House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was listening diligently and attentively to the long list of people who were apparently shut out of the committee hearings. However, I just learned that they were actually in committees and they had participation in the shaping of the bill.

Is appropriate for the member to make this list available to our—

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I do not think that qualifies as a point of order, but more like a bootlegged intervention.

The hon. member for North Vancouver.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Don Bell North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, the common theme with all the witnesses who appeared before the standing committee was the concern that the safety management systems, the SMS, would be replacing regulatory oversight. Liberal members on the committee shared the concerns of the witnesses on the SMS and worked with members of the committee to ensure that management systems would not replace regulatory oversight and that the management systems would be just an extra layer of protection.

In addition, the Liberals listened to the witnesses' concerns on the possible reduction of aviation inspectors with the implementation of this management system. If Transport Canada was going to essentially diminish the role of the inspectorate or eliminate it altogether, Liberals would not support the bill.

Judge Virgil Moshansky, commissioner of the inquiry into the Air Ontario jetliner crash at Dryden, stressed the importance of the role of the inspectorate and the consequences that could occur if regulatory oversight is replaced.

Presently, it is my understanding from department officials and going through the bill clause by clause and adding amendments that the management systems, the SMS, will not replace the role of the inspectorate or eliminate it altogether.

Clearly, the committee had a sufficient airing of issues surrounding what was in Bill C-6, now Bill C-7. We did our work.

As the official opposition transport critic, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, offered yesterday in the House, we would be pleased to see a motion from the government requesting unanimous consent to have Bill C-7 passed at third reading today and such a motion would have my support.

As the opposition critic for the Pacific Gateway, which incidentally was also a Liberal idea that has been rebranded in blue by the current government, it has even used the same minister, I can speak to the urgency with which we as legislators must act when we commit to making such sweeping regulatory changes to any part of Canada's vast transportation modes and network, be they rail, port systems, or aeronautics, as found in Bill C-7.

While the benefits of robust measures to ensure public safety in all modes of transportation are obvious, the economic benefits that can be reaped by a streamlined and effective transportation system, with public safety as an absolutely essential component, cannot be ignored.

In the case of the Pacific Gateway, our competitors in the U.S. and Mexico are not waiting for Canada to get our house in order on transportation safety and infrastructure issues before expanding operations.

Embracing the unprecedented economic opportunities for Canada and the Asia-Pacific are not served by a prorogation of Parliament, which effectively slams the brakes on important transportation initiatives such as Bill C-7.

To repeat a point I made earlier, Bill C-7 sought to establish safety management systems that, generally speaking, establish voluntary reporting measures for employees and front line workers to report safety concerns to superiors in upper management.

Following the hearings, those witnesses expressed concerns that a system such as SMS should not completely replace ministerial oversight but instead serve as an additional layer of accountability, and amendments to this effect were accepted and became part of what is today Bill C-7.

This is an example of why I was insistent on such changes because they relate similarly to an issue that I have embraced, rail safety in Canada. The issues and concerns that have arisen in my home province in recent years following the sale of B.C. Rail to CN have brought to light many rail safety concerns.

Following a motion that I tabled at committee that was coincidentally passed exactly one year ago today, our committee began an extensive study on rail safety in Canada. It led to the minister announcing a special panel review of the Railway Safety Act. I testified before that panel in Vancouver. Unfortunately, prorogation of Parliament has delayed, but hopefully not stopped, our committee's report on rail safety.

In regard to rail safety, the Conservatives have not been open and accountable to Canadians. The Conservative Minister of Transport sat on results from a Transport Canada audit of CN for over a year. Previous Liberal transport minister Jean Lapierre, who had ordered the audits, had promised to make the findings public once the audits were completed. Under the Conservative government it was not until access to information requests and pressure from the committee compelled the government to quietly release the audit findings on its website with no fanfare, media advisory, or press releases.

