Evidence of meeting #53 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was air.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jean Poirier  Vice-President, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - Local lodge 1751
  • Serge Gélinas  Secretary-Treasurer , International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - Local lodge 1751
  • Richard Guay  secrétaire archiviste, Association internationale des machinistes et des travailleurs et travailleuses de l'aérospatiale - Section locale 1751
  • Marcel St-Jean  President, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - Local lodge 1751
  • Chad Mariage  Procedural Clerk

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, meeting number 53.

Our orders of the day, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), are to study issues related to the Air Canada Public Participation Act, ACPPA.

Joining us today, on behalf of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local lodge 1751, is Marcel St-Jean, president; Jean Poirier, vice-president; Richard Guay, recording secretary; and Serge Gélinas, secretary-treasurer. Welcome to our meeting here today.

I know that you know the order and the process, so I would ask you to begin. When you're done, we will move to questions by the committee members.

Thank you.

11:05 a.m.

Jean Poirier Vice-President, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - Local lodge 1751

Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.

Thank you for this opportunity to explain how Air Canada failed in its duty to comply with the Air Canada Public Participation Act by selling its overhaul centres to Aveos.

Let us look back in time to explain why the Conservative federal government of the day included another measure in section 6(1)(d) which reads as follows:

6.(1) The articles of continuance of the Corporation shall contain

(d) Provisions requiring the Corporation to maintain operational and overhaul centres in the City of Winnipeg, the Montreal Urban Community and the City of Mississauga;

To protect and reinforce that clause, the government added section 7a) and b), which read as follows:

7. The Corporation and its shareholders and directors shall not

(a) apply for continuance of the Corporation in another jurisdiction; or

(b) make any articles or by-laws that are inconsistent with the provisions included in its articles of continuance pursuant to subsection 6(1).

As another guarantee, section 2(3) states:

2. (1) In this Act,

(3) In the event of any inconsistency between this Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act, or anything issued, made or established under that Act, this Act prevails to the extent of the inconsistency.

To better understand the meaning of the Act, we must return to April 12, 1988, when Don Mazankowski, Conservative Deputy Prime Minister and former Transportation Minister, introduced Bill C-129 in the House of Commons. At that time, the Deputy Prime Minister stated that the operational and overhaul centres in Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto were fundamental to the success of Air Canada, that the company fleet maintenance would continue to be done at those locations, and that for any change in the location of Air Canada maintenance activities the act would have to be amended.

This says a lot about the meaning and the spirit of the Act.

Liberal and NDP MPs of the day, John Turner, Brian Tobin, Ed Broadbent and David Orlikow, were not at all convinced by the Conservative government’s guarantees to employees that they would keep their jobs at Air Canada's operational and overhaul centres. The MPs argued that the Conservative government was trying to deceive the residents of Winnipeg, as the federal elections were held shortly after the act was introduced. In order to convince MPs and voters about the guarantees included in the act, the Conservatives worked with senior government officials and experts to clearly define both the intent and the spirit of the act in order to eliminate any ambiguity and prevent any authority from circumventing the act.

Janet Smith, then Deputy Minister of Privatization and Regulatory Affairs, along with Doug Lewis, general counsel, appeared before the legislative committee to explain the spirit and essence of the act. They stated that what is enshrined in law is as tight as you can get it and if they are in sections of continuance, it requires two-thirds of the shareholders to change that.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Monsieur Poirier, we have a point of order from Mr. Jean.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

I apologize, but because you're very loud it's very difficult to hear you in one ear in French and the other in English. If you could just talk in a normal voice into the microphone, it would be much easier for all of us.

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Particularly when you discuss with your neighbour, too, it's difficult to understand.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

I agree. It's difficult with any communication, even with the phones ringing.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

11:05 a.m.

Vice-President, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - Local lodge 1751

Jean Poirier

Right, I will lower my voice.

They also said:

The things you are referring to, such as the operational centres, are not only enshrined in law but are required by statute. They cannot be changed unless the Act is amended. You cannot get any more of a guarantee than that.

The Conservative MP for Winnipeg, George Minaker, asked for clarification:

Is it my understanding that section 7 will prevent any future Boards of Directors of the new company from manipulating the requirements in sections 6(1)(a), (b), (c) and (d), in particular regarding the overhaul centres being located in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, and that this section restricts any fooling around at some future date? I also think they cannot do it by normal two-thirds vote …

Ms. Smith, the senior official who is an expert in these matters, replied: "That is right. The only way they can do it is if somebody amends the Act."

I will now yield the floor to my colleague Serge Gélinas.

11:10 a.m.

