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Canada's transport regulator hasn't settled a single COVID-19 flight cancellation complaint – CBC.ca

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The Canadian Transportation Agency has failed to settle a single complaint from Canadians demanding refunds for cancelled flights since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News has learned. 

The independent tribunal said it has been inundated with close to 10,000 complaints from mid-March, when global air travel largely ground to a halt, until Oct. 16. 

The agency confirmed it’s still processing complaints it received before March 11; it has yet to deal with any cases filed during the public health crisis.

For months, Canada’s Transport Minister has told Canadians if they are unsatisfied with refunds, the course of action is to file complaints with the tribunal.

Carly Aubertin and her husband Rob McLean are upset that they filed a complaint in April, which has been sitting in limbo ever since.

“It’s just so disheartening,” said Aubertin. “It’s frustrating that the government’s not there to support us.” 

The Ontario residents are considering selling their home as they wrestle with living off a single income because the pandemic has hurt McLean’s business. Sunwing gave them a voucher for a cancelled trip to Antigua due to COVID, rather than a full refund that could help pay their mortgage until the spring.

 “Right now, I mean, $5,000? There’s five months of mortgage right there,” she said.

Long backlog before pandemic started

The delay is partially due to a two-year backlog of complaints the CTA received before the pandemic struck. The backlog is tied to a significant influx of complaints received after new air passenger protection regulations came into effect in December 2019.

COVID-19 hampered further efforts to process complaints; the CTA temporarily paused its discussions with airlines regarding “dispute resolution activities” until June 30, 2020 to allow airlines to focus on more urgent matters. The agency also granted airlines an extension until Oct. 28 to respond to passengers seeking compensation.

But the CTA says it’s making progress on tackling the caseload. The agency processed a record number of complaints in the past fiscal year. The administrative tribunal also received a funding boost to get through cases more quickly and says it’s weeks away from starting on complaints filed during the pandemic.

WATCH | Thousands of Canadian travellers are waiting for flight refunds:

CBC News has learned that despite receiving thousands of complaints from travellers looking for refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19, the Canadian Transportation Agency has not settled a single one. 1:59

An ongoing battle for closure

The agency said it’s now working through about 17,300 complaints. 

Those includes complaints from Canadians like Aubertin and McLean, who spent about $5,000 for a spring vacation with a group of friends to celebrate some of their 40th and 50th birthdays.

McLean found himself without work during the pandemic, meaning the Port Robinson, Ont., couple has started to dip into their retirement savings. His last pay cheque was in February. 

“It’s frustrating because in these times we hear the leaders of our country saying to look out for everybody and do the right thing and respect your community, and then to allow these multimillion dollar companies to keep our money interest free for an extended period of time doesn’t feel like the right thing to us,” McLean said. 

Aubertin said the obstacles have been particularly disappointing given that other countries have taken a firmer stance on helping passengers.

In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a notice reminding U.S. and foreign airlines that they “remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers” despite the pandemic and warned that it would take “enforcement action” as necessary.

Carly Aubertin, left, and Rob McLean, right, have emailed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for help — but his office said the couple’s only option was to file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency. (Submitted)

In Canada, airlines have been asking the government for financial help to survive an unprecedented drop in business during the height of the pandemic. In many cases, airlines have been issuing travel vouchers redeemable for two years, rather than refunds. 

The CTA said it issued a “non-binding statement” on issuing vouchers in the face of “unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances” during the pandemic.

The agency said the industry collapsed worldwide and there was an “absence of any general minimum obligation under the law for airlines to pay refunds for flights cancelled for reasons beyond their control.”

After months of public outrage, WestJet announced last week it was changing its refund policy on Nov. 2 to give customers back money for flights cancelled due to COVID-19.

Air Canada took to Twitter shortly afterwards and said it’s already repaid $1.2 billion to date for refundable tickets cancelled during the pandemic.

John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive and lecturer at McGill University’s aviation management program, said the timing is no coincidence.

Canada’s major airlines — WestJet, Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing and Swoop — are facing a series of class action lawsuits over refunds during COVID and the federal court certification hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2. 

