OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government, faced with strife over the closure of facilities that overhaul Air Canada planes, hinted on Monday at changing the law that requires Air Canada to maintain these overhaul stations at three Canadian cities.
Aveos, formerly an Air Canada division but now a private company, performed the airline's heavy maintenance but last week shut its Canadian operations and obtained bankruptcy protection.
"It's a complex file. This law was analyzed a long time ago. It's been since 1988 that this law has not been changed," Transport Minister Denis Lebel said in Parliament.
He made the remarks after announcing he was asking the House of Commons Transportation Committee to hold hearings "concerning the cessation of Aveos Performance" and report back to him.
The Air Canada Public Participation Act, under which the former state carrier was privatized in 1988, requires Air Canada to maintain operational and overhaul centers in Montreal; Mississauga, Ontario, outside of Toronto; and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
In a heated exchange in the House, Lebel repeated that the law requires those centers to be maintained, and "the law is the law". But he said it was a complex issue and the law had not been changed since 1988.
Denis Coderre, an MP from Montreal who belongs to the Liberal Party, said the government ought to do its job not announce committee hearing.
"What is the government waiting for to protect the families and to help them, instead of having a minister who is acting as Air Canada's human resources director?" Coderre demanded.
If the government wanted to eliminate the requirement that the overhaul stations be maintained in the three cities, it would be certain to meet strenuous objections from the political opposition, particularly from Quebec lawmakers.
The closure of the facilities drew union protests last week, predominantly in Montreal. The Quebec provincial government also threatened legal action against Air Canada and the federal government to keep operations going at the Montreal facility.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway