House of Commons Hansard #81 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was producers.

Topics

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for bringing this motion forward. In principle, I do support the motion. Whatever we can do to strengthen consumer rights in Canada is welcomed.

I am also an air traveller. I travel every week to and from my riding, and I know what it means to be delayed, to sit on the tarmac waiting for a plane to take off.

I want to start by unequivocally stating that our government is committed to consumer protection for Canadians. Our country has a solid, effective and constantly improving consumer protection regime, and that applies to those Canadians who travel by air.

Canada's approach to air travel has always been to put the safety of the travelling public first. That is non-negotiable. That is why Canada is a world leader in aviation safety, as the member mentioned. Canada has even been cited by the International Civil Aviation Organization as having among the best safety standards in the world. Safe operation of our aircraft is our paramount consideration.

What about some of the other aspects of air travel? What about the comfort, safety and convenience of the travelling public?

The motion before us asks us to do a number of things. It calls upon our government to protect air passengers' consumer interests in a consistent and rules based way. It also asks us to provide adequate compensation to air travellers who experience inconveniences and delays on commercial flights originating in Canada.

The motion seeks to address those concerns by formally calling upon our government to implement a passenger bill of rights similar to the one in Europe and the one in the United States. Let us look at those models. Let us first review the situation in the United States.

As it turns out, the United States actually has no national passenger bill of rights. Although the state of New York tried to adopt a law which would have addressed health and safety concerns related to long delays on the tarmac, the U.S. Court of Appeals actually struck down the law. Despite past efforts, the United States has never been able to implement a broad passenger bill of rights to date.

Not only does the United States not have a passenger bill of rights, but it does not even have a complaints mechanism available to passengers. A discontented passenger is left to deal directly with the airline and has no other recourse for resolution aside from the courts.

Only Europe has a passenger bill of rights at this time, and it is appropriate for us to reflect on the particular circumstances of that bill of rights.

The fact that the European Union has some 20 different member states, many with their own air carriers, explains why the EU was so anxious to have a consistent set of rules and approaches to consumer complaints.

What was worse was that in Europe there were persistent challenges with congestion and overbooking, challenges which existed as early as the 1990s, which is approximately when the European passenger bill of rights was originally introduced. The European aviation industry was known to regularly overbook passengers, cancel undersold flights and make refunds very difficult.

Europe also faced serious challenges when its airline industry saw over 35 low cost carriers exit the market between 2003 and 2006. That in itself would have been a huge blow to consumer confidence in the European airline industry.

The European Union passenger bill of rights addresses specific situations where either boarding is denied by the carrier or flights are cancelled or delayed for a long period of time.

That bill of rights also requires each member state to have an enforcement body to deal with consumer complaints. Surprisingly, its enforcement process has many similarities to our Canadian approach. Just as in Canada, enforcement bodies in the EU provide recourse to passengers for complaints not resolved by the carrier.

However, European Union resolution of complaints is limited to the very issues I have already articulated: denied boarding, cancellations and delays. This is different from our system where our complaints enforcement body, the Canadian Transportation Agency, has a much wider mandate. The agency has the power to address a wide variety of air traveller complaints as reflected in the broad range of carriers' terms and conditions.

The EU passenger bill of rights does not address the concerns raised by the United States regarding lengthy delays on the tarmac, nor does it address the issue of lost baggage.

Let me elaborate further on the situation right here in Canada.

I would first like to address the unfortunate circumstances that have probably triggered the motion before us. Let us not beat around the bush. This last winter was a tough one for Canadians. It is easy for me to sympathize with those people who were victims of delayed and cancelled flights during the 2007 Christmas holiday season as a result of the winter storms in eastern and Atlantic Canada. I happened to be one of those passengers. Indeed, some Canadians rely on air transportation as their only means of travel. It is also regrettable that vacationers had their reading week and spring break trips cancelled or significantly delayed as a result of the massive storms that hit Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal on March 8 and 9. These were very unfortunate events that are a product of our northern climate.

I began my comments with the statement that we in Canada are fortunate to have strong consumer protection laws. Let me take a few minutes to remind members of what that regime actually entails.

In Canada, as in most other countries, the terms and conditions of carriage are set by carriers that compete aggressively with each other. They are not set by government. This approach is consistent with our privatized air industry framework which relies heavily on the competitiveness of the marketplace to ensure that terms and conditions of carriage are reasonable and fair.

