House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was airlines.

Topics

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Don Valley East
Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette Minister of Transport

moved that Bill C-26, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act, the Competition Act, the Competition Tribunal Act and the Air Canada Public Participation Act and to amend another act in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning to debate Bill C-26 which was introduced on February 17 as the final step in the government's action plan to restructure Canada's airline industry.

Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I want to thank my colleagues in the opposition parties for agreeing to limit debate at second reading so we can send this to committee at the end of the day at 1.30 p.m. We have agreed to certain limits of time. I know I am entitled to 40 minutes but I will try to finish in about 20.

A lot has happened in the last few months but we have now embarked upon a very exciting phase in this particular restructuring process. It is far from perfect and certainly improvements can be made, but we are now seeing the positive signs of that restructuring.

With this bill, the government is addressing the challenges arising out of a radical change in Canadian air travel: the passage from two air carriers competing for customers to a single dominant carrier with a total monopoly on certain routes. The overriding objective of this bill is, therefore, to protect consumers and communities from the effects of a monopoly and to promote competition.

As I said, much has happened since we took the step last summer. I will outline some of the things that led up to what happened last summer.

We became very concerned in the spring of last year about the financial plight of Canadian Airlines. It approached us on a couple of occasions to tell us how difficult the situation was. It officially wrote to us and asked us to find a way to bring the matter to a head. In so doing, we used section 47 of the Canada Transportation Act. Air Canada also raised this in private discussions with my officials.

I am not going to revisit the past but it was somewhat controversial. For those people who believe that the government was unsure of what it was doing from the start, all they have to do is go back and look at the statements that I and my colleague, the Minister of Industry, made on August 13 last year and read the subsequent statements to know that we had a game plan. I admit that in the game plan not every move could be anticipated. In fact, what happened in the fall was very controversial.

There was a myth that we did not know what we were doing. That was false. There was another myth that we somehow dealt the commissioner of competition out of the action. That was false. What we did was try to get private sector solutions to the problems facing Canada's airline industry and it worked. In using section 47, we did not deal the Competition Bureau out of the action. In fact, the competition commissioner was very much a part of the action. However, certain aspects of the Competition Act had to be suspended for that period.

The commissioner sent me a letter in the middle of that 90 day period with many suggestions. Subsequently, many of those suggestions were part of the policy framework that I issued last October in front of the standing committee. The commissioner of competition very much had his say in this particular exercise. In fact, the framework was the second step in the process. I asked the committees of the House and the Senate to review the framework and come up with ideas.

The committees of both the House and the Senate worked very hard. They should be congratulated for putting in many hours, many more than are normally spent in the course of deliberation. They did this because they knew that restructuring the airline industry in Canada was essential for the benefit of all Canadians. I thank my colleagues in the House and in the Senate for the work that they did.

It was encouraging to note the degree of consensus that we saw between the two committees on the key issues relating to fostering of competition and protecting the consumer. On a number of issues it was clear that once we had seen the committees' recommendations we could see the support for the initiative set out in the policy framework.

As members know, the response to the recommendations of the standing committee of the House was tabled, as is required by the rules, on February 17. I felt it was useful to table the government's official response at the same time as we brought in our bill to restructure the airline industry.

I want to focus on the link between the October policy framework, much of it rooted in the advice from the commissioner of competition, and this bill which is now before the House, Bill C-26. The policy framework outlined two overriding principles and five key areas of public concern that I first spoke of last September. The principles were that safety would not be compromised and that the Official Languages Act would apply to Air Canada or any future dominant carrier and be effectively implemented.

The five areas of concern for Canadian travellers were the areas of pricing, fostering competition, Canadian ownership and control, service to small communities and a fair treatment of employees. We also indicated that we would put in place a special review process for mergers and acquisitions in the airline industry and make the terms and conditions of approval enforceable.

When it became clear that the Air Canada offer to acquire the shares of Canadian remained the only proposal on the table, after the withdrawal Onex last fall, our attention turned to trying to see that the conditions for approval were fair, just and met the terms and conditions of the policy framework.

We allowed this transaction, the acquisition of Canadian Airlines by Air Canada, to take place based on undertakings negotiated between the commissioner of competition and Air Canada on commitments made by Air Canada to me. These details were contained in an exchange of letters between Air Canada, myself and the commissioner of competition that have been made public. Again the whole notion that we saw in some of the business press that the commissioner of competition and his staff were not involved in this process was totally false.

