Budget 2024 announces concerning plans to potentially privatize Canada’s airports

Main Image
A Canadian airport with way finding signage.

With Budget 2024, the federal government has, once again, opened the door for airport privatization and profitization in Canada. 

Overall, while Unifor was pleased to see this year’s federal budget build upon the social fabric Canada needs, the union is disappointed that Budget 2024 has advanced the possibility of airport privatization or for-profit transformation of Canada’s airport system.

“Like our passenger rail system, Canada’s airports must remain public and not-for-profit,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne. 

“Privatization doesn’t improve working conditions or travel conditions. By failing to focus on ways to actually improve the system, airlines, airports, and the government are guaranteeing that the industry cannot meet the needs of passengers.”

In the budget, the government announced it will release a policy statement this summer that will investigate “existing flexibilities” under the current governance model for Canada’s National Airport System airports to attract capital, including from private pension funds. 

The government’s stated goal is to boost economic growth and deliver pension plan members stable retirement income. In turn, that transforms airports into profit-making institutions and gives private companies power over how entities, like airports, are run.

The budget also announced the federal government will create a working group, supported by its Ministry of Finance, to explore how to catalyze greater domestic investment opportunities for Canada’s pension funds, including at Canada’s airport facilities.

The private sector has been hungry for investment opportunities at Canada’s airports since the government made them not-for-profit institutions in the 1990s.

The federal government has rejected these calls for decades. including the proposals from the Emerson report, released in 2016, that suggested the government sell airport land and open airport operations to profit.

Many institutions, including Unifor, and some large airports, advocated against this recommendation. The government did not pursue that recommendation further at that time.

However, with this announcement, the government is floating a modified version of privatization with the potential to introduce for-profit structures that could drive up costs, further erode job quality and degrade service.  

There is no doubt that changes are needed in Canada’s air transportation system, including at Canada’s airports. Growing travel demand will put pressure on Canada’s airports and require increased infrastructure and workers to process more passengers. Wait times, flight cancellations, disgruntled passengers and increasing costs are already pushing passengers and workers to the brink.   

“Rather than finding ways to suck profit out of Canada’s airport system, the federal government and all stakeholders should be looking at ways to improve the travel experience and ensure airports are fulfilling their mandate of acting in the public interest,” said Payne.

Unifor’s Air Transportation Workers’ Charter of Rights advocates for nine changes to improve working conditions that will directly lead to a better travel experience. The union has already paved the way for a better travel industry – now, the government just has to adopt it.

There are not enough details in the budget to allow the union to fully understand the policy change that is coming down the pipe, but we know that there is potential for a massive overhaul. 

Unifor will monitor developments as they arise and continue to advocate for changes that promise to improve Canada’s airports and improve the work and travel experience. 

Media Contact

Jenny Yuen

National Communications Representative