In Canada, airline passenger rights are protected through the provisions in the Canadian Transportation Act. All carriers operating within Canada or arriving or departing from Canada are required to develop terms and conditions of carriage and to make them readily accessible to the public. The information contained in the carrier's terms and conditions of carriage is important to consumers because it sets out that carrier's obligations and commitments to passengers.

As my colleagues in this House know all too well, the Canadian Transportation Act was recently amended unanimously by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I am a member of that committee and I was part of that review process.

Bill C-11, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act, was passed and received royal assent in June of last year. It included enhanced consumer protection for air travel. These enhancements were in addition to existing consumer laws that we already had in place. I would like to list some of those improvements we made under Bill C-11.

Under that bill airlines are now required to prominently display and post their terms and conditions of carriage at the business offices of their domestic airlines. Bill C-11 also made permanent the informal and flexible complaints resolution process within the Canadian Transportation Agency. It integrated the role and functions of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner with the authority and day to day operations of the agency.

The changes introduced under Bill C-11 are improvements to an already open and transparent reporting process. It is also important to understand how the complaints process in Canada works.

Canadian passengers are first required to address their complaints directly to the airline. To me, that seems reasonable. They then have recourse to the Canadian Transportation Agency if they are not satisfied with the carrier's response. Consumers can also seek redress and file a complaint with the agency if an airline fails to follow its terms and conditions of carriage. As a result of the complaints process, the agency can then assess monetary damages, if appropriate.

When considering whether to introduce our own passenger bill of rights, we have to consider many of the elements that are already in place in Canada. These are terms such as those that lay out the obligations of a carrier when flights are cancelled or delayed, conditions that determine how lost baggage is dealt with, which does not happen in the European Union, and an existing thorough and comprehensive complaints process.

The bottom line is that Canadian air passenger consumer protection laws are much stronger than those in the United States, and they more than hold their own when compared to the passenger bill of rights in the European Union.

Let us wind up this discussion by simply saying that Canada should not sell itself short. We are doing a good job in the area of consumer protection. What I do not want to do is till soil that has already been thoroughly tilled.

While I do not for a moment question the motives of the mover of this motion, I am not yet certain that a new passenger bill of rights is absolutely necessary, but I am certainly open to hear his remarks and the rest of the debate on this motion. I am certainly open to having my mind changed on this issue.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Motion M-465 to bring forward an airline passenger bill of rights. Some things have been said by the hon. member who made this proposal, the hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, and the Conservative member who just spoke. Let us be very clear.

First, allow me to read an excerpt from a letter I received from ATAC, the Air Transport Association of Canada, “I wish to inform you that our industry is not opposed to the principle of this motion”.

That means that even the industry is not against the principle of this motion. However, it hopes that all stakeholders will be included in this.

The hon. Liberal member who presented this motion cited events related to two Cubana Airlines planes, dramatic events that involved passengers returning from Cuba, whose flight was rerouted to Ottawa because of the weather and who had to spend hours on the plane. This type of bill of rights is not going to help those passengers. It is not just the airlines who are to blame; it is the airport authorities, including those in Ottawa and Montreal.

In my opinion, there needs to be a major investigation into this. The Liberal member who spoke earlier led us to believe that adopting this motion would prevent this type of situation.

I agree with the Air Transport Association of Canada on that point, that the people responsible also need to understand the consequences. I am talking about those responsible, but it is not always the airlines. In this case, there needs to be an investigation to find out who made the wrong decision: the airline that was supposed to land in Montreal but was rerouted to Ottawa and did not take care of its passengers, or the airport authority?

There needs to be an investigation to get to the bottom of this. We cannot suggest to the passengers who suffered through that terrible day that the hon. member's motion will resolve this problem. That is why, when the time comes, I hope we will have an informed debate, where the airlines can be heard and the airport authorities can be involved in the discussion, as they share some of the responsibility in this case.

Let us not forget that in some cases we are talking about an independent company. NAV CANADA is practically a quasi-governmental agency with an independent administration, and CATSA is responsible for security.

