Evidence of meeting #40 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aircraft.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • John Crichton  President and Chief Executive Officer, Nav Canada

10 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Chair, I want to say this as respectfully as I can.

I don't think we need to be lectured about our obligations and our abilities to deal with them. I think we, as committee members, know all of that.

The point I was making is that the issues that are going to be coming up through this committee are in the purview of what is discussed at the subcommittee. While I'm happy to acknowledge that any motion is genuinely able to be discussed at the table, I come back to my point that this should be through the subcommittee, not at this level, and so I'll be opposing the motion.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Is there any further comment? There's none.

Ms. Chow has requested a recorded vote.

I'll turn it over to Alex to call the question.

(Motion negatived: nays 6; yeas 5)

I have Mr. Coderre on my list.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Is this a point of order or just to comment?

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

No, it's about the motion for which debate was adjourned. I would like to return to the issue concerning Neuville.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Please proceed.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Thank you.

Mr. Chair, first, I simply want to emphasize that our committee is operating fairly well and that we are able to get along. I can understand that a debate can be adjourned because some committee members might be engaging in filibustering or because, out of courtesy, we want to hear from a witness. I understand that because I've done it myself from time to time. However, this should be an exception, not the rule.

Let's take the example of the Neuville issue. Not only does it affect the airport, but it affects all municipalities, as well. If we know full well that the government is going to vote against this type of motion while we are in favour of it, we will simply proceed with the vote knowing what the outcome will be. We shouldn't drag things out because it is a waste of time. We may win a battle, but at the end of the day, we won't win the war. It only adds fuel to the fire and creates a situation where there will either be a problem of confidence or extraordinary words, like the word filibuster".

In other words, it goes both ways. Sometimes we need to pick our battles. I'm not saying this to be paternalistic. I'm telling you simply and humbly, and sharing with you my 15 years of experience as an MP. I have been on a number of committees. Sometimes it was vicious, but we always played fairly and proceeded openly. We didn't engage in procedural wrangling.

That's why I want to come back to the debate on the relevant motion of my colleague Élaine Michaud. It is indeed relevant. I am going to vote in favour of that motion. You must understand that we are dealing with a situation caused by an interpretation problem. I know the minister well. He's a former mayor, so he should understand this. Under section 4.9, all he has to do is enforce the act. That means that the minister has a role to play, which is not strictly tied to security. Remember: when officials appeared, I myself asked questions. From the court's point of view, the outcome resulted in a legal vacuum. We cannot live in a legal vacuum that could leave the citizens and municipalities facing an excess or imbalance. Our role is to enforce the act. If it isn't enforced adequately, we have to find alternatives.

As for me, I agree and I am going to vote in favour of the motion because it may become a worthwhile solution. However, my role as a federal MP is not strictly to ensure respect for the other jurisdiction. In this case, it isn't a matter of respect for jurisdiction. Rather, it's a matter of a minister like the Minister of Transport—and I'm not making this personal—who must enforce an act giving him powers to take certain actions. Section 4.9 is clear: he is not there strictly for safety, but also for monitoring the setting up an airport.

Unlike what my colleague Mr. Poilievre said the other day, we are not dealing here with a "not in my backyard" syndrome. This legal vacuum could cause problems for citizens and in the enforcement of the act. It could have a negative effect on safety and on the environment we live in.

Since this meeting is public, I am once again asking Minister Lebel to play his part and enforce the act as necessary, despite the outcome. We did when we formed the government. We also resolved a similar problem in Saint-Augustin. There are regulatory measures and a directional power.

If the minister, for all kinds of reasons, including his interpretation of this act, thinks that he is only responsible for safety, the least he can do is sign an administrative agreement. He has already met with ministers in Quebec, but this is going to happen in other provinces, I guarantee it. We don't need to get into constitutional issues, into "constitutionality". We need to make sure that the minister is going to sit down with his peers in a federal-provincial-territorial conference. Right now, it can be done very quickly, as with Quebec. It can be asymmetrical or symmetrical, but we very certainly need to fill this legal vacuum because there are too many problems that could arise for the municipalities and for citizens. It will also have an impact economically and on people's peace of mind.