Gradek also believes airlines realized there wasn’t public support for a government bailout unless carriers refunded passengers first. The Globe and Mail reported Friday cabinet is currently deliberating a package for the aviation sector that includes scaling back airport fee increases and low interest loans.

CTA losing credibility, Bloc MP says

Passengers and consumers have a right to feel upset about the federal government’s lack of action, said Bloc Québécois MP and transport critic Xavier Barsalou-Duval.

On Friday, he presented a bill seeking to amend the Canada Transportation Act in order to ensure passengers are fully refunded in the event that an air carrier cancels a flight. 

He said Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s failure to resolve the issue has put undue pressure on the CTA.

“By not acting, Mr. Garneau’s transferring the weight of the situation on the shoulders of the CTA and that’s a big problem,” said Barsalou-Duval. 

“[The CTA is] losing credibility. And that’s the big problem because usually they’re supposed to… apply the rules, apply the law.”

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office has stated for months that he sympathizes with those seeking refunds, while reiterating that airlines are going through a difficult time. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In a statement to CBC News on Sunday, Garneau said he understood the frustration.

“This situation is far from ideal,” he said. “We are encouraged to see that some airlines have refunded their customers, and expect air carriers will do their best to accommodate passengers under these extraordinary circumstances,” the statement read.

“This is an important issue to Canadians. We also continue to work with the airlines to address the overall challenges they are facing due to the pandemic.”

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Scotiabank tops forecasts even as profit slips on high loan losses, weaker international showing – The Globe and Mail

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The Bank of Nova Scotia building in Toronto, on May 9, 2019.

Andrej Ivanov

Bank of Nova Scotia’s fiscal fourth-quarter profit fell nearly 18 per cent as provisions for loan losses remained high and profit from its international division fell sharply.

Even so, Scotiabank far outperformed analysts’ expectations, bolstered by rising profits from capital markets and wealth management. The country’s third largest bank is the first to report earnings for the fiscal quarter that ended Oct. 31. Full-year profits declined 22 per cent to $6.85-billion amid the continuing impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In the fourth quarter, Scotiabank earned $1.9-billion, or $1.42 per share. That was down from $2.31-billion, or $1.73 a share in the same quarter last year.

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Adjusted to exclude items, including costs from a series of acquisitions and divestitures, Scotiabank said it earned $1.45 per share. On average, analysts were expecting adjusted earnings per share of $1.21 per share, according to Refinitiv.

Scotiabank kept its quarterly dividend unchanged at 90 cents per share, in keeping with temporary restrictions set by Canada’s banking regulator.

For the full fiscal year, Scotiabank earned $5.30 per share, compared with $6.68 a year ago, a decline of nearly 21 per cent. The bank’s return on equity fell to 11 per cent, from 13.3 per cent in 2019.

In the quarter, the bank added another $1.13-billion in provisions for credit losses – the money banks set aside to cover loans that could go sour. That was an increase of 50 per cent from the same quarter a year ago, but sharply lower than the $2.18-billion in provisions the bank earmarked in the third quarter this year.

The bank attributed the decrease to dimmer economic forecasts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As expected, a large majority of the payment deferrals Scotiabank had granted to customers on mortgages, credit cards, personal loans and business loans expired in the fourth quarter. Deferred balances have fallen 96 per cent from their peak in the second fiscal quarter.

But 35,000 customers accounts in Canada, with loans worth $4.89-billion, are still in deferral. And another 486,000 accounts in the bank’s international operations, which are concentrated in Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia, with a total balance of $6-billion, also still have payments on pause. A majority of those accounts are credit cards, which are unsecured debt, and 90.5 per cent of those accounts are returning to regular payments after deferrals expire.

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Earnings in Scotiabank’s key Canadian banking operations fell 13 per cent to $778-million in the fourth quarter, mostly because of higher provisions for credit losses.

In the bank’s international division, which is concentrated in Latin America, profits plunged 61 per cent to $333-million. Higher provisions for loan losses were compounded by divestitures of operations abroad that reduced some revenues. But chief executive Brian Porter said those efforts to reduce the bank’s exposure to risky foreign markets “have played a significant role in our operational resilience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” in a statement.

