Poilievre Accuses WestJet Union of Stifling His 'Freedom of Speech'

Poilievre Accuses WestJet Union of Stifling His 'Freedom of Speech'
A WestJet plane waits at a gate at Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Alta., on Aug. 31, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says the union representing WestJet flight crew owes him an apology for attempting to stifle his “freedom of speech.”

“The crew invited me to give a speech,” Mr. Poilievre said during a Sept. 14 press conference in Vancouver. “And they did that multiple times.”

While on a flight from Quebec City to Calgary on the evening of Sept. 11, following the Conservative Party convention, Mr. Poilievre delivered a speech to passengers using the airplane’s public announcement system.

The speech, which lasted around 45 seconds, was captured on video and circulated on social media. It subsequently drew the ire of the president of CUPE Alberta’s local 4070, who lambasted the airline for permitting a politician to deliver a politically-charged speech, and said the crew weren’t consulted in the decision.

The union has demanded that both WestJet and Mr. Poilievre apologize for the incident.

“It is very disappointing that WestJet management let a politician use the public announcement (PA) system on a recent flight for his political statement,” a Sept. 13 statement from the union’s local president Alia Hussain said. “It is doubly disappointing that WestJet is now trying to assign blame on the cabin crew for this event. The cabin crew had no input into this decision.

“WestJet’s own work rules state clearly that no one other than operating crew are to use the PA system.”

WestJet’s CEO Alexis von Hoenbroech announced in a social media post that the company will revisit its policy, and that the airline is non-partisan.

“This flight was specifically added to assist with demand for the CPC convention, and was largely filled with their delegates,” Mr. von Hoenbroech’s X post said. “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.”

Mr. Poilievre’s speech, which at times drew applause and laughter, took a veiled shot at the Liberals' governance.

“This is your captain’s warning, a little bit of turbulence, but it will only last about two years,” he said. "At which time we’ll have a totally new crew and pilot in charge of the plane. We’ll pierce through the storm, safely land in our home, in the country we know and love. Your home, my home, our home. Let’s bring it home."