Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Well played, Air Canada

Air Canada jetRemember back in December, when Cape Bretoners were signing petitions and sending video pleas to the prime minister to bail out the airlines and save our airport? And I warned that we were being played like a 12-string guitar?

Well, listen to this music:

Air Canada is heading for political turbulence as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland signalled her displeasure over millions in bonuses to the airline’s executives as the company negotiated a federal bailout.

The airline on Monday disclosed in its annual proxy circular to shareholders that it gave $10 million in bonuses to people the investor document called instrumental to the airline’s survival over the past year, as air travel plunged during the pandemic.

Yes, even as we were calling on the government to help poor, struggling Air Canada, it was rewarding its senior executives for reacting “urgently, decisively and skilfully to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the company.” That reaction included cutting service to Sydney and other destinations, laying off 20,000 employees and tapping into Ottawa’s Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program to the tune of about $656 million in support funding.

The executive bonuses were paid out in December 2020. In April 2021, the government reached a deal with Air Canada — a deal “independent, Calgary-based aviation analyst” Rick Erickson insists can’t “in any way, shape or form” be called a “bailout” — that provides the airline with $5.9 billion, including $4 billion in loans, a $500 million investment in Air Canada stock (6%) and a separate loan of up to $1.4 billion to help with customer refunds. (Yes, we’re helping Air Canada refund its customers’ tickets. But at least the government is taking a stake in the airline — that’s the best part of this deal. You can tell because  Erickson, who seems to be the media’s go-to-guy on all things airline, doesn’t like it.)

In return for this relief package, Air Canada has agreed to forego all share buybacks and the payment of dividends to shareholders and will limit executive compensation to $1 million a year, which might explain why former CEO Calin Rovanescu retired in February, after collecting $9.25 million in compensation for 2020. (He took a pay cut, he was on track to receive $12.87 million.) Rick Erickson says Air Canada will not be able to attract “top talent” for $1 million a year, which I guess means the airline will henceforth be run by former regional bus line executives and summer students.

Air Canada must also restore service to the regional routes it suspended. Global News reported that this included restoring service to Sydney and 12 other cities by “no later than” June 1, but the JA Douglas McCurdy airport website says that, due to COVID-19-related restrictions, Air Canada will restart Montreal-Sydney and Sydney-Halifax service on August 1. Sydney-Toronto service is scheduled to restart on June 26.

WestJet, according to the Calgary Herald, will also receive a bailout package although it will look different from Air Canada’s because WestJet is not publicly traded, it’s owned by Toronto-based Onex Corp. The airline, which employed 14,000 people prior to the pandemic, now has 4,900 active employees. It has already announced plans to restore a daily Sydney-Halifax flight on June 28.

As I type, I’m listening to a CBC news report that says Air Canada employees are upset with senior managers who have been flouting government advisories and traveling during the pandemic — vacationing in Florida, flying to the United States to get vaccinated (before front-line Air Canada employees were able to) and using rapid-testing kits to facilitate home dinner parties. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

Air Canada’s response? We don’t comment on the private lives of our employees, you’re wrong about the rapid-testing kits and “with appropriate precautions and by applying science-based measures, travel is safe.”

So, all in all, well played Air Canada.

 

Yearbook

Adam Young

Adam Young

I turned off the radio after that Air Canada report and hit play on “Forever Young,” the first track on Cape Breton pianist Adam Young’s double-album “Yearbook” and my mood shot up like an airline executive’s compensation.

As Young explains on his website, this project started on 1 January 2018, when he “sat on his couch” and rather than do what I generally do when I sit on my couch (binge watch a Netflix series I’m not even particularly interested in), he composed a tune, which went so well, he says he decided to challenge himself:

It was New Year’s Day, and I hadn’t made any resolutions. So, not thinking I’d stick with it, I casually decided that I would write one tune every day for the entire year. Surprising no one more than myself, I actually did. What started out as a writing exercise has now become a multi-year, multi-pronged project that is almost ready to be shared with the world.