Canada has its way of doing things, and the airlines should not always get the blame. When the time comes to debate and update this motion, we will have to look at the big picture. I know that the Air Transport Association of Canada is not opposed to this motion in principle. I have the text of the regulation adopted by the European Parliament on February 11, 2004, and I will read a summary of the purpose of the regulation, which is clear and simple:

1. This Regulation establishes, under the conditions specified herein, minimum rights for passengers when:

(a) they are denied boarding against their will;

(b) their flight is cancelled;

(c) their flight is delayed.

The regulation is clear. We can see that it is not possible to regulate every single situation. Obviously, once again, each situation will have to be considered, when a passenger is denied boarding, when a flight is cancelled or when a flight is delayed.

It goes on to say:

3. This Regulation shall not apply to passengers travelling free of charge or at a reduced fare...However, it shall apply to passengers having tickets issued under a frequent flyer programme...by an air carrier or tour operator—

This is becoming increasingly common considering the points individuals can accumulate by using credit cards. Thus, the tickets purchased using frequent flyer points are covered by this regulation.

Obviously, sometimes situations arise where passengers are denied boarding. The regulation clearly explains in article 4 what this means:

When an operating air carrier reasonably expects to deny boarding on a flight, it shall first call for volunteers to surrender their reservations—

The regulation explains what happens if passengers are denied boarding. Article 5 pertains to cancellations and article 6 to delays:

When an operating air carrier reasonably expects a flight to be delayed beyond its scheduled time of departure:

(a) for two hours or more in the case of flights of 1500 kilometres or less; or

(b) for three hours or more in the case of...flights of more than 1500 kilometres—

The regulation is extremely detailed. When passengers are denied boarding or when their flight is cancelled or delayed, they are entitled to compensation in euros. I will spare you all the details, but the regulation provides for compensation. In addition, passengers are entitled to assistance, reimbursement, re-routing and care. Passengers do not just receive compensation, but assistance and care. Care is covered by article 9:

Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall be offered free of charge:

(a) meals and refreshments—

(b) hotel accommodation—

(c) transport between the airport and place of accommodation—

The regulation details everything the airline is to provide for passengers free of charge.

Article 10 even covers upgrading and downgrading. It states that if an airline upgrades a ticket, it does so at its own expense, and that if it downgrades a passenger, it must reimburse the passenger accordingly.

Article 11 of this regulation—and I am still reading from the Official Journal of the European Union—even provides that “operating air carriers shall give priority to carrying persons with reduced mobility” or special needs.

This is where things are at with our airlines. That is why I want to again quote the letter I received from the Air Transport Association of Canada. I understand them when they say, “I wish to inform you that our industry is not opposed to this motion in principle”.

That is why I am having a hard time understanding why the Conservatives are opposed to this motion. If the airline industry is not opposed to this motion in principle, then I would ask my Conservative colleagues to reread the regulation adopted by the European Union.

We are talking about the right to care, assistance and compensation. We are also talking about people with reduced mobility and the services that must be offered to them. That is how far we have come. We must partner with the airline industry, pass the motion that my Liberal colleague has put forward, and work with the airline industry to improve things in such a way that all major stakeholders will be involved. And coming back to the incident with Cubana Airlines, because the majority of those involved were Quebeckers, we must be able to shed some light on the subject.

In my opinion, the fact that the two Cubana Airline planes were redirected from Montreal-Trudeau airport to Ottawa merits an independent inquiry. Once again, merely passing this bill of rights for passengers will not fix the problem for the simple reason that in Canada there are authorities that have responsibilities, that take care of the tarmac, the airport, that welcome passengers and that are not airline companies. Security companies, like CATSA for one, take care of security and could be responsible for delays. NAV Canada is in charge of directing the planes.

We have to be able to write a bill of rights for passengers that is consistent with our needs. And all of the reasons I mentioned prove that we are at that point.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

April 17th, 2008 / 6:10 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 465 this evening. The NDP supports this motion.

About a month ago, I issued a challenge to the government to bring forward a passenger bill of rights. Motion No. 465 is very complementary to that. I would like to read the motion for those who are joining the debate tonight.

The motion is very open and also provides a mode of flexibility and has been crafted in a very good way. The member should be recognized for that because it provides an opportunity to have a good debate about airline passenger service in this country and the way in which problems and issues are dealt with and whether or not we are satisfied with the status quo.

Most people across the country are not satisfied. Most people recognize that, not only in the European Union but also in the United States.