We are now engaged in the fourth and final step in the process. That is the legislative step. It is the most important step because it will give the statutory framework that will allow implementation of our policy and will enshrine measures to enforce the commitments and undertakings made by Air Canada to the government.

Our goals in this legislation are to enhance consumer protection and to foster competition. Our key objective is to ensure that we effectively protect consumers from any abuse by the dominant carrier. We have a number of measures in the bill to deal with a wide range of issues including monopoly pricing, conditions of carriage, market exit, official languages and monitoring.

On monopoly pricing, there is no question that there will be some routes in the country especially in smaller communities where there will only be Air Canada offering service. That is a monopoly. We have to make sure that the people in those communities are not taken advantage of. We will not tolerate price gouging. That is why we are amending the Canada Transportation Act by this legislation to ensure that the Canadian Transportation Agency has the authority and the ability to look at the prices on monopoly routes and has the power to roll them back and the power to deal very rigorously with Air Canada to protect the consumer.

The Canadian Transportation Agency can do this, not just as it is now with a complaint from a member of the public. Many people are upset about prices but they never take the time to complain. They think that somehow their complaint will not be heard. That is not true. There is a provision for complaints to be heard. What we are doing in this bill is we are saying that the Canadian Transportation Agency will have the authority on its own initiative to monitor the prices, to audit the prices much like national revenue audits taxation, audits taxpayers, to see where there are abuses. That will go a long way in giving comfort to the consumers.

Incidentally this will apply not only to passenger fares on monopoly routes but also to cargo rates on monopoly routes. Business of course will also have the advantage there.

We have also moved to some degree on what we call the conditions of carriage. This is a complementary consumer protection measure that will restore the Canadian Transportation Agency's authority to review the terms and conditions of carriage on domestic service which cover such things as compensation for lost baggage or being bumped from flights. This already exists on international services but now it has been restored to the agency for domestic services.

There has been some discussion recently about a bill of rights for passengers. I am very interested in looking at what happens in the committee and hearing the views of members of the committee. Perhaps there will be amendments offered to make sure that we give comfort to passengers that they are not going to be abused not just on pricing but on the terms of carriage, that they indeed will have quality service which is fair to all.

Obviously a lot of the onus is on the airlines themselves. If airlines do not give good service, then in the normal course of events people can go elsewhere. They can do this with charter companies; if they do not like a particular charter company they can book through some other operator. It becomes of great concern when we are going to a dominant carrier. That is why I really do look forward to some of the suggestions that will come from my colleagues on this front.

We always said that we were going to protect communities and we are going to protect communities. As is known, in the deal that was announced, Air Canada has agreed to provide and to maintain services to communities that were receiving services by Canadian Airlines for three years. That is a guarantee that smaller communities will not be left out of this particular restructuring.

What we are also doing is amending section 65 of the Canada Transportation Act to ensure that the exit provisions are toughened up. Right now the last and second last carrier can give 60 days notice before they exit but that is not good enough. We are making it 120 days. I know some people will say to make it longer but quite frankly, if we make it too long, no one will venture into a market in the first place. If they feel that the market might not work out, why would they get in if they cannot get out easily? We are saying that 120 days should do the trick in this sense.

Also we are saying in the legislation that there is an obligation by those carriers that remove service to consult with the local communities. That will be rigorously enforced.

The experience has been in the last 10 to 15 years even in the most remote communities in northern Canada that wherever a carrier withdraws, some other carrier comes in because there is always a market to be served. It could be served in other ways with smaller aircraft or with different kinds of frequencies. Our experience has been that communities always maintain their service.

There were four communities that unfortunately, because they were served by InterCanadian, got left out in the cold recently. I am pleased to note that in Stephenville service has been restored by other competitors. Air Canada has agreed to go into Charlo and provide some services. This shows that if a market is there, it has to be served and it can be served by the dominant carrier or it can be served by others coming into the field.

One thing that is very important to us in government is the Official Languages Act. We also acknowledge the necessity for consumers to be served by the national carrier in both official languages.

For this reason, we are proposing to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act, in order to make it responsible for ensuring that services provided to its customers by the carriers in its group, both present and future, comply with the Official Languages Act.

Air services provided by the regional carriers in its group operating in eastern Canada should comply immediately after this bill is passed. Subsidiaries in the rest of the country will have a year to meet requirements.