We have already given our opinion, the government, the official opposition and my party. We should proceed with the vote immediately to send a message, and not just to the people of Neuville. If there are other people who speak, I don't have the power to ask the committee the previous question. I know my procedure, I have checked it out.

This is a healthy and important debate. With respect to public life, we are mandated to protect the quality of life of individuals and to ensure a certain peace of mind, while respecting the economic reality. This doesn't mean opposing things, but ensuring that everyone can play their role fully.

Mr. Chair, I will vote in favour of the proposal, but I wanted my comments to be on the record. The act exists and can be applied as it is. I reiterate my wish, as I did before the people of Neuville, accompanied by some of my colleagues who spoke eloquently about signing an administrative agreement.

We cannot leave this legal vacuum. At some point, my colleagues opposite will experience the same type of pressures in their municipalities. They will again take action and the citizens will react, and there will be developers and all of that. So, we need to make sure we are playing our parts fully.

Sooner or later, we will need to reflect on this act because it may create problems, and we can do this in subcommittee. I commend my colleague Ms. Michaud for the relevance of her motion. I myself spoke to some members of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and they will adopt the resolution. They are in full agreement with how the city of Neuville is asking for the Government of Quebec or the Government of Canada to intervene.

At the federal level, we very certainly have a role to play. In that sense, we must support this motion to send a message. If the government does not play its role, it will have to find an alternative, and I think the agreement is the way to go.

Thank you.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Ms. Michaud.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to start by thanking my colleague Mr. Coderre for supporting the motion. This issue was raised in the House of Commons a while ago. We are trying to convey the rather valid concerns that municipalities have. I would like to thank him for the work that he is doing.

As mentioned before and again today, in the case of Neuville, there is clearly an opportunity right now to take action in order to reconcile the concerns of the constituents and the municipal council.

The minister could take action now under section 4.9. Direct action can be taken as to the location of the airport or the types of operations that are conducted there. Currently, the memorandum of understanding that the minister so often uses does not guarantee any respect for requests from the municipality. If he tries to at least control landings, takeoffs and flight hours, it does not necessarily mean that he will completely undermine the airport project. But if a municipality tries to make any arrangements like that, there are no guarantees that the developers will respect them.

It really has to be the minister who takes action, and he has the power to do so now. He has the power to resolve the issue that the Neuville constituents are experiencing and that others will experience elsewhere in Canada. Some constituents are already experiencing it. Just think about Lac-à-la-Tortue, where tourist float planes are constantly taking off and landing. Night and day, the constituents are subject to that dreadful noise. Seniors have trouble sleeping, just like children and families. That has a major effect on people's quality of life and their health.

The municipality is trying to help the constituents by imposing some regulations. It has not completely banned the traffic of float planes, but it has proposed a regulatory framework. It is not able to enforce it, because the Supreme Court rulings have confirmed that federal legislation takes precedence over municipal regulations and provincial legislation. In fact, there is a clear legal vacuum.

The federal government is currently not taking responsibility for its exclusive jurisdiction over aeronautics. On their end, the municipalities and provinces are not able to take action. Their hands are tied, though they would sometimes like to co-operate to come up with an equitable arrangement. That is the goal. Action has to be taken to fill this vacuum and to allow the municipalities to get involved. As mentioned, this issue will be addressed at the convention of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities this weekend, in Saskatoon. I think it will get a lot of support.

The motion that will be introduced asks that the federal government consult with municipalities on decisions related to land use in the development of private airports. It simply asks that municipalities be involved, which is currently not the case. I feel that this committee is the perfect place to study the issue and come up with development solutions. The provinces are generally responsible for land management and for protecting agricultural lands, which are increasingly rare. We have to acknowledge that aspect, which is very important.

In addition, I find it a bit odd that any other developers, other than those in telecommunications perhaps, have to comply with municipal regulations and provincial legislation when they design projects. Land developers, among others, have to comply with municipal regulations, and the economy still grows and the projects still get done. There are ways to reach a compromise.

