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Canadian Transportation Agency overwhelmed by 2-year backlog of air passenger complaints – CBC.ca

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The Canadian Transportation Agency is wrestling with a backlog of nearly 14,000 air passenger complaints accumulated over the past two years, at the same time as thousands of Canadians are demanding the agency help get their money back from flights cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than half of the 26,000 complaints submitted to the CTA from July 2018 to April 2020 are unresolved, according to a response to an order paper question by the NDP tabled in Parliament last week on the number, nature and resolution of passenger complaints.

The bulk of the complaints — which are meant to be addressed within 30 to 120 days — are for disruptions to flights including cancellations, tarmac delays and people being denied boarding. 

The backlog doesn’t come as a surprise to Mahesh Krishnamurthy, a Canadian living in the U.S. who flies often and has launched four complaints with the agency over the past 15 years.

“Four complaints, zero resolutions,” Krishnamurthy said. “You know it’s frustrating, but you realize at the end, sometimes that’s what government is.”

Krishnamurthy recently submitted a complaint about an Air Canada flight from New York to Australia, which was meant to depart in April but was cancelled because of travel restrictions. His other complaints have included delays or problems with ticket prices. 

Complaints surged after new passenger protections implemented

The CTA told CBC News the vast majority of untouched cases are not tied to the global public health crisis, which largely grounded air travel around the world.  

The number of complaints more than doubled after the second wave of air passenger protection regulations came into effect in December 2019, the agency said.

The regulations, first enacted in July 2019, are intended to ensure that both airlines and passengers know what their rights are when it comes to travel setbacks like delays and cancellations. The CTA is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal and regulator tasked with settling disputes between the customers and airlines. 

It simply reflects the challenges of handling a 23-fold leap in demand– Canadian Transportation Agency

“The massive increase in complaint volumes has made it increasingly challenging to meet these standards, despite the mobilization of effort across the organization,” the agency wrote in a statement to CBC News. 

“This isn’t for lack of effort or commitment; it simply reflects the challenges of handling a 23-fold leap in demand.”

The agency said it has attempted to tackle the influx of cases by resolving complaints through more informal methods including mediation, launching inquiries to simultaneously clear up common complaints about the same issue and reallocating resources internally.

NDP transport critic Niki Ashton said the backlog shows the agency isn’t doing its job to protect passengers.

“The Canadian government should be stepping up … to make sure that Canadians’ complaints are being heard, are being resolved,” Ashton said.

Thousands of complaints since onset of pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the mounting pile of complaints. 

The CTA says it logged about 5,500 complaints from March 11 to May 28, though it did not disclose what they were about.

The number was revealed as Canadians across the country are calling on the federal government to compel airlines to refund costs for flights they were never able to board. Most Canadian airlines have offered passengers travel vouchers redeemable within two years — something the CTA has said could be reasonable during these extraordinary circumstances. 

Ashton, however, believes Ottawa should look harder at compensating those who cancelled their trips.

“That’s something that we know is a huge issue right now,” she said.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Friday that forcing airlines to refund passengers would have a “devastating effect” on an already battered industry.

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said Canadian airlines could go bankrupt if they were forced to refund passengers billions of dollars for flights cancelled due to the pandemic. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, the CTA says that while none of its services were suspended because of the pandemic, it did suspend its interactions with airlines about outstanding disputes. 

That decision was made to allow carriers “to focus on immediate demands, such as repatriating Canadians stranded abroad, and to adjust their operations in light of plummeting passenger and flight volumes,” the agency said.

The CTA added conversations will resume with airlines starting in July. 

CAA: ‘The system is simply clogged up’

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) — a travel agency and consumer group that originally pushed for the passenger protections and took part in the consultation process — said the CTA can’t support passengers if it doesn’t have the staffing or resources to do so. 

“We’ve been saying since the start of this process that no matter how good the rules are, if we don’t have good enforcement, it’s simply not going to work,” said CAA spokesperson Ian Jack.

“The system is simply clogged up and not working. If we don’t have a system that people can trust because it’s going to deal with a complaint in a timely fashion, then the system just falls apart and we’re no better off than we were before we pushed to get this airline passenger bill of rights.”

Canadian Automobile Association spokesperson Ian Jack says that the CTA needs more staffing and resources to do its job, but that the agency also needs to be more transparent about its caseload. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC)

The CTA received temporary funding from the federal government over the past two fiscal years to address the rise in complaints, but the agency was not able to immediately confirm the amount to CBC News. The agency did say it nearly doubled the number of complaints it processed during that time period.

Jack said the next step is to go beyond opposition parties asking questions in Parliament: he wants to see data about complaints and the CTA’s response times made publicly available so consumers can see for themselves if it’s working.

“If people lose trust in the system, they’re never going to come back to it and we’re not going to have an effective air passenger rights regime in this country,” he said.

Krishnamurthy agrees.