Amending Bill C-7, the Aeronautics Act, relates to the rail safety issue. As in the case of rail, there is clear evidence of the need for an additional layer of safety reporting that ministerial oversight provides. In the case of rail safety, some examples of needed ministerial oversight include safety audits at CN which were ordered by the minister and conducted by Transport Canada, which brought to light many important concerns and section 31 ministerial orders that compel operators to comply.

In the case of rail, a system of SMS relying solely on employee reporting would prove problematic, as in the case of CN, because Transport Canada's audits as was revealed, there is a reluctance among employees to speak out on some safety issues for a variety of reasons.

Bill C-7, as reported back to the House last spring by our committee as Bill C-6, represents a balanced compromise, one that took into account a wide array of opinions from key stakeholders and cast partisanship aside in the name of public safety and ensuring a robust and successful aeronautics industry in Canada.

I encourage members to do the work Canadians sent us here to do in this minority Parliament and finally finish the work on this bill, so we can move on to other important issues that require our attention as parliamentarians.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

October 31st, 2007 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I used to work for CN 30-some years ago and I have seen quite a change in what I would consider the level of rail safety that has been deemed acceptable, and I am not quite as excited about those changes.

In fact, just removing the cabooses for the electronic light that was put on the back has taken people out of that particular venue of safety of watching what are known as hot boxes, and I am sure the member understands what that is.

However, coming back to Bill C-7, SMS is something like the fox watching the chickens because the hon. member is saying that the industry will be able to monitor itself and decide what risk is acceptable. I spoke on Bill C-6 in this House and every time members of this place get on board a plane they had better start thinking twice because this is a significant degradation of the safety of our airlines.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Don Bell North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my comments, the intention was to ensure that the safety management systems did not weaken, but rather strengthen as an additional layer on top of the ministerial oversight which we felt had to remain. We concur that safety of the public, safety of air travellers, as in the case of rail, has to be the number one concern of this government.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for North Vancouver for giving us a balanced view of what happened in this committee because the integrity of committee members was assailed by members of the NDP. They had one member present who went along with every single issue and amendment. We brought in witnesses, experts, union representatives, and employer and employee groups. The member for North Vancouver was there to listen to all of this and to formulate his own views about what happened.

Is it his opinion that all of the amendments that are now incorporated in Bill C-7 are part and parcel of the public input in a bill that is supposed to and does reflect the public interest? If his answer to that is positive, is he not shocked that members of the NDP, none of whom were actually present at this hearing, would characterize this as something completely different and alien from what transpired? Does he not think that that is an insult and contemptuous of the House of Commons and the members who worked diligently to achieve such legislation?

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Don Bell North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, in response to that question there are two aspects. First of all, we heard from a wide range of witnesses as I have indicated, and I listed some of them because I wanted the House to know that there was extensive consultation. We received briefs. We received personal presentations and we heard a variety of points of view.

I would not try to lead the House to believe that all the presenters, all the speakers, all the witnesses had the same point of view or concurred in the same way. What we arrived at was dealing with the issues that appeared to focus particularly on safety, on the concerns that were raised, and we felt that these were responsible amendments. Responsible amendments were put forward to the bill to strengthen it.

In terms of the suggestion relating to partisan politics, I must say that generally our committee functions very well with a minimum of partisanship. It exists at times. That is the reality, but the chair has done a good job, as I have indicated, and has done a good job of providing that leadership and balance in the committee. The members of the committee generally respond to the issues without getting into partisanship.

From time to time it is very clear that members representing different parties on that committee do espouse particular philosophies and they are not all aligned. But the majority position from the committee was that the bill, as amended, represented and responded in a responsible way to the information we received from the people who appeared before us.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity just to question the member and make a comment. I appreciate actually that the former member who spoke pointed out that there is only one member from the NDP on the committee, and in fact on any committee.

I think it shows really what a remarkable job one member from the NDP does, stacked up against all the others, in bringing forward the real public interest on a bill such as this, Bill C-7.

I thank the member for pointing that out because I must say that our member on that committee at the time, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, has really done an incredible job of going through the bill with a fine-tooth comb and highlighting the significant concerns.