Profits from capital markets improved 14 per cent from the same quarter a year ago, to $460-million, and the bank’s wealth management arm, which has been retooled after a pair of major acquisitions, improved its quarterly profit by 8 per cent year over year to $325-million.

Scotiabank also boosted its capital levels, reporting a common equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio of 11.8 per cent, up from 11.3 per cent in the third quarter. The ratio is considered a key measure of a bank’s resilience, and its ability to absorb losses in a crisis.

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Tesla whistleblower Martin Tripp ordered to pay $400,000 to settle hacking case – The Verge

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Martin Tripp, the former Tesla worker who has been embroiled in a bitter legal battle with CEO Elon Musk for over two years, was ordered to pay his former employer $400,000 after admitting to leaking confidential information to a reporter.

The settlement is intended to bring an end to one of the more sordid stories at Tesla, in which Tripp, a former process technician, locked horns with the billionaire CEO over allegations that Tesla was wasting a “jaw-dropping” amount of raw material as it ramped up production of the Model 3 sedan.

Musk later accused Tripp of “sabotage” and personally ordered investigators to hack Tripp’s phone and spy on his messages. Tesla even misled local police about a potential mass shooting by Tripp at the company’s Nevada factory.

But in the end, Tripp came out on the losing side. The payment is part of a proposed settlement to a lawsuit filed by Tesla in 2018 alleging that Tripp hacked the electric car company’s system and transferred “gigabytes” of data to third parties. As part of the agreement, Tripp admitted to violating laws related to trade secrets and computer crimes when he told a Business Insider reporter that Tesla was wasting a significant amount of raw materials during production of its Model 3.

Tripp also agreed to pay $25,000 to Tesla for continuing to reveal information about the company, despite being ordered to stop by a judge. Tripp had been publishing a large number of documents and videos online, including many under a confidentiality order in the case. In August, Tripp fired his lawyers and set about representing himself in the case. It was also revealed that a Tesla short seller, The Funicular Fund, was financing Tripp’s legal defense.

Earlier this year, a judge dismissed Tripp’s defamation case against Tesla, in which the former technician accused the company of spreading false rumors about him. After Tripp filed for whistleblower status with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Musk emailed a reporter at The Guardian telling them a tipster had contacted Tesla to say that Tripp might “come back and shoot people,” at the Nevada Gigafactory. The local sheriff determined the threat was not real, but Tesla issued a press release, which was picked up by several media outlets.

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Canada's economy bounced back at record 40% pace in third quarter — but GDP still below pre-COVID level – CBC.ca

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Statistics Canada said Tuesday the economy grew at a record annualized pace of 40.5 per cent in the third quarter as businesses came out of COVID-19 lockdowns.

The previous record for quarterly growth in real gross domestic product was 13.2 per cent in the first quarter of 1965, the agency said.

As historic as the rebound was, it fell short of expectations.

Financial data firm Refinitiv said the average economist estimate was for an annualized growth rate of 47.6 per cent for the quarter.

The rebound over July, August and September was a sharp turnaround from the preceding three-month stretch, which saw a record drop.

Driving the rebound were the further rolling back of public health restrictions that allowed businesses to reopen.

Statistics Canada also said there was a substantial increase in the housing market owing to low interest rates, as well as household spending on goods like cars.

GDP still lower than it was in February

Despite the overall increase, the national statistics office said real gross domestic product still remains shy of where it was before the pandemic.

The third quarter ended with the fifth consecutive monthly increase in real GDP after the steepest monthly drops on record in March and April when widespread lockdowns were instituted to slow the spread of COVID-19.

September saw a 0.8 per cent increase in real GDP, Statistics Canada said, a slight slowing from the 0.9 per cent recorded in August.

The agency also provided a preliminary estimate for October’s figures, saying early indicators point to a 0.2 per cent increase in the month. The figure will be finalized at the end of this month.

“The fourth quarter of 2020 is still beginning with some growth, though less than we had anticipated,” CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes wrote in a note.

“Looking ahead, the economy faces a December with harsh restrictions that will likely see another contraction in economic activity.”

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