“By the third or fourth time, you don’t really have any expectations of them actually resolving the complaint,” he said. “You know you’ve got to do it on your own.”

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A third of Canada's foodservice workforce is still unemployed: survey – CTV News

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TORONTO —
New data from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey revealed that 164,000 foodservice and accommodation jobs were recovered in June. Despite these gains, at least 400,000 people who were previously employed in the foodservice sector are still out of work.

Restaurants Canada, a national non-profit association representing Canada’s diverse foodservice industry is calling on the federal government to make changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program (CEWS) to aid businesses in their effort to rehire workers as they continue to recover.

The program was implemented at the height of the pandemic to help businesses subsidize their employee’s wages for up to 12 weeks, initially. Restaurants Canada is urging the government to keep the subsidy available for as long as pandemic restrictions are in place and to gradually reduce the subsidy as businesses achieve manageable levels of revenue.

To qualify, businesses must have experienced a 30-per-cent decline in revenue. The association is asking the government to scale the 30-per-cent threshold to support restaurants in their recovery.

“Reforms to the federal wage subsidy are urgently needed to help foodservice businesses bring more Canadians back to work amid ongoing restrictions,” said David Lefebvre, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Federal and Quebec in a press release. “Forty-four per cent of restaurant operators who responded to our latest survey said they did not apply for the subsidy for at least one of their establishments because it would not meet the requirements.”

In May, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that the federal government would extend the CEWS by an additional 12 weeks until the end of August. 

When asked about any future changes, the minister’s office pointed to the Economic and Fiscal Snapshot released on Wednesday, which states: “As economies reopen and business activity resumes, the government will soon announces changes to the CEWS to stimulate rehiring, provide support to businesses during reopening and help them adapt to the new normal. In anticipation of this forthcoming announcement, the government has set aside additional funding as part of the 2020 Economic and Fiscal Snapshot.”

The minister’s office declined to share specific details about future changes to the program, but advocates remain hopeful as more businesses begin to reopen. 

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COMMENTARY: Canada and the U.S. are neighbours but miles apart when it comes to COVID-19 – Globalnews.ca

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The COVID19 pandemic has shone a light on the core strengths of Canada’s health-care system while at the same time laying bare the serious shortcomings of the American system.

In this country, we have started to flatten the curve. Ontario and Quebec are not quite as far along as other provinces, but their spread rate of the virus has slowed considerably.

If we stick to adhering to public health protocols – keeping our physical distance, wearing a mask in many situations, not congregating in large crowds – there is every reason to think the curve will continue to flatten while the pandemic continues.

Read more:
B.C. reports 25 COVID-19 cases, most since May 8

Not so on the other side of the border.

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The COVID-19 situation in the United States is almost out of control in many places. States like California, Arizona, Texas and Florida are getting steamrolled by the deadly virus that is rampaging through them.

Even neighboring Washington, which thought it had the virus almost under control mere weeks ago, has seen a resurgence in case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths.

There seem to be many reasons for the stark differences between the two countries’ experience in fighting off the virus.

Perhaps the most important difference is that Canada’s response to COVID-19 is being driven and determined by public health officials, and not by politicians.

Read more:
President Donald Trump playing politics with the pandemic: experts

People like B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and federal Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam have been in charge for the most part and they are being guided by science rather than politics.

Canadian political leaders, meanwhile, have primarily been responsible for devising financial aid packages for the millions of people hit hardest by the virus and have stayed out of the health side of the response.

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Contrast that to the United States where, in some cases, elected officials (notably President Donald Trump) publicly clash with public health experts and ignore or override their advice.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the respected U.S. infectious disease expert, has almost disappeared from public view. Evidently, that is because the Trump administration does not want him offering the country expert advice.

Can you imagine if the B.C. government tried to muzzle Henry? A pitchfork-waving mob would instantly materialize in the streets.

Read more:
British Columbians snapping up Dr. Bonnie Henry merchandise

Another key difference is that Canadians tend to follow rules created for the benefit of the larger community. We don’t chafe under state controls and when someone like Dr. Henry says, for example, that there will be no mass gatherings of people there generally is not (the public protests against racism are notable exceptions).

Americans, on the other hand, love to boast about their constitutionally protected personal rights and have been thumbing their noses at things like crowd limits since the pandemic began. In fact, the current surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. can be traced back to the Memorial Day long weekend in late May, when huge crowds gathered to celebrate.

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Finally, it cannot be a coincidence that a country with a public health-care system is doing so much better fighting COVID-19. It allows us to take a centralized approach to taking on the virus.

The U.S., on the other hand, has a private system that has led to a decentralized approach. The result is a hodge-podge of results (within states, some neighboring counties have differing “lockdown” rules; some hospitals do not even report case numbers or deaths).

Two countries side-by-side, yet we could not be further apart in this pandemic.