The motion addresses a few of the concerns. I am concerned that members of the Conservative Party do not want to participate in this type of process. This process would be helpful and would also get to other airline issues that need to be debated in this country.

The motion states:

That the House call upon the government to bring forward an airline passenger bill of rights similar in scope and effect to legal instruments being either proposed or enacted by jurisdictions within Europe and the Unites States...

I will halt there for a second, because what the member has done, and this is what I was concerned with in regard to the government's presentation, is clearly outlined that other jurisdictions have enacted legislation, for example in the European Union. The Bloc member went through some of the details of that legislation which was to deal with very difficult problems that the EU had and the EU felt that it had to enshrine something.

The member also recognizes the fact that the United States is going through a process. There is a bill in the house and a bill in the senate in the United States with respect to a passenger bill of rights. There has been a significant change in the U.S. airline industry and it has rocked the nation in many respects. There are going to be continued issues around passengers and their ability to get value because there is going to be another potential merger. There has been a lot of change, a lot of bankruptcies and many other issues. We have seen all too often footage not just in terms of weather delays but also cancellations related to aircraft being grounded and airlines that have gone bankrupt. A lot of travelling Americans and Canadians have been left high and dry.

These are very important issues. The member has acknowledged that those are the ones to be looked at.

When we look at this issue we cannot put our heads in the sand and say that the European Union has not solved everything and the United States has not quite done it yet so we should just forget about it and wait and see what happens.

There is an opportunity in the House to actually engage in this. Airline travel involves everything. We travel on personal visits with our families and our friends but airline travel is also very important for business and economic development across the country, especially as we are looking at competing in larger markets.

These issues are very important. When a person purchases a ticket, it should come with some basic rights. That is what we are really getting at.

The motion continues:

...for the purpose of protecting passenger interests in a consistent and rules-based way...

I want to stop there. When we talk to airline passengers and when we talk to people who work in the industry itself, the rules based approach is very important. People do not understand all these aspects. There are hidden charges. I know the industry is very concerned with a number of different fees that have been added on by the government. One example is the airline security tax. There have also been increased costs for landing fees. Also Nav Canada has been allowed to accumulate over a $60 million surplus. All these costs have to be passed on to the passenger.

There is concern from the industry that there has not been a real review of those types of things and those costs get passed on to the consumer. Similarly, there has to be a rules based approach when it comes to expectations when a person buys a ticket.

Bill C-11 was mentioned, but the fact of the matter is even when there is legislation the government has failed to live up to some of the principles of the legislation. In particular on Bill C-11 there was supposed to be consultation with different groups of Canadians about how to bring in a ticket pricing element that was fair and transparent.

CBC's Marketplace had very good program that outlined how some ticket prices have increased 50% because of fuel charges. People see a flight advertised at a certain price, but when they go to purchase their ticket, they are in for a big shock. We should have a rules based approach on issues like that so consumers know when an advertised price includes that charge, when it does not and all the airlines would have to follow that.

Having that element specifically mentioned in the motion gives some good ground to create fairness. This would create expectations not only with regard to when passengers should arrive, but what they should do to prepare themselves for air travel and what they should do in their conduct in air travel. Also, there would be an understanding of the company's obligations so that passengers can meet those types of conditions.

I have talked to representatives of some of the companies. They have expressed a bit of concern around issues related to checking in and so forth. For example, if there are not enough security officers to screen people, there is a problem. If people arrive too late, there is a problem.

In this debate, we can look at that context. We can look at the issue of whether the security charge that has been applied and continued by the government is going to be one that has value in terms of making sure that air travel is safe, but also making sure that we are going to reduce wait times and meet a mandate within a passenger bill of rights. Those issues can now come to the forefront.

The end of the motion is important as well. It talks about:

...adequate compensation being offered by the airline industry to airline passengers who experience inconveniences such as flight interruptions, delays, cancellations, issues with checked baggage and other inconveniences incurred while travelling on commercial passenger airline services originating from anywhere in Canada.

It refers to “such as”, and therefore, it does not have to be exclusively those items. The items can be looked at to determine whether they are appropriate or not, but at least it opens up that opportunity.

It is important to note that some airlines are actually moving on some of these items right now but they are charging extra fees for them. One airline has introduced a new service where for $25 or $35 passengers rise up a level and are able to bump other passengers. There are also emails and other services with regard to food and hotel accommodation.