It is very interesting to me to hear the Liberal members say that they think that the public interest has been met around safety concerns and that all of these arguments have been taken into account. When we read the bill with its amendments, we see what is still lacking in terms of, for example, immunity from prosecution for airlines that violate safety rules under certain conditions, and one has to be very alarmed.

Frankly, I am very surprised that members of the Liberal Party would now be supporting the bill. We know that they were the ones who actually brought it forward in the first place when they were the government. I think there is a huge concern about how we are chipping away at public safety. This is part of a political environment adopted by the Liberals and now by the Conservative government of deregulation, of privatization, and this has been very evident in the airline industry.

I have to ask the member, why does he believe that there is a rationalization and acceptability that there would be immunity from prosecution from airlines and that there would be greater power conferred on the minister? This clearly is not in the public interest, so how does he explain his position on this?

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Don Bell North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will try to break the question into sections.

First of all, with respect to the number of members who represent the various parties, we are talking about quality and not necessarily quantity, but the two sometime equate and sometimes do not.

I would say that all the members who I served with on that committee produced quality input. They raised different points of view and they represented different political philosophies.

I think the important part for us was maintaining the ministerial oversight and not allowing the potential negatives of a safety management system which stood alone by itself and did not maintain this inspectorate. That was our concern and that has been addressed in the bill.

There was a lot discussion about the question of the legal responsibilities and liabilities of the companies involved and we wanted to ensure the circumstances that those were maintained. There are special circumstances based on legal realities and legal advice in which some of that responsibility to encourage openness from employees, for example, or willingness for a company to in fact make changes of their own volition, is represented in the tone of the bill.

We never have a bill that is perfect by the very nature of the process, but this bill, in our opinion, represented a very major positive step forward and particularly with the amendments that we saw included.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, this issue of immunity for employers and airlines caused me some concern. The concern is that because it is thrown out there by the NDP it suggests that somehow members of Parliament were not looking out for the best interests of the public.

Here is what that provision actually said. First of all, there is no immunity from criminal acts. Nobody but nobody, no employers, no employees are immune from prosecution for criminal activity.

Second, where the immunity provisions entered in was only in those areas of SMS that allowed for an employer or an employee to come forward with something that was wrong or not functioning, for the purposes of correction, so that the SMS could work. It did not absolve any airline, any operator, any owner or any employee from anything that crossed criminal lines.

For the NDP to suggest that there was anything other than that is a total misrepresentation of what transpired. It is an affront to the people who worked hard to not only improve the authority of the minister and the regulatory system but to actually enhance it by bringing in a culture of volunteerism and cooperation. I think that it is important for the public to know.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Don Bell North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for clarifying that. That is what I was attempting to say and he said it so much better.

The intent was that there would still be the availability of legal procedures for any criminal activity or negligence. What we were talking about was protecting the opportunity for the companies and the employees to make improvements and make the system safer and better.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague from Windsor West who spoke before me, I too want to wish all of the children of this nation safety when they are out on the streets for Halloween. I want to wish everyone in the House, including you, Mr. Speaker, a happy Halloween.

However, I do want to--

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Winnipeg North, but I know she understands that the Chair is obliged before a certain time, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Malpeque, Canadian Wheat Board.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

What I wanted to say, Mr. Speaker, in conjunction with the occasion of Halloween is that this has been a very scary day for many in this land. We in the House of Commons have just witnessed the second whipped abstention in the history of this country. That has caused a ripple of concern right across this country, as members from the Liberal benches sat on their hands and allowed the mini-budget of the Conservatives to be adopted.

All day we have heard the Liberals talk about the anniversary of their favourite issue, the one trick pony that the Liberal Party has, that being the income trust fiasco. The question all of us have in the House today is, if they are so concerned about what the government did with respect to income trusts, then why not defeat the government? Why not vote against the government? Why do the Liberals not put their money where their mouths are? They cannot have it both ways.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Are you on topic? Get on topic.