Serge Gélinas Secretary-Treasurer , International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - Local lodge 1751

Two other expert witnesses, Professor Fred Lazar, a well-known and respected economist at York University, and economist Arthur Donner appeared before the legislative committee in 1988. They stated:

The new company’s private shareholders will have no other choice than to take legal action against the government to amend the section referring to the overhaul centres. Maintaining the overhaul centres is public policy, as is the Official Languages Act. These are public policy decisions that I regard as part of the public policy role.

The final experts invited by the legislative committee in 1988 were Air Canada President Pierre Jeaniot and Claude Taylor, Chairman of the Board. Here are a few questions they were asked:

"Could Air Canada consider getting rid of its maintenance centres, even if this does not appear in the Act?"

Mr. Jeaniot replied: "No."

"What would be your definition of an overhaul centre?"

Mr. Jeaniot replied: "You can just about strip an airplane completely and rebuild it. The physical centres that have that kind of capability are referred to as overhaul centres."

When Michel Bissonnette, Senior Director, Engines and Airframe Maintenance, appeared before the Transport Committee, he confirmed Mr. Jeaniot’s position regarding the definition of an overhaul centre. He stated: "The overhaul centres perform what I would call major repairs. They look after long-term maintenance of engines, cells and components."

This lent credibility to the Conservative politicians of the day.

Conservative MP George Minaker stated in response to the unions, including the International Association of Machinists, that the Act protects us and the employees from any attempt by Air Canada to get rid of or to sell its operational and overhaul centres. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Privy Council, Jim Hawkes, added that employees’ workplace, their benefits, their future, all of that is guaranteed.

In hindsight, we must thank the opposition parties for asking many experts to appear and for having questioned the Conservative Party which, in view of the upcoming election, had to be clear on the question of the overhaul centres. If the government of the day had not provided iron-clad protection, thousands of workers at the overhaul centres would be out of work and Air Canada would be operating like low-end companies that award maintenance contracts to countries such as El Salvador and Costa Rica, which do not have the same quality and safety standards.

If the government does not enforce the Act, the concerns raised by Liberal MPs Grondin and MacLellan would be justified. The MPs said:

With privatization, Canadians will be stuck with the bill once again. The services offered as well as passenger safety will decrease since profit will be the company’s only goal. What will happen if the company subcontracts outside Canada?

In enacting legislation that guaranteed the preservation of the operational and overhaul centres, the government of the day guaranteed flawless maintenance service to ensure passenger safety. This safety is due to our conscientious, professional and experienced mechanics, who ensure that Air Canada passengers have a safe trip. If maintenance is no longer performed by Air Canada at its overhaul centres, but by subcontractors such as Aeroman in El Salvador, the safety level will obviously decrease.

If the Act is not enforced and upheld, you could one day have to answer to Canadian taxpayers, the media, the people closest to you and, ultimately, yourself. Why did you play with the safety of your fellow citizens? You can imagine the worst scenario. One day, you could be the victim.

11:15 a.m.

Vice-President, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - Local lodge 1751

Jean Poirier

Here are our recommendations:

1. That Air Canada comply with the Act by reverting to ownership of its overhaul centres.

2. That the Canada Industrial Relations Board’s decision concerning the transition of Air Canada employees to the subcontractor Aveos be set aside until the government takes a position on the Act.

3. That the transfer of Air Canada employees to Alfred Nobel Boulevard in Ville St-Laurent, that is planned by Aveos and not by Air Canada, be suspended until the government takes a position on the Act.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Mr. Lamoureux.

Mr. Byrne, do you have a point of order?

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Thank you.

In relation to our discussions on the Air Canada Public Participation Act, when officials from Air Canada, in particular the legal counsel for Air Canada, appeared before our committee, I repeatedly asked them if an arrangement had been made with their subcontractor, Aveos, to ensure that there would be a continuous presence.

What I actually asked was whether there was a clause in the contract between Air Canada and Aveos to ensure that Aveos would continue to operate out of the three principal overhaul locations noted in the Air Canada Public Participation Act. Legal counsel for Air Canada said that they were not prepared to respond at that time, and that they were concerned about potential legal implications with their partner, Aveos, as to what they could disclose or could not disclose.

I was under the impression that Air Canada's legal representative said that they would get back to the committee on that question of whether or not there was any provision in the contract between Air Canada and Aveos for guarantees that Aveos would continue to operate out of Montreal, Mississauga, and Winnipeg. Can I ask the clerk through you if Air Canada has bothered to respond to this committee, or are they in contempt of this committee?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

I'm not certain if they have. I do know that there was a document circulated this morning. I haven't had a chance to review it, but I suspect members of the Air Canada staff are listening to this debate, and if we don't have an answer or a response, I will send a letter directly from the committee asking for that response.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

If there are representatives of Air Canada in the room, and they don't want to render to this committee what was promised to us in recorded testimony, they should know that a motion of contempt may be coming their way.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

I wouldn't want to jump to that conclusion until I've read the document—