Some of those things should be included in the price of the ticket right now but they are going to offer those services, the costs of which are going to be passed on to the customer. It is going to create another class of individuals who will be able to afford that $25 or $35, depending upon the fee, who will then purchase better tickets than other people who did not want to put that money on the table or could not afford to put out that money. That is important, because if we do not set some minimum standards and expectations with regard to airline passenger travel, then the companies are probably going to take advantage of customers. That is not right.

I only have a couple of minutes left, but I want to touch on a couple of issues. The issue of the Cuba to Montreal flight was mentioned. It is really important to acknowledge that those people were stuck on a plane for over 10 hours without the proper hygiene, nourishment or supports. They were having to sit in those seats for a long period of time. The basic health and sanitation systems had failed on the plane, and it took a 911 call to get some action.

That is enough to say if this extreme situation is going to happen in our country, in our nation's capital, there needs to be a change. We cannot simply leave things to the courts and other types of operations where there are no expectations or rules. We need to establish a bill of rights.

I will conclude by pointing out that we are going to once again have an opportunity to move forward on this or we will fall behind and watch our competition move ahead. It is important to point out that we will lose out on this.

In my area, many people choose to fly from Detroit, Michigan as opposed to going from Windsor on another air carrier to Toronto. That is because of the extra rights they are granted. The airlines and groups that are involved want to develop something right now. They want to clear the air. This motion is a start.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Before moving on to the next speaker, I would like to share with the House something remarkable that I have observed over the last 40 minutes. All political party members who spoke were also in attendance during their opponents' speeches.

This shows a great deal of respect and courtesy to each other, and I hope will serve as a model to all members of this House.

The next speaker is the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope that I will be equal to the task of demonstrating the degree of respect you have observed.

I want to compliment my colleague from Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte because I think he presented his motion in a most precise, persuasive and, I might say, compelling fashion.

I note that in part of our discussion we highlighted some of the points by focusing on what happened in the beginning of March. However, I remind all colleagues who have made some very thorough and thoughtful presentations that the motion was actually presented before the events of the beginning of March which underscored the need for this motion.

I think that the motion has stimulated good debate. I want to focus on a couple of points, if I might, first, before I carry on.

This is a debate that has been long overdue. We have, from Canada's four major airports, at least 60 million passengers utilizing plane service every year. That is twice the population of Canada. So, as my colleague in his motion indicated this is not a service for the elite; it is for everybody. We have come to point where we need to address the specifics about good service. It is time, as my colleague from Windsor West said, that Canada got with the program.

The Europeans have gone through this kind of turmoil. They continue to go through turmoil, but they have recognized that what needs to be put in place is a rules-based system to which both the service provider and the client can point to for an appropriate level of service.

My colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel says more or less the same thing. He says what we need to do is point the finger at all of those who have a responsibility but the responsibility, first and foremost, rests with the regulator.

My colleague from Abbotsford pointed out that perhaps we might be moving a little too quickly on this, and perhaps unnecessarily so, because we have already passed Bill C-11 in this House after some thorough discussion in committee and that provides the bases for a bill of rights, that is, a series of services to be provided by the carrier to its clients whether they be passengers or material that needs to be transported. So, we are dealing with a system that is not only a transport system but it is a transportation system.

I dare say, if I might, that we can add that this is no longer just a service; it is in fact an experience with real live individuals. Roughly 60 million of them a year in Canada are engaged in just those four major airports.

Back to what my hon. colleague from Abbotsford indicated in Bill C-11. There is a clause, clause 27, that calls on the government to help put in place what we might refer to in this motion as a bill of rights, to work with the industry, to consult with all the stakeholders, and to come forward with a basic standard of service criteria to which everybody can point. The government has not acted on that, yet.

Furthermore, there is another clause in Bill C-11, and I know my colleague knows this for sure because he, along with me and the member for Windsor West and the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel worked on this in committee, clause 64, that imposes on the cabinet an obligation to ensure that clause 27 is enacted. In other words, that those consultations take place and that the criteria, the regulatory framework, be put in place.

Not only has been clause 27 not been acted upon, clause 64 has virtually been ignored and so, one should not be surprised that my colleague would present Motion No. 465 in order to address these issues.

