Conservative MP Candice Bergen addressed the House of Commons on Thursday (Dec. 10), standing up for independent travel advisors while making a case for commission protections as the federal government prepares a financial aid package for airlines.
MP Bergen, who represents the constituency of Portage—Lisgar in Manitoba, began her remarks by noting how she recently met with travel advisors, virtually, over Zoom.
She was referring to an advocacy initiative led by The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), a group that formed in June to educate and lobby politicians about the challenges that home-based and self-employed travel agents are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACITA rallies members on a private Facebook page, which has more than 1,500 members, encouraging agents to schedule a one-on-one meeting with their local MP, via Zoom, so they can personally explain why they need federal help.
Access to financial aid, commission recalls, rapid testing at airports and easing Canada’s 14-day quarantine order are just some of the topics raised at each 30-minute meeting.
(Click here for a detailed account of one meeting that PAX attended).
The grassroots group has, to date, completed 103 Zoom calls with federal politicians and policy makers.
What Bergen said
“As I looked at my screen, I saw the beautiful faces of 20 mostly-female entrepreneurs who have worked hard, served their communities and their clients, but are now suffering and are very worried because of the impacts of COVID,” said MP Bergen, speaking in Ottawa about her Nov. 24 meeting with ACITA, which was arranged by constituent Cathy Cordy.
“They shared heart-breaking stories of having their commissions, already paid to them prior to COVID, now being clawed back by some in the airline industry. In some cases, commission was taken directly from their bank accounts without their consent.”
“This is unfair and unjust," she said.
MP Bergen then pushed the Liberal government to include independent travel advisors in any bailout packages they are planning for Canada’s airlines.
“These women run small businesses across Canada, which we know is the backbone of our economy, but they also represent the spirit of a Canadian woman – hard-working, tenacious and providing for their families by serving others.”
“These women deserve more than being left behind to flail in the wind. Let’s help them out.”
With that, parliament erupted into a raucous round of applause, suggesting that other MPs agree.
ACITA has gained public support from several politicians in recent weeks.
MP James Cumming, who represents Edmonton Centre in Alberta, spoke in parliament on Nov. 22, and also supported commission protections for travel agents.
“At the end of the day, services provided should be services paid, and [with] any government support to the airline industry, travel agents cannot be collateral damage.”
Other MPs in Western Canada who have voiced their support include Alberta’s Stephanie Kusie, MP for Calgary Midnapore, and Gerald Soroka, MP for Yellowhead, as well as Tamara Jansen, MP for Cloverdale-Langley City, in British Columbia. (Click the hyperlinks on their names to watch their remarks).
The important support comes as travel advisors face a potential wave of commission recalls after Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced that a government bailout of the aviation industry would hinge on airlines issuing refunds to customers.
TravelOnly’s Nancy Wilson, who leads ACITA alongside Brenda Slater of Beyond the Beach and Judith Coates of The Travel Agent Next Door, says that most MPs, in the beginning, “had no idea of our pay structure, or the concern of commission recalls we are facing.”
“However, recently, most MPs are nodding their heads, as they’ve heard about us, from other members of parliament,” Wilson wrote PAX in an email. “That has given us a huge sense of accomplishment.”
MP Bergen’s recent remarks, in particular, was an “emotional moment for many of us,” Wilson explained, that left many agents feeling “elated, knowing that someone was hearing our plea.”
“MP Bergen was quite taken aback by what we’ve had to endure, and was extremely supportive, offering to do what she could to help,” said Wilson. “It was obvious during our call she was struck by the fact that so many in our industry are women, especially since the statistics are showing how women have been particularly hard hit through the pandemic.”
“We are thrilled to know that our voice is being heard.”
ACITA moves forward
In another development, ACITA has been invited to participate in two Caucus Advisory Committee meetings, Wilson told PAX.
The group was invited by MP Tony Baldinelli, who represents Niagara Falls, ON, and who was recently appointed Special Advisor to the Leader on Tourism Recovery.
“He has been instrumental in helping our association, opening many doors for us to speak to other members of parliament,” said Wilson.
MP Baldinelli has started a petition, which ACITA is encouraging the travel industry to sign and support. (Click here to view it).
He is asking the government to present a Tourism Recovery Plan ahead of the 2021 Federal Budget, with a plan to address the needs of many sectors of travel and tourism across Canada.
It will be designed to support the deployment of Health Canada-approved vaccines and rapid testing devices and use the Recovery Plan as a tool to restore public confidence in travel and tourism,” said Wilson.
“We know our job is not done,” Wilson told PAX. “Not until we’ve been given the assurance that the airlines will not be given any bailout without the stipulation that our commissions be protected.”
“Or, until we’ve met all 338 MPs. Whichever comes first.”
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