Canadian Airline Internationals Ltd. would have three years to comply, from the time they became a subsidiary of Air Canada, with the possibility of a one year extension determined later on a case-by-case basis.

However, when Canadian Airline Internationals Ltd. replaces Air Canada or one of its affiliates on a route, they would be required to comply as if Air Canada were continuing to supply the service.

On monitoring, it is not good enough just to bring in the law and make the changes that we are proposing today; all of the measures here have to be surveyed. The consumer has to be protected. We have to make sure there is some oversight. That is why I will shortly be naming a very prominent person to oversee the behaviour of the carriers, to make sure that consumers are protected, to look at how the agency is handling the changes and indeed the Competition Bureau and Transport Canada to make sure that all of this restructuring goes as smoothly as possible.

The second goal of the bill is to foster competition. We are doing this in a number of ways. I will not relay all of the undertakings Air Canada has made to the commissioner of competition and to the government. However, these undertakings are indeed very important to foster competition: surrendering slots at airports and facilities at airports; the selling of surplus aircraft to other Canadian operators; to put Canadian Regional Airlines up for sale, and that evaluation is now ongoing; to provide access to frequent flyer programs; to provide access to interlining and joint fare agreements.

In other words if they are not part of the Air Canada empire, take First Air for example, they can book from Iqaluit to Los Angeles through Montreal then on to Air Canada. There is no discrimination. They get the full benefit.

People do not understand that interlining allows for every single carrier, whether it is First Air, Bearskin, or any of these carriers, to feed in to the Air Canada network. They may not get the frequent flyer points unless they make a deal with Air Canada and agree to purchase them, but certainly it shows a seamlessness of service so that there is no discrimination, especially against smaller communities. It is okay for people like me who live in Toronto. Those of us in big cities have access, but smaller communities need to know that this interlining will give this. And as my colleague from up the valley has said, Pem Air is one of those carriers.

These are very important measures. We are also proposing to change, by the deal that the bureau made, the way that override commissions are paid to travel agents. There are also measures for Air Canada to refrain from starting a discount air operation in eastern Canada for a specified period of time.

Failure to comply with any of the undertakings made under this particular agreement with the commissioner is subject to very severe fines and imprisonment. Some people say we are being too hard, but those penalties are in the Competition Act now. If they are good enough for any other business person in Canada, they have to be good enough for the people who run Air Canada and the airline industry.

That certainly will help a lot to foster competition, but there are other means. The commissioner has called for very strict measures on predatory pricing. Quite frankly I wonder why we have not done this before. When I say we, I mean the collective we of governments in the past. We might not have been in this situation today.

We have to make sure that predatory behaviour in air services is properly identified, monitored and that actions are taken against it, so that we do not see Air Canada, the dominant carrier, drive the WestJets and others into bankruptcy by the use of predatory pricing. This bill will give the commissioner of competition the power to issue temporary cease and desist orders where he sees cases of predatory behaviour in the airline industry. That is very significant in protecting consumers and promoting competition.

It seems that just about everyone in the business schools and business newspapers says that the only way we are going to get competition in the airline industry now is to let the Americans in, to have reciprocal cabotage; let United Airlines with its 1,100 planes, American with its 900 planes, Delta and US Air with hundreds of planes, come in and provide the competition. They say that would be great for Canadian consumers.

What would that do if we did that right now? Air Canada would go down the tubes. We have not gone through all the heartache with Canadian Airlines over the last 10 years to now wash Air Canada down the drain. We have to give Air Canada the chance to establish itself. It is now the 10th world airline in terms of size. We have to give Air Canada the ability to compete.

One airline industry analyst, Mr. Jacques Kavafian, who is often quoted and is one of the few people I read, actually knew what he was talking about. He said that if the American carriers applied 3% of their capacity to the Canadian market, Air Canada would be gone within six months to one year. We are not going to allow that.

For all those people who say that we have to let the Americans in because that is the only way we are going to get competition, what are they saying about Canadian businesses? What are they saying about Canadian entrepreneurs? The government has faith that Canadian entrepreneurs will come forward and provide the service.

I could speak longer under the rules and there are a lot of other things I want to talk about, especially about how we have helped travel agents and other measures for the protection of the consumer.