It is important for us to get a handle on that relationship between carriers, for example, one of them, Air Canada, who last year reported operating revenues in excess of $10.5 billion, and its vast clientele. There has to be a relationship where the clients, the passengers, can accede to a rules-based system that says this is what we contract to receive. I pointed out Air Canada perhaps unfairly. It is all carriers.

I point to Air Canada because my colleague from Windsor West and I both were part of the panel. I see that he pointed to it again today, that in response to the activities to the events of last March, instead of looking at how to enact some of these rules voluntarily, Air Canada came forward with a package that said “pay $25 or $35 and you can enhance your service”.

Now we are talking about increasing prices for a level of service that everyone expected would be part of the ticket price initially. I do not know whether that was good public relations or not. The people who we deal with at Air Canada are always wonderful people, but certainly the company in this instance made an error.

However, this motion is not in response to that error. It is in response to a genuine need, a get with the program need for Canada to join such other countries like those in the EU and the United States in coming forward with a bill of rights that says that passengers are entitled to this kind of service.

It cannot simply be case of caveat emptor. It has to be a case where there is a reciprocal obligation implied, understood and accepted by the carrier that receives the money as its part of the contract.

My colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel says we should include as well all the other service providers. He points to the fact that the Air Transport Association of Canada says it accepts this concept in principle. It does accept it, but we should bring into the equation all those other associations, many of which operate thanks to the regulator's authority, for example, Transport Canada, and that is fine.

However, my colleague's motion is very specific about what should be included. It does not necessarily point to what CBSA and CATSA and what anyone else might do. They have their responsibilities under a different set of regulations and they are held accountable for them. They should be held accountable for the service that they must provide not only to the airport authorities or to the carriers but to the passengers as well.

The most important thing is for this House to be seized with the thrust of the motion. The thrust of the motion says there are already models for us to follow. People have already gone to court to ensure that some of these be enacted, witness the example in the United States that my colleague so rightly pointed out.

However, there are also examples in Europe and 27 European countries are getting together and accepting it. All 27 countries and jurisdictions are in a position to adopt a bill of rights that addresses specific items. My colleague from Abbotsford said yes, but there are three specific areas. Three specific areas no doubt, but there are an addition 12 others that indicate the kinds of elements that must be addressed in this bill of rights.

We have models. We have American models and we have European models. There is no reason why we cannot adopt both. As the mover says, if everyone else can provide that service and constrain our carriers to provide that service when they fly over foreign airspace, why can those same carriers not be constrained, compelled and encouraged to provide a bill of rights for those same passengers over Canadian airspace?

That is the essence of this motion. Let Canadian passengers be treated on a par with Canadian passengers flying other carriers in other jurisdictions. We should offer no less and I encourage this House to adopt my colleague's motion.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to address this evening the matter of the exhibition transportation service program that was eliminated by the current government just a few days ago.

At the outset, I should ensure people understand that these are comments that I am making on a personal level, not as a critic. This is a function I no longer exercise. However, I believed then and I still do believe that we are making a big mistake here.

In March of last year, the government announced that it would basically abolish the exhibition transportation service, a service that had been working since 1976 through the aegis of the Canadian Conservation Institute and serving well over 100 institutions: galleries, exhibition centres and museums, large and small, throughout the land. It was mostly useful to ensure that works of art and exhibitions of interest to Canadians could move from larger centres, sometimes national collections from the National Gallery of Canada, and be seen throughout the land in smaller places, whether it be in the Northwest Territories, Yukon or Prince Edward Island.

The program was designed to do that and it did that very well. However, in March of last year an announcement was made, and I will quote the government document, which I would be quite prepared to table, in which Jeanne Inch, CCI director general, said:

We regret shutting down this service, and in fact, examined every option to keep it going. Unfortunately, we had no choice. It is, as one of our clients said, the end of an era.

This is where I have a problem. On November 19, I asked for a briefing from departmental officials and I did receive it. During that briefing, I asked them if they had considered one particular option. It is an option that members would be quite familiar with. In the nineties, the Government of Canada at the time had wanted to reduce the size of its public service, and there was an example that worked very well in terms of another approach.

