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WestJet ‘non-partisan’ CEO says after Poilievere in-flight PA speech

Flight in question added for convention and largely filled with Conservative delegates
A WestJet logo is seen in the domestic check-in area at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Friday, May 19, 2023.The union representing WestJet cabin crew is demanding an apology from the airline after Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre delivered a speech on the public address system of a recent flight. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The CEO of WestJet says the company will revisit its policy after the airline faced backlash for allowing Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to speak on the PA system on a recent flight.

A video circulating online shows Poilievre making short remarks on a Sunday night flight that was leaving Quebec City for Calgary after the Conservative Party of Canada’s convention.

Poilievre’s campaign-style speech lasted for about 45 seconds and was met with laughter and cheers from passengers.

The airline’s top executive, Alexis von Hoensbroech, said the flight was added specifically for the convention and was largely filled with Conservative delegates who were attending the event.

“The leader of the party was given the opportunity to greet delegates onboard (which is not unusual), but this was not a political endorsement nor should it be interpreted as such. We are non-partisan by nature and will revisit our policy on this,” von Hoensbroech said on Wednesday in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The union representing WestJet cabin crew is demanding an apology from the airline over the incident.

The president of CUPE local 4070, Alia Hussain, said it’s “very disappointing” that the airline allowed a politician to use the PA system.

“It is doubly disappointing that WestJet is now trying to assign blame on the cabin crew for this event,” Hussein said in a statement Tuesday posted by CUPE Alberta on X.

Hussain said the cabin crew had no input in the decision to allow Poilievre to speak and that the airline’s rules say only crew members can use the system.

Hussain wants WestJet to apologize for blaming crew members and says both the airline and Poilievre showed poor judgment.

A spokeswoman for WestJet said in a statement that two flights were added between Quebec City and Western Canada to meet the demand from the convention, something the airline said is not unusual.

“The use of the PA microphone onboard our aircraft, while infrequent, may be approved occasionally, for unique occasions and individuals, like this one,” said Julia Kaiser.

Ian Lee, an associate professor of management at Carleton University, said it’s critical for businesses to remain non-partisan.

“Governments have been regulating industry for a long time. And for that reason, businesses tend to be very, very careful about being non-partisan,” said Lee in an interview.

He said the fact that the flight was filled with party faithful make it a unique situation and he expects WestJet will make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“This was a one-off. It happened once coming out of a convention. And I think most reasonable people will say, ‘I understand why that happened,’” he said.

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