I want to talk about the fair treatment of employees, because one of the five principles that we had to make sure of was that employees were protected in the best way possible. The way we have done that is to entrench certain commitments in this law. Air Canada is making commitments to employees that no more than 2,500 will be let go over the two year period, and not for two years, and then only by attrition or by negotiated packages. I assume that Air Canada will come forward with packages.

According to the newspaper this morning, a deal has been made with the CAW, the two bargaining units for Air Canada and Canadian, which is good. Pilots have made a deal and it is to be hoped there will also be a deal with the flight attendants and others.

We have made Air Canada commit to the protection of their unionized employees. There is to be no forced relocation or involuntary layoffs of employees of Canadian Airlines or their wholly owned subsidiaries for a period of two years. It appears that the airline is doing its best to meet those commitments.

I hope that hon. members will forgive me if I use a bit of hyperbole. This was a tough file. I have had a lot of tough files in my political career, but this was really tough. I think it was an accomplishment for the government. This government has had a lot of accomplishments, but this was an accomplishment because in no other country the size of Canada, a member of the G-7, a wealthy country with 30 million people, has a country been able to take the number one airline and the number two airline and put them together with minimum disruption to service, no loss of jobs, no bankruptcy and not a nickel in subsidy or bail out by the taxpayers. I say that is an accomplishment and we should be proud of that accomplishment.

I hope that when the bill is finally passed and given royal assent it will be seen as a landmark piece of legislation that will give us stability in the sky. It has given Air Canada the underpinning it needs to compete with the biggest and the best in the world. Everybody will know that the Canadian airline industry is in good shape.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I find it ironic that the minister is taking all the credit for what happened. I think that the companies involved deserve a lot of the accolades for taking a bad situation and dealing with it to minimize the damage to the travelling public.

I would agree that the legislation is a response to the airline merger wars that we saw last year. The Standing Committee on Transport and the Senate committee dealt with those issues and heard many witnesses who shared with us their concerns and their problems. I would not disagree with the minister that it was a difficult file.

I do not think the preferred outcome that Canadians really wanted was to have one dominant air carrier. I think many Canadians, like myself, would rather have seen two Canadian air carriers providing competition in the marketplace. However, it was quite clear that the reality was that would not happen, that either we would have a bankruptcy, which would put the one dominant carrier in a monopoly position, or we would have a merger. I think Canadians can be somewhat pleased that the outcome was a merger rather than a bankruptcy. At least it is to be hoped that will be the outcome.

Reality is that we now have a company which controls 80% of the domestic market. That is the result of previous government interference and involvement in the airline industry. Previous government regulation is largely responsible for the situation in which Canadian and Air Canada found themselves. Years of poor legislation and regulation put those companies in the very vulnerable position where they were unable to compete in the international market. Given the situation of the industry last fall, some would say that this bill is a reasonable response to that situation. It gives Air Canada a period of time to reorganize after the acquisition of Canadian Airlines and its debt.

Bill C-26 holds Air Canada to the commitments it made to the government and to the competition commissioner in the letter of December 21. Air Canada will be held to its commitments, including the promise to smaller communities to provide air service, at least for a period of three years, and the promise to employees that there will be a controlled reduction of the employee force after a period of two years, and that the reduction will occur through attrition. We hope that this bill will hold it to that commitment. It also agreed to give up slots in some of the major airports and to sell the surplus aircraft to domestic companies.

Bill C-26 makes a lot of these commitments enforceable. That is important. There has to be some way to make sure that those commitments which Air Canada made in its presentations to the government, the standing committee and to Canadians are met. It made commitments to Canadians, the Canadian travelling public and Canadian taxpayers. I think it is important that there be some way of holding it to those commitments, and Bill C-26 tries to do that.

It also tries to make sure that those commitments made by Air Canada are enforceable and that there is some way to make sure the corporate entity responds in kind to those commitments and promises.

Some would say that the $10 million fines and the five year incarcerations are quite heavy. The minister has said that they already exist in the Competition Act. Canadians would feel a lot more comfortable if those fines and levels of incarceration were also to apply to the government when it makes commitments that it fails to follow through on.

The government is trying to hold corporate Canada accountable to commitments it made, and that is a good thing. It would be nice if it would expand that to include itself.

It also is an attempt to have some control over increased air fares. The travelling Canadian public are very concerned that now that we have a dominant carrier, which controls 80% of the air routes, fares will rise to a level that they will no longer be able to afford. The intent of this bill is to put into place, through the Canadian Transportation Agency, the means to make sure that does not happen, that controls and monitoring can be imposed on the company without needing the individual traveller to complain about these sorts of increases in airfares before they can be dealt with.