I have personally talked to developers who were not aware of this legal vacuum and they felt they were being shortchanged, because their hands are tied when they try to carry out development projects in municipalities. They are not successful because they have to comply with certain constraints.

But developers who work in aeronautics have free rein. They can do whatever they want. Constituents have to get a permit to build a shed in their own backyard, in Neuville, but developers do not need a building permit on their construction site because it falls under federal jurisdiction. There are some major inconsistencies, and that is why I ask that we study the matter.

The motion being introduced is very clear. We are asking the government to amend all the provisions of the Aeronautics Act related to the development of new aerodromes. That means requiring consultation with local authorities and ensuring compliance with the legislation. The idea is not to prevent anything, but simply to ensure that the process of airport development is fair, that everyone is looked after and treated with respect.

For a federation to work, you need to have some flexibility. In the current case, it is possible to simply coordinate and harmonize the various jurisdictions. That is really what is at the heart of this motion and I hope that this is how it will be understood. As was said so appropriately, all my colleagues are more than likely going to have to deal with this problem one day. If we refuse to examine this motion, it will be difficult to live with that decision.

Like my colleagues here, I plan to support this motion and I hope that my colleagues on the government side will be open to the idea of examining this issue. As for Neuville, I am going to take advantage of this public forum to ask once again that the minister take action through regulations to solve this problem. The mayor has some solutions to propose for improving the situation. It would be worth consulting with him. He has been asking to have a meeting for a long time. It is time to honour his request.

Thank you for your time. I urge all my colleagues to support this motion.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Monsieur Poilievre.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Chair, before I begin, is it possible for you to indicate how many people are left on the speaking list?

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

None at this point.

May 31st, 2012 / 10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Okay.

My concern with the motion is twofold. One is that if municipalities are given the power to reject the presence of an airport, then we won't have airports, because there's no community in the country that wants to have an airport nearby. Everybody wants an airport within a 45-minute drive, but nobody wants one within sight. Everybody wants an airport in somebody else's municipality.

So if we were to say that there's a particular municipality that doesn't want an airport and therefore we will block it from going ahead, we just simply won't have aviation in Canada. We'll be the one country in the developed world that doesn't have planes that fly, unless you can find a way for air traffic to occur without airports, and I'm not aware of one. We're currently studying innovation and technology, so maybe we'll get a witness who will come here and talk about how you can have airplanes that fly without having them either launch or land, but so far we haven't yet heard any testimony from a witness on how that can be done.

The second concern I have with this motion is this ongoing trend whereby members of Parliament bring forward studies on a highly localized issue, the discussion of which at this committee generates for them some media coverage in their local community, even though this committee has none of the powers to affect the issue in question. For example, this committee cannot decide whether or not there will be an airport in Neuville—or anywhere, for that matter. It can't shut down the Ottawa International Airport. It cannot move the Calgary International Airport. It cannot prevent an airport from opening, ask one to close, or have any power over where airports locate.

It's possible, though, for a member of Parliament to send out a press release in their community and say that they're taking it to the transport committee. Then they can have a front-page headline saying that the community's MP has gone off to Ottawa and is putting the matter before the transport committee, and then a second press release saying that the transport committee looked at it, and that if they had only agreed with the MP, then there would be no airport in their neighbourhood.

That makes for great local media coverage for that particular member of Parliament, but, one, it's inaccurate, because this committee cannot locate airports or prevent them from being located and, two, it takes the committee away from its mandate to work on matters over which it does have some jurisdiction.

Those are my two concerns with this particular motion. I think that's the reason we had sought to adjourn the debate earlier. It was in order to recognize the fact that as a committee we don't control where airports are located and, frankly, nor does the committee nor the people of this or any other community benefit from our pretending that we have that authority when all of us in the room know that we do not.

With that, Mr. Chair, now that we've heard from all of the parties on the question, I would move to adjourn the debate—

10:20 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Pierre Poilievre —but in effect we're going to have an occasion to review it in subcommittee. That's where typically—