Saskatoon business group accuses Air Canada, WestJet of unfair competition, calls for investigation

The Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce has asked a national watchdog to investigate whether Air Canada and WestJet colluded to share flight routes, saying the softened competition between the two airlines is unfair to the traveling public and Saskatchewan business groups.

“Even if the conduct does not constitute an ‘agreement’ between the airlines,” the press release states, “it amounts to an abuse of dominance by Air Canada and WestJet where the airlines engaged in conduct intended to harm competition, thereby enhancing their positions in the market.”

The Chamber is asking the Canadian Competition Bureau to investigate Air Canada’s cancellation of direct flights from Saskatoon and Regina to Calgary.

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As Global News previously reported, Air Canada passengers will have to fly to Vancouver from both cities to get to Calgary, with flights sometimes costing more than twice as much as direct flights. And WestJet flights between Saskatoon and Regina to Calgary were still more expensive than Air Canada’s direct routes.

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Several companies and one leading researcher warned that the cancellation could have an adverse effect on the province’s economy and ability to attract leading researchers and companies.

“The cancellation of the Air Canada route means Saskatoon-based businesses will spend more time and more money connecting with the people and markets they serve,” chamber CEO Jason Aebig was quoted as saying in the statement.

“Compared to neighboring provinces, Air Canada’s decision creates unnecessary barriers for Saskatoon’s current businesses, research institutes and residents, as well as those who want to visit, study or do business here.”

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When Air Canada announced the cancellations in December, it said it was seeking to rebuild in a prudent and disciplined manner by deploying resources where they would be most productive and focusing on major hubs in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

The 11-page submission to the competition office cites a report by the Conference Board of Canada, a think tank, which concluded that Saskatoon’s economy will surpass Canada’s in 2023.

“Any ‘business case’ for leaving Saskatoon appears to be very weak,” it said, adding that the cancellation would lead to price increases, reduced choice and “lower quality of service from an unproven monopolist.”

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“If Air Canada does not want to explain its decision (to cancel flights) to its customers and stakeholders, it can explain its decision to its regulators.”

This story is developing and will be updated.

— with files from Jeanelle Mandes and Brooke Krueger

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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