There are problems with this bill. One of the problems that I foresee, and I am sure others have as well, is that in giving the Canadian Transportation Agency these new powers to do the monitoring there will be a tendency to hire a lot of new staff who will create work to justify their positions. In creating the work to justify their positions, they expand and develop an empire. That is something which the government must ensure does not happen. There must be some control in the development of the bureaucracy that develops the need to monitor beyond the point that they really need to be doing that.

This bureaucratic empire will also create an equal response from the airline industry, and not only Air Canada. It will not only affect Air Canada, but any other small airline that is in a monopoly position. It will create an equal response from the airline. How many people would they have to hire to react to this bureaucratic empire which might be built? There is an onus on the government to make sure that does not happen.

The Canadian Transportation Agency must also determine which are monopoly routes. Many of the monopoly routes flown in this country will not be flown by Air Canada but by smaller airlines like First Air and Bearskin Airlines. They will be brought into this monopoly route situation with the Canadian Transportation Agency overseeing them. I am not saying that should not happen, but we have to make sure that it does not happen to the degree that it overexceeds the need. This would result in the situation where the smaller airlines would either start asking the CTA for advice before they entered a route or before they asked for an increase of the fare, or they would end up having to provide the resources to those small airlines to compete with the demands being placed on them by this bureaucratic agency which had been given this new role.

There have to be controls and there has to be an understanding of what is a monopoly route. We will have to be more careful in that area.

One of the other problems is the inclusion of cargo in the fare increase. Yes, there may be a reason for including cargo, but it has not been made clear. Evidence has not been presented to justify including cargo in the new agency's responsibilities. This measure would concern many of the smaller airlines which service the north. It is not realistic for any airline to be expected to transport cargo below cost. It is going to have to be shown through concrete evidence that there is a requirement to include cargo in the provisions of the CTA.

The other area I have some concern with is the exit provision. I know that with Inter-Canadien there were great problems in the way it was handled. It created a discontinuation of services which caused a lot of problems for the travelling public. However, the exit provisions in the new legislation require a carrier to give four months notice if it intends to withdraw services, not only all of its services, but 50% of the service provided to the community.

It is hard to test a market if the airlines have to be in it for four months. It is expensive for a smaller airline to be committed to four months of service. I wonder if WestJet would have gone into Abbotsford, which was its first major test of the market, if it had had to stay for four months. I am a little concerned that this might eliminate competition in the marketplace because it puts a heavy burden on the airlines.

The minister feels that the 120 days will not do that. I would like to think that the committee would hear from smaller airlines which might be concerned about the exit provision. I will take the minister at his word that he will look at the amendments and the recommendations that come out of the committee hearings to improve the legislation.

The competition commissioner feels that the best way to ensure reasonable airfares is competition. Airlines are extremely expensive. They need a lot of capital to operate, buy equipment and fly that equipment. The 25% limit on foreign ownership is very restrictive. The 25% limit is a regulation that can be changed at any time. There is no commitment from the government in the legislation to consider that in the future.

I would like to think that the government will at least entertain the thought that after a two year period the 25% limitation on foreign ownership will be lifted to 49% to allow more capital to come in to support Canadian carriers in providing the competition that Canada will require.

The competition commissioner has also suggested that there be no limitations on Canadian carriers as to foreign investment. I agree that Air Canada should be given the two years, but at the end of that two year period there has to be a commitment to increase the competition if it has not been created through Canadian carriers. Canadian carriers might be more able to increase that level of competition with Air Canada if it had access to foreign investment and ownership.

Another concern I have is that there is no mention or commitment that the monopoly carrier cannot use its influence to restrict access to airports for other Canadian carriers. Today we see it might be an issue where a Canadian carrier is being restricted to an airport by the airport authority. I do not think that should be allowed. I do not think Canadians want to see an airport authority having that kind of decision making ability and being able to refuse a Canadian carrier access to Canadian airports. I think that should be addressed.

There is another area the bill does not deal with to the extent I feel Canadians would like. The Government of Canada should not be involved in limiting Canadian ownership in Canadian companies. In the Air Canada Public Participation Act the extension from 10% to 15% just does not cut it. It is irrelevant. The whole issue is that the Government of Canada should not have the right to restrict Canadian ownership in a Canadian company. I would suggest that needs to be addressed. It needs to be looked at and removed completely from the books.

