said in a statement.
“It is in our collective interest that its decision-making center as well as its control remain in Quebec.”
© 2021 Reuters
As COVID-19 vaccines for kids get closer, experts weigh up how to reassure parents – CBC.ca
As Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech say they’ve moved a step closer to providing their COVID-19 vaccine for younger children, one mother says she’s keen to have her eldest vaccinated, but hears some hesitation among other parents.
“As parents, you’re nervous and you’re apprehensive, obviously, about any risks,” said Fallon Jones, who lives in Halifax with a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
“But we have to weigh the pros and the cons here, and I think that this is a good opportunity to protect them against a potentially deadly virus,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway.
Pfizer-BioNTech said Monday that a clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine recorded a robust immune response in five- to 11-year-olds, and the company plans to seek regulatory approval as soon as possible. Children received two shots, each one-third the dose size given to adults. The findings have not been peer-reviewed, nor published.
For any vaccine to be approved by Health Canada, the manufacturers supply the necessary clinical trial data for review. If the regulator grants approval, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) will make a recommendation on their use, but the final decision to deploy the vaccines rests with provincial authorities.
In a statement to The Current, Health Canada said the makers of all COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada are conducting or planning studies in adolescents and younger children, but it has so far not received any submission for the approval of any COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12.
In her work at a vaccine hesitancy clinic in Calgary, Dr. Cora Constantinescu meets parents who are experiencing “a lot of fear and anxiety” around their children potentially getting the vaccine.
“We often have parents who are fully vaccinated themselves, who may be hesitant about their kids,” said Constantinescu, a pediatrician and infectious disease doctor at Alberta Children’s Hospital.
She said that parents talk to her about things they’ve seen online, including “anti-vaccine rhetoric and a lot of misconstrued science.”
In Halifax, Jones said she often hears other parents say they don’t know what’s in the vaccine, so they won’t give it to their kids. When she asks if they knew what was in the vaccines their kids received as babies, the response is usually no, she said.
“I completely respect and understand how there would be some fear associated with it,” she said.
But ultimately, “we trusted our doctors then and we trusted the science then, and we need to do the same with this vaccine.”
How should parents approach vaccine question?
Constantinescu said many parents have seen misinformation on social media, where there is a “huge polarization of the pro-vaccine and the anti-vaccine crowd.”
“The parents are caught in the middle, scared and worried about their kids, trying to make the best decision they can,” she said.
As parents approach the decision, they should consider the dual impact of COVID-19 on children, she said.
“We’re seeing the direct effects of COVID on children, and we know that that can range from mild disease, to respiratory illness, to being hospitalized, having a multi-system inflammation, to ending up in ICU,” she said.
There is also an indirect cost, including mental health issues and issues around socialization, she said.
The news from Pfizer-BioNTech gives her hope that those impacts can soon be addressed, but she warned that the data has not yet been made public, or reviewed by Health Canada.
If it is approved, she said parents should approach the vaccine as an issue of “personal protection first.”
“It’s about protecting their kids directly, looking out for them, and wanting to return them to a normal life,” she said.
‘Pull out all the stops’ to protect kids
Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency physician in Toronto, wants to see a safe vaccine for kids approved and available as quickly as possible.
“I’m calling for all of these processes to be speeded up and done very transparently,” said Pirzada, who is also a co-founder of Masks4Canada, a group that advocates for public health measures to slow the spread of the virus.
He added that more work should be done to reassure parents that the vaccines are safe. He warned that COVID-19 is not harmless to children, and the longer they remain unprotected, the more infections there will be.
In the meantime, vaccination sites and health-care workers could be prepared to ramp the vaccination campaign back up, he said.
“Once that approval comes, we should pull out all the stops and get these shots into little arms as quickly as possible.”
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin, Arianne Robinson and Joana Draghici.
Gold price drops as Powell talks 'gradual' tapering, downplays Evergrande contagion concerns – Kitco NEWS
(Kitco News) The gold market saw its earlier gains reversed as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell talked about “gradual” tapering while downplaying China’s Evergrande contagion effect on the U.S. market.
On Wednesday, the Fed said it may soon start tapering its $120 billion in monthly asset purchases, with central bank officials showing growing support for raising interest rates in 2022.
“If progress continues broadly as expected, the Committee judges that a moderation in the pace of asset purchases may soon be warranted. These asset purchases help foster smooth market functioning and accommodative financial conditions, thereby supporting the flow of credit to households and businesses,” the Fed said in a statement.
When clarifying the Fed’s stance at a press conference following the Fed statement, Powell indicated that it would be a “very gradual taper,” which could conclude in the middle of next year.
Powell also pointed out that the central bank has the freedom to speed up or slow down the tapering process as it sees fit. He added that markets should not expect a rate hike while the Fed is still tapering.
Tapering does depend on substantial further progress made by the U.S. economy. And if the economy continues to advance in line with expectations, the Fed could move ahead with tapering at the next meeting.
“For me, it wouldn’t take a knockout [August] employment report. It would take a reasonably good employment report for me to feel like that test is met,” Powell said. “I would say that in my own thinking, the test is all but met. I don’t personally need to see a very strong employment report. Again it’s not to be confused with the test for [rate] liftoff, which is so much higher.”
The Fed Chair was also asked about China’s Evergrande debt issue, which sparked a rout in the markets earlier this week.
“The Evergrande situation seems very particular to China, which has very high debt for an emerging economy,” Powell told reporters. “Corporate defaults in the U.S. are very low right now … You would worry that it would affect global financial conditions through confidence channels.”
When asked about the stock-trading policies for Fed officials, Powell replied that they are “not adequate” and the Fed “could do better.”
Powell noted that it is reasonable for Fed officials not to own the same assets as Fed buys. “We are going to be looking at all those things,” he said.
On the debt ceiling issue, Powell also urged Congress to raise the debt limit in a timely fashion. “It is critically important. Failure to do that is something that could result in severe damage to the economy and financial markets.”
He added that no one should assume Fed can protect the economy if the debt ceiling is not raised.
In response to Powell’s comments, gold saw some losses as markets interpreted Powell’s comments as upbeat when it came to the U.S. economy. At the time of writing, December Comex gold futures were trading at $1,767.20, down 0.62% on the day.
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