In December 2020, Young released over half of the resulting 365 tunes (6 airs and waltzes, 82 jigs and slip jigs, 15 marches and strathspeys, 4 clogs and hornpipes and 82 reels) in a tunebook and today, Friday June 4, the accompanying recording project — two discs featuring 39 tunes played by more than 50 musicians — “will hit stores and streaming services.”

The conceit is that the second disc contains 39 tunes while the first disc presents 17 of these same tunes “in unexpected styles, ranging from bluegrass, to modern disco, to doo-wop, to New Orleans jazz, to 8-bit video games.” Says Young:

Because these tunes are new, there’s no real expectation of how they’re supposed to sound. It’s the perfect opportunity to branch out and take things in a bit of a new direction.

The album features a wide cast of musicians, some Young has worked with extensively, like fiddlers Colin Grant, Chrissy Crowley and Dara Smith-MacDonald and guitarists Brent Chaisson, Jason MacDonald and Jason Murdock. Some he’s wanted to work with for a long time, like piper Rankin MacInnis, drummer Brian Talbot, and bass player Emily Dingwall. And some he has yet to meet — like the members of the 30-piece Musiversal Prague Orchestra, featured on two tracks, who recorded their pieces remotely at a studio in Czechia, and others who recorded in home studios in various locations across Canada, the United States, Ukraine and Egypt. The bulk of the recording was done at Lakewind Sound Studios in Point Aconi, “with Mike Shepherd at the helm.”

Young says due to COVID restrictions there are no immediate plans for a release party, but he’ll be promoting the album through his Facebook page with “video content featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the writing, arranging, and recording process.”

More information, as well as a link to purchase the tunebook and album, can be found on Young’s website.

 

Codfathers

I mentioned in this week’s article on The Codfathers that it had been recommended to me by a spectator — it was Steve Drake, the former president of District 26 of the United Mine Workers.

Drake told me he’d read the book when it first appeared in 2005 and I was curious about his initial reaction to it, given the complete absence of workers of any description from its pages. He told me:

Having sat across the negotiating table from the rich and powerful nothing about The Codfathers surprised or enlightened me. I have never seen the value in heaping praise on rich guys for getting richer. Genuflecting to that crowd has never been my strong suit.

“Heaping praise on rich guys for getting richer” should actually have been the subtitle of the book.

 

Laughter, the best medicine

Laughter LeoVegas pollA new “study” ranks Nova Scotia “in the top three funniest provinces.”

I read that headline and immediately got my back up because I assumed it meant people were laughing at us, but what it actually means is that LeoVegas, a Swedish online gaming outfit, surveyed 1,022 Canadians and determined that the Canadian provinces that “love to laugh the most” are New Brunswick, British Colombia [sic] and Nova Scotia. (Although the woman in the accompanying illustration looks more like she’s suffering from some sort of gastric disorder than laughing.)

The survey gets quite technical, exploring the “type” of joke preferred by demographic — men like one-liners while women prefer “memes.”

It also delves into where we source our comedy:

It might come as some surprise just how close the Canadian comedy race is run, with very little between the top three causes of laughter; nearly half (45.01%) of respondents admit friends and family are among their main sources of comedy, while two-in-five highlight YouTube (39.63%) and social media (39.24%) as the place to go to split one’s sides.

It even considers the most common “kind of laugh.” Apparently, there is “nothing more prevalent in Canada than a giggle,” although that’s not true of the three “funniest” provinces. League-leading New Brunswickers are more likely to enjoy “tearful amusement,” second-placed British Columbians to emit a “powerful cackle” and we third-placed Nova Scotians are also prone to “crying laughter.”

Residents of both NB and BC like an “elegantly styled one-liner” while Nova Scotians prefer “ironic humor” which we source chiefly from social media and television sitcoms.

I don’t really know what to say about this — and I’m not linking to it because it’s just an excuse to get you onto LeoVegas’ online gaming site — but I have to admit, I did find it funny.