We know there have been problems with the acquisition of Canadian Airlines by Air Canada. We are starting to see them happen every day at the airport. I know it is difficult for Air Canada to try to rationalize the service of the two airlines, putting them together and getting rid of the overcapacity. However, the complaints from the travelling public are starting to get very loud.

Flights are being significantly overbooked. Fifteen or twenty people were left standing at the airport when I flew to Ottawa from Vancouver. They had arrived at the airport thinking they had a seat on the aircraft. That is not acceptable and has to stop.

Schedules are being changed with passengers not being informed. Passengers are arriving at airports to find that the connecting flight they were going to take has already left or has been changed or that they have been rebooked on a later flight without being told. Those sorts of things are not acceptable.

I am hoping that they are growing pains, that they are something we are seeing in the short term and will be addressed in the long term. My fear is that the public will only accept a certain level of this kind of treatment. Seeing as how they do not have a viable alternative, there will be a pressure for more regulation. That is not a direction I would like to see the government go.

The answer is not to get back into overregulating the airline industry. The answer is to hold Air Canada accountable for being a good, responsible corporate citizen and for being upfront and honest in the commitments it has made to the travelling public.

The difficulties we are seeing are not just with the travelling public. They are also with the employees. The minister said earlier that one of the conditions was that there would be fair treatment of the employees in this transition period. I think Air Canada made that commitment to the minister. He certainly made that commitment to the Standing Committee on Transport.

There is evidence out there today that some issues have to be resolved. Two unions have come to an agreement and that is good news. Some of the unions are realizing that it is the new reality and they have to come to an agreement. I do not disagree with the company that the unions have to deal with seniority lists, but there are still the issues of seniority lists and of fair treatment of employees.

It is not just seniority lists. An incident happened in Ottawa where the language requirements have come into play. I agree with the minister that part of the legislation is that the airlines comply with the Official Languages Act. The act is quite clear. There are designated bilingual areas and there is a percentage of population that is required in order for the second official language to come into effect. I would like to think that the requirements for the airlines will not be any higher than the Official Languages Act stipulates, that there will not be any additional requirement placed on the airlines that go beyond the Official Languages Act.

The issue that came up in Ottawa was that 60 baggage handlers in the Ottawa airport were given layoff notices apparently because of an inability to speak French. One has to ask where was Air Canada's commitment not to lay off employees for a two year period of time. I would like to think that this will stop after the legislation passes.

What happened to people being able to work in the language of their choice? The argument from the bilingualism proponents is that supervisors need to be bilingual in order to speak to the workers in either language, but that is not the case here. It has to be addressed with Air Canada that it cannot be allowed to continue to allow one employee group to lord over the other ones and to place expectations that should not be placed on them.

In conclusion, the official opposition will allow the bill to go to committee because we think that is where it needs to go. We will give it very close scrutiny in committee to make sure that all players and all stakeholders have an opportunity to look at the legislation, how it will affect them, and to make suggestions on how the legislation can be improved.

The minister said in the House this morning that he would listen to the recommendations from the committee and would consider the proposed amendments. I take him up on that. I take him up on the commitment he made this morning to give consideration to the outcome of the committee.

The official opposition is quite prepared to play the watchdog role with Air Canada to make sure that Air Canada meets its obligation and the commitments it has made to the government, to the opposition and to the Canadian travelling public.

As the dominant air carrier with 80% control of the domestic marketplace Air Canada is close to a monopoly. If it becomes disrespectful of the travelling public because of its position, the official opposition will substantially increase its efforts to increase the foreign ownership component in the Canadian airline industry to provide real competition. We are prepared to give Air Canada two years to make the adjustments to make the merger work, but not if it continually abuses the travelling public. I support the government in sending the bill to committee for further study.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I could recognize the member for Joliette, but since it is almost 11 a.m., I leave him the choice. The member may begin immediately or we may proceed to statements by members.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

David Collenette Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, I hope it does not put my colleague in great disadvantage but the bill has to go to committee today. To take five minutes now may force us to sit later than 1.30 p.m. I hope he would not mind beginning his remarks because we do have to get it to committee.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hon. member for Joliette heard the minister's words. Is he prepared to start right away?

