OTTAWA — The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Canadians who are being evacuated to Canada from Wuhan, China, the source of the coronavirus outbreak, should have to pay something towards their flight.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne told reporters this week that the federal government will assume the entire cost of the flight from Wuhan to the Canadian forces base in Trenton, Ont., where those who have been repatriated will be quarantined for two weeks. Individuals will have to pay for their own transportation out of Trenton to wherever in Canada, or elsewhere, they would like to go.
Aaron Wudrick, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says that’s unfair to all taxpayers.
“Consular assistance should not mean everything is free, no matter the cost,” Wudrick told HuffPost Canada. “I think at least they should have to pay something.”
The actual cost recovery for a chartering an aircraft could be overwhelmingly burdensome for Canadians affected, he noted, but there is no reason why those evacuated shouldn’t refund to the government the commercial cost of a flight ticket back to Canada, over a period of time, if necessary.
“They should be charged the equivalent fare. I think that is reasonable,” he said. “If you go abroad, you are taking a risk, and that includes bearing costs.”
The United States’ government provides assisted evacuations to American citizens and third country nationals — including the dozens or so Canadians who will be flown on a U.S. plane this week — on “a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable.” To board emergency transport, officials require passengers to sign a form promising to repay the U.S. government. The total cost will be based on a full fare economy flight or, the State Department said, the cost of comparable alternate transportation to the U.S. prior to the emergency occurring.
If U.S. citizens are unable to pay for their travel, emergency loans may be provided.
In explaining the decision to foot the bill, the Canada’s Foreign Affairs minister said evacuations were “quite unprecedented.”
“We, as a country, always stand up for Canadians abroad, and certainly in times of need,” Champagne said.
Champagne’s office confirmed Thursday Canada will also pay the cost of repatriated Canadians on U.S. flights.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the 300 Canadians stuck in a quarantined city where life is “becoming incredibly difficult if not almost impossible in some situations” had asked the government for assistance. “And, and that’s what we do when Canadians are in trouble,” she said.
The federal government typically follows a cost-recovery model but in 2006, under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, that policy was also set aside for a massive evacuation effort.
Some 14,370 Canadians in Lebanon were ferried in ships chartered by the Canadian government to Cyprus and Turkey and flown to Montreal after Hezbollah militants killed several Israeli soldiers and Israel responded with air attacks and heavy shelling of Beirut.
More than 39,000 Canadians living or visiting Lebanon, including many with dual nationality, registered with the embassy, though only 35 per cent accepted the Canadian government’s assistance. Still with 35 ship departures and 65 chartered flights, including four on Department of National Defence aircraft, the then foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay — and current Conservative leadership candidate — highlighted the effort as the “largest scale evacuation in Canadian history.”
“We, as a country, always stand up for Canadians abroad, and certainly in times of need.”
When the cost of the evacuation was made public, another current Conservative challenger, John Williamson, then the head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, wondered whether it was money well spent.
“I think a lot of taxpayers across this country are going to be wondering why so much money was spent on people (who are) citizens but who don’t reside in Canada,” he was quoted saying in The Globe and Mail. Williamson did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The Department of Finance pegged the total cost for the Lebanon evacuation at $94 million.