In answer to my own question, Transport Canada recognizes three levels of passenger air transportation: air taxi, commuter, and airline.
An operation is commuter if the airplane has more than one engine, weighs no more than 19,000 lbs and has between 10 and 19 passenger seats, or if has any number of turbine engines, up to 19 passengers seats, and weighs no more than 50,000 lbs before you put any fuel in, or if Transport Canada has authorized it to be commuter. Smaller than that, an operation is air taxi and bigger than that it's airline.
I think passengers stop shrieking in horror about how small the airplane is at around 100 seats, B737-sized, but I do remember hearing someone who had only ever flown transatlantic express surprise at how small WestJet airplanes (B737) are. And I remember a student pilot gasping in astonishment at the shear size of a a Dash-8. It's all what you're used to.
When I used to work the ramp in Kelowna, folks grabbing the CMA flight to Kamloops and Prince George would often have to walk past a Westjet 737 to get to the 1900. Every once in a while somebody would accidently try and board the 737. It was ammusing to see the expressions on their faces when they were told "No, this plane is going to Calgary, that one over there is your plane to Prince George". I think one time, after seeing the 1900, a passenger actually refused to travel.
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