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

René Laurin Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I could begin right away, but it is clear that only four minutes remain. I have 20 to 30 minutes to speak on the subject.

I see no reason not to start right away, except that the main part of my speech will come after Oral Question Period.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

David Collenette Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, not to be difficult, I understand it is awkward and we have now eaten into two minutes. As long as the understanding is that the bill has to go to committee and we do not see the clock at 1.30 p.m should we go overtime, that is fine. That is my only concern.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

If the hon. member for Joliette wishes to begin, he may, otherwise we will proceed to Statements by Members.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

René Laurin Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I think, if you will permit it, that we will proceed to Statements by Members. The minister need not worry, the bill may still be sent to committee, since we will be supporting the bill, with a few reservations I will express to the minister.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Speaker

It being nearly 11 a.m., we will proceed to Statements by Members.

Canadian Economy
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, good economic news keeps reaching us.

This morning Statistics Canada announced that tourism spending by Canadians and foreign visitors totalled $10 billion in Canada between the months of October and December. This is the fourth quarter in which tourism spending reaches a record level.

This statistical figure should be looked at in a broader context. The good news that we have been hearing for some time now is the result of our government's sound economic and financial management.

Indeed, the Liberal government was able to generate a climate of confidence in spite of having to make some difficult decisions at times. I should remind the House that our country now occupies a special place on the international scene.

Employment Equity
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Reform

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, in 1995 the government passed its so-called employment equity bill, which Reform MPs warned would result in employers being forced to unfairly discriminate against job applicants based entirely on race.

The chickens are coming home to roost. The Public Service Commission admitted that it rejected a job application from one of my constituents because she is a white woman.

In addition to legislating exactly the type of discrimination it was supposed to prevent, the bill is badly flawed because its compliance can only be accurately measured if minorities are willing to self-identify. A department could be 100% composed of visible minorities, but if the employees identify themselves as Canadians the department is registered as non-compliant and must immediately hire more minorities.

The government should put a stop to this appalling program of state sponsored discrimination based on race. It should repeal this disgraceful piece of legislation immediately following question period today.

Taxation
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the recent death by suicide of Darrin White in Prince George, British Columbia, has sadly brought to the spotlight the story of an unrealistic regime of family law. How a father could be ordered to pay twice his income for child support and be labelled a deadbeat dad is a cruel indictment of a regime that is unresponsive and broken.

This immeasurably sad tragedy illustrates the need to accelerate change in laws that demand more money than can be reasonably be paid and labels impecunity as deadbeat.

Darrin White was not a deadbeat. He was a victim of a system that cries out for fixing. Most tragically, his children will never know a father who ended his life in a hopeless morass of impossible financial demands.

I can only ask: What can parliament say to the children of Darrin White today?

Taxes On Gasoline
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Quebec government did not at all understand the proposal of the federal Minister of Finance, who asked that the provinces reduce their taxes on gasoline, along with the federal government.

PQ minister Bernard Landry said that “nothing would prevent oil companies from immediately pocketing the difference in price”. I had been expecting such a statement for several days. The Government of Quebec has been in cahoots with oil companies for months. Let me explain.

Under section 12 of Quebec's fuel tax act, the tax must, for each type of fuel, be indicated separately from the sale price on any document or bill confirming the sale.

It is current practice among Quebec fuel retailers to not indicate separately the fuel tax on sale confirmation documents.

The Quebec government is flexible in this regard and does not force retailers to comply with section 12 of the Quebec legislation regarding how the tax should be indicated. That is the order given by Bernard Landry to oil companies, so as to hide the taxes imposed by the Quebec government.

David Willmot
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Hec Clouthier Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, David Willmot, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Jockey Club has been recognized for his exemplary managerial skills. He has been elected President of Harness Tracks of America; the first Canadian to hold this prestigious position.

To say that Mr. Willmot has been a quick study of harness racing would be an understatement. He and his family have been at the apogee of thoroughbred racing for many years. His rapier mind and work ethic have quickly vaulted Mr. Willmot to a position of prominence in the horse racing industry.

David Willmot proved himself to be a man of vision by almost single-handedly lifting the Ontario Jockey Club to a new plateau by forging ahead with bold new initiatives.

In Mr. Willmot, harness racing has a friend, a supporter and a respected administrator. There is no doubt in my mind that with David Willmot's superb leadership qualities, harness racing will sprint to victory in the competitive field of professional sport.