An Air Transat plane is seen as an Air Canada plane lands at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montreal on Thursday, May 16, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Transat shareholders approve Air Canada takeover, deal now in regulators’ hands

The approval from shareholders comes after months of turbulence

The fate of Air Canada’s $720-million takeover bid for Transat A.T. Inc. rests with regulators after shareholders overwhelmingly approved the acquisition offer Friday.

In a special meeting, shareholders of the Quebec-based tour operator voted 94.77 per cent in favour of accepting the $18-per-share transaction from the country’s largest airline.

The deal will narrow the field of airline competition, securing for Air Canada about 60 per cent of the Canadian transatlantic market and helping the company maintain a firm hold on Montreal air travel.

The takeover is expected to face intense scrutiny from the Competition Bureau and other regulatory authorities, including in Europe. Transat said it expects the deal to close early next year.

“Today, we are very confident that we will get the approval of these different regulatory authorities,” Transat board member Jean-Yves Leblanc said at a news conference, citing “the best advisers that we can have on this planet.”

Chairman and chief executive Jean-Marc Eustache, who co-founded Transat’s predecessor in the early 1980s, tamped down fears of higher fares on flights to Europe.

“I have 42 years’ experience in that field. I never saw the price going up,” he told reporters, pointing to competitors on the Montreal-Paris route such Air France, Level Airline and Corsair International. “Plenty of competition, there’s no problem with that.”

READ MORE: Transat warns of ‘abusive’ bid to stop sale to Air Canada, files complaint with regulator

While the price of Caribbean flights remains relatively low among ample competition from budget airlines such as Sunwing Airlines Inc. and WestJet Airlines Ltd. subsidiary Swoop, the consumer cost of transatlantic travel threatens to slide upward.

“If you are interested in travelling to Rome, London or Paris, the price is going up, because Air Canada and Transat really control this market,” said Michel Nadeau, executive director at the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations. “The temptation will be to boost the price.

“Up to now it’s possible to buy a ticket to Paris or London for less than $1,000, but there’s a danger that after the transaction the price will go above $1,000,” Nadeau said.

Both Air Canada and Transat are headquartered in Montreal, but worries persist around Transat’s head office and potential job losses.

“While imperfect, this transaction could allow Transat to be included in a larger group, thus allowing it to better deal with growing international competition. It is now up to Air Canada to seize the opportunity to increase jobs and economic spinoffs in Quebec,” the Quebec Labour Federation Solidarity Fund — the investment arm of the province’s largest labour group — said in a statement.

The fund, Transat’s second-biggest shareholder at 11.6 per cent, voted in favour of the transaction. Kim Thomassin, head of legal affairs at la Caisse, Quebec’s pension fund manager and the No. 3 shareholder at 5.8 per cent, said in a letter to Air Canada this week it would vote for the deal due in part to the lack of another offer and “a market where competition continues to intensify.”

Eustache took pains to quell anxiety over job cuts if Air Canada absorbs Transat, whose subsidiary Air Transat operates a roughly 40-plane fleet.

“You need the pilots, you need the flight attendants, you need the mechanics,” he said. ”When you know that it takes between seven to eight crews to fly one plane, that means 14 to 16 pilots to fly one plane. That gives you an idea…Those jobs will not disappear.

“The people of Air Canada will not take over what the people of Transat are doing today. But for sure you don’t need a CEO,” Eustache added, alluding to his impending retirement.

The approval from shareholders comes after months of turbulence.

Air Canada’s initial proposal of $13 per share prompted other expressions of interest from players such as Group Mach, whose partial bid of $14 a share resulted in a securities tribunal ruling that barred the Quebec developer’s offer.

Meanwhile, Transat’s biggest shareholder at 19.3 per cent, Letko Brosseau and Associates, said it would vote against Air Canada’s offer until the airline raised its bid by $200 million.

Quebec business magnate Pierre Karl Peladeau also hinted last week he planned to make an offer of his own if the vote failed, and to use his 1.6 per cent stake in Air Transat’s parent company to vote against the Air Canada deal, which the former politician had said is “contrary to the public interest.”

Air Canada chief executive Calin Rovinescu applauded shareholders’ decision. “We will build a combined company greater than the sum of its parts that we can all be proud of,” he said in a statement.

Transat shares fell nearly three per cent or 42 cents to close at $16.19.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Joe Lang celebrated his 105th birthday with a family gathering on Nov. 10th at Paragon Place

Joseph Lang was born in Saskatchewan on Nov. 12th, 1914, the fourth oldest in a family of 10

Stettler’s Heartland Youth Centre launches fundraising raffle for brand new vehicle

A sleek and shiny 2020 GMC Terrain is the featured prize

Alberta Justice Minister advocates UCP rural crime plan

Expanded property rights, more power to peace officers, demonetizing scrap mental part of UCP plan

Abortions rights advocates urge Liberals to turn politics into policy

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was pressed to clarify his stance abortion over several weeks

Protesters say Alberta bill would make it harder to access some medical services

The bill would mean a health-care provider could not be sanctioned for refusing to provide a service due to morals

MacLean says “Coach’s Corner is no more” following Cherry’s dismissal from Hockey Night

Cherry had singled out new immigrants in for not honouring Canada’s veterans and fallen soldiers

Rebels ride 3-goal first period to 4-3 win over Brandon

Goaltender Byron Fancy with key saves in third period to save game

Supreme Court of Canada dismisses murder appeals in 2013 Calgary swarming death

Assmar Shlah and Franz Cabrera were convicted in 2016 of second-degree murder

One year on, most oil-and-gas bailout money has moved, federal government says

Sweden’s central bank says it has sold its Alberta-government issued bonds

Ski resorts selling mountain water is a risky move, critics say

Alberta allowed ski resort in Kananaskis Country to sell about 50 million litres to third party

Sportsnet looks at new options for Coach’s Corner time slot, post-Don Cherry

Spokesperson says Hall of Fame feature on tap this weekend after co-host’s firing

CN Rail confirms job cuts as weakening economy cuts into freight volumes

Railroad also said it was affected by a slowdown in the B.C.’s forestry sector

Most Read