Keith Baldrey is the legaslative bureau chief for Global BC, based at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Canada's UNESCO natural wonders – CBC.ca

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A wild horse grazes at Dungeon Provincial Park in Newfoundland and Labrador’s Bonavista Peninsula, part of Discovery Geopark, which has just been named a UNESCO Global Geopark. (EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock)

Nova Scotia’s Cliffs of Fundy and the Discovery Global Geopark in Newfoundland and Labrador received official status Friday as UNESCO Geoparks — a designation that recognizes sites and landscapes of international geological significance. They join three other Canadian UNESCO Geoparks and a collection of other UNESCO-designated Canadian sites. Here’s a look at some of Canada’s impressive natural wonders recognized by the UN agency. 

Cliffs of Fundy, N.S.

The Cliffs of Fundy Global Geopark in Nova Scotia stretches along a roughly 165-kilometre drive, with about 40 designated sites from Debert to the Three Sisters cliffs, past Eatonville, out to Isle Haute. The area is the only place on Earth where geologists can see both the assembly of supercontinent Pangea 300 million years ago and its breakup 100 million years later.

(Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

Discovery Global Geopark, N.L.

The Discovery Global Geopark in Newfoundland and Labrador’s Bonavista Peninsula, a rugged coastline that overlooks views of caves, arches and sea stacks.

(Shutterstock)

Stonehammer Geopark, N.B.

Stonehammer Geopark covers 2,500 square kilometres across southern New Brunswick, stretching from Lepreau Falls to Norton, Saint John and Grand Bay-Westfield to St. Martins. It became Canada’s first UNESCO Geopark in 2010. This couple walks on the ocean floor at low tide to view caves carved into the red sandstone by the Bay of Fundy.

(Kevin Bissett/The Canadian Press)

Tumbler Ridge Geopark, B.C.

The Tumbler Ridge Geopark includes part of the eastern Hart Ranges of the northern Rocky Mountains in British Columbia. The area is notable for fossils, including the northernmost prints of brontosaurus, the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found in the province and, below, ankylosaurus footprints preserved in rock.

(Pecold/Shuttestock)

Percé, Que.

The most noticeable landmark at Percé Geopark is the Percé Rock, a massive limestone stack 433 metres long, 90 metres wide and 88 metres at its highest point, rising from the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec near the village of Percé.

(Marika Wheeler/CBC)

Nahanni National Park, N.W.T.

Canada’s first entry on the UNESCO list, in 1978, this preserve protects a portion of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region, including massive canyons, sulphur hot springs, alpine tundra and the spectacular rapids of the South Nahanni River.

(GeGiGoggle/Shutterstock)

Pimachiowin Aki 

An expanse of boreal shield became Canada’s first mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Site in 2018. Pimachiowin Aki is nearly 30,000 square kilometres of boreal land straddling the Ontario-Manitoba border, where Anishinaabe peoples have lived for thousands of years.

(Matt Medler/International Boreal Conservation Campaign/The Associated Press)

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alta.

A World Heritage Site 75 million years in the making, this spot in the heart of Alberta’s badlands has been a destination for paleontologists since dinosaur fossils were first discovered here in 1884. UNESCO also recognized the provincial park’s “particularly beautiful scenery” when adding it to the World Heritage list in 1979.

(Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock)

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alta.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, also known by its Blackfoot name Áísínai’pi, became Alberta’s sixth World Heritage Site in 2019. According to the provincial government, the park is home to the most significant concentration of rock carvings and paintings on the North American prairies, some of which date back 2,000 years. 

(Paul Karchut/CBC)

Joggins Fossil Cliffs, N.S. 

Nova Scotia’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs, regarded as the best record of life in the Coal Age 300 million years ago, was added to the exclusive ranks of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008. The fossil cliffs are home to enormous fossilized trees and what’s believed to be the remains of the world’s oldest reptile. 

(Joggins Fossil Institute)

Kluane/Wrangell-St.Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek

The first binational entry on UNESCO’s list, named in 1979, the agency describes this 97,000-square-kilometre site as “an impressive complex of glaciers and high peaks on both sides of the border between Canada (Yukon Territory and British Columbia) and the United States (Alaska). It  includes the 5,959-metre-high Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak.

This massive reserve is home to some of the world’s fastest-moving glaciers and the largest non-polar icefield on the planet.

(Chuck Stoody/The Canadian Press)

Mistaken Point, N.L. 

Mistaken Point, on the southeastern point of the Avalon Peninsula, is home to the oldest-known evidence of Earth’s first large, complex, multicellular life forms — a 565-million-year-old sea floor that holds a collection of fossils known as the Ediacaran biota.

Mistaken Point became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. 

(UNESCO)

Wood Buffalo National Park

Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories border, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas and a breeding ground for millions of migratory birds from four continental flyways.

But it has been deteriorating for decades. In 2014, the Mikisew Cree asked UNESCO to examine the park and see if it still merited designation as a World Heritage Site.

UNESCO is considering the park’s status, while Parks Canada considers a $27.5-million plan to rescue it.

(Lennard Plantz/CBC)

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