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Quebec threatens to sue Air Canada, Ottawa over Aveos layoffs

A laid off Aveo employee makes a call in front of the aircraft maintenance company's plant Tuesday, March 20, 2012 in Montreal.


The Quebec government is considering suing Air Canada and the federal government for the loss of nearly 1,800 Montreal jobs after the closing of aircraft repair firm Aveos Fleet Performance Inc.

Members of the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously on Wednesday to urge the provincial government "to act as soon as possible in taking all legal actions to keep Air Canada maintenance services in Montreal," in compliance with the 1988 Air Canada Public Participation Act that set out conditions for privatizing the airline.

The federal law imposes certain conditions, notably the requirement that the airline perform maintenance work in Montreal, that its headquarters remain in Montreal and that it offer bilingual services.

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Quebec may argue that Ottawa is in non-compliance with the law by refusing to intervene in the Aveos case to force Air Canada to conduct maintenance operations in Montreal.

"We will examine all potential recourses, and these include the possibility of taking legal action against the federal government. We are not closing the door because our first objective is to help the Aveos workers," Quebec Premier Jean Charest said.

Aveos laid off 2,620 employees and began liquidating assets this week, closing maintenance plants in Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Quebec's Liberal government has contacted other provinces to examine the possibility of taking legal action together.

"I have spoken to the minister in Manitoba," said Economic Development Minister Sam Hamad. "We are examining all possible legal actions against Air Canada to exercise pressure on Air Canada as soon as possible."

He said Quebec would go it alone if the other provinces decided against taking legal action.

Federal Transport Minister Denis Lebel expressed sympathy Wednesday for the laid-off workers, but said the "devastating" shutdown came after Aveos's decisions as a private company. Air Canada has to respect the law and Ottawa is obtaining legal advice confirming its compliance with conditions, he added.

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Aveos initially considered restructuring by seeking bankruptcy protection, but on Tuesday the debt-laden company said it was forced to liquidate assets instead.

Air Canada said in a statement Wednesday that Aveos is a separate firm, and that the airline is still onside with all aspects of the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

"We continue to employ 2,300 maintenance employees at various bases in Canada, including those in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal," said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick. "Air Canada intends to remain fully compliant with the act, which also requires we maintain our head office in Montreal."

Last May, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that Air Canada is complying with the act's requirement that the airline have aircraft maintenance centres in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga. Vancouver is not listed as one of the protected aircraft-repair plants in the act.

The court issued the decision after the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers argued that Air Canada had effectively breached the act through the spinoff of Aveos, formerly Air Canada Technical Services, to private-equity owners. In 2010, a group of lenders took control of Aveos, which specialized in airframe heavy maintenance but also performed engine overhauls.

Last year's Superior Court judgment, written by Mr. Justice Frank Newbould, noted that Air Canada has certain overhaul functions through its day-to-day "line maintenance" operations.

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On Wednesday, about 200 Aveos workers from Montreal protested outside the National Assembly while a dozen sat in the public gallery to listen to the debate about their company.

Opposition Parti Québécois members argued that Air Canada is in violation of the 1988 federal act, and accused the federal government of failing to stand up for the laid-off employees.

"When Air Canada workers want to exercise their right to strike, Ottawa intervenes. It suddenly becomes a national issue," PQ Leader Pauline Marois said in the National Assembly. When Aveos abruptly closed its doors, "Ottawa does nothing and doesn't intervene. It's a double standard."

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About the Authors
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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