The example was at the National Capital Commission where the people who worked at the park at the time were offered the option of creating a corporation of their own, which became Lafleur de la Capitale. They were given, on a sole-source basis, a first contract of five years, after which it would have to be renewed on a competitive basis. I believe it was once and now the corporation is working around town. It is actually doing some work on the Hill. I do not believe it has the contract anymore but it is still a going concern.

I was told at the time by the officials at Heritage that they had not thought of that and that they had not considered it. On December 6, I believe, I asked a question in the House and I was given an answer that they were working on it.

When the minister came to the committee in December, I repeated the suggestion personally to her and her deputy minister. However, it has been confirmed to me by the people at the exhibition transportation service that this was never considered and never discussed with them. I think at some point we need to start asking what the intent really was.

Did the government really want to save this useful program, which costs, not in the hundreds of millions, not even in the tens of millions and not even in the millions? It costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and serviced well over 100 institutions in the country and yet to no avail. The government shut it down and that is a terrible loss for--

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women.

6:30 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou
Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to be here this evening on behalf of the Department of Canadian Heritage, which takes its responsibility to exhibit and preserve Canadian heritage very seriously.

A number of existing programs support museums in their presentation of Canadian heritage to the public. For example, the Canada travelling exhibition indemnification program helps Canadian museums save millions of dollars a year on the cost of insurance for travelling exhibitions. The museums assistance program provides financial assistance for the development and circulation of travelling exhibitions throughout the country.

Our government is responsible for ensuring accountability and transparency. That is why this decision was not taken lightly.

Following an audit of the Canadian Conservation Institute's financial and contracting procedures, it was found that the fine art ETS contract workers could no longer be hired under contract. The practice did not comply with Canada Revenue Agency rules for employer-employee relations.

Rest assured that we examined all options that would allow the ETS to continue operations, including hiring truckers and handlers of artwork as employees of the Government of Canada. The possibility of creating a corporation of their own, as was done at the National Capital commission some years ago, was also considered. However, the situation of the ETS is quite different from that of the NCC. The NCC was able to provide a contract that guaranteed that the NCC would provide former employees with a specific amount of work over a period of several years. In the case of the ETS, the means of transportation is decided by the museums. Thus, the Canadian Conservation Institute could not provide the same guarantee. Neither the ETS employees nor the contract truckers and handlers of artwork expressed an interest in taking over this service.

The decision to cancel the exhibition transportation service was made for operational reasons when it became obvious that there was no other option.

The Canadian Conservation Institute announced that it was cancelling this service in March 2007 so that the museum community would have one year to adjust to the use of commercial shipping for artwork.

The Canadian Conservation Institute organized a two-day workshop in order to help the museum community make cost-effective choices when planning and managing the shipping of artwork and artifacts. Free workshops were offered to all museums across Canada in the winter.

Various commercial shipping services have been available to the museum community for a long time. On April 1, the National Post wrote:

The managing director of the country's largest private art shipping company said the price differences between ETS and his company are smaller than have been reported. Mark Starling, managing director of Pacart, a Toronto-based company that specializes in the transportation of art, said private shipping prices will eventually come down as public museums use the private sector more often. Starling said his company was already lowering its charges by bundling multiple jobs together as its trucks crisscross the country and that museums will be satisfied. In fact, he had just come back from St. John's last week—

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. parliamentary secretary.

The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, what we have just heard basically shows a complete lack of imagination on the part of the government to try to come up with a solution. Based on the existing budget, it could have reached an agreement with those people. Incidentally, I spoke with some of them and they expressed their agreement. They were interested in doing so. I am very surprised to hear the reverse.

Thus, it shows a lack of imagination, but it also shows a fierce determination to privatize everything. There was an allusion to private services. I could give loads of examples of museums and galleries all over the country that are complaining that the cost of services that will be provided from now on is going up by 30% or more. Thus, it shows a lack of imagination, as well as a desire to let the private sector do everything.

This really shows an unwillingness when it comes to having pride in these cultural instruments and this is causing a gradual, sometimes very underhanded, dismantling of the support given to culture and our institutions—

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must admit, I find it unfortunate that the Liberal Party still refuses to respect the rules of fiscal responsibility.

As we speak, museums across the country are presenting travelling exhibitions that have been made possible thanks to the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council.

The department and the council will continue to support the creation and circulation of travelling exhibitions. The decision to discontinue the exhibition transportation service was made official when it became clear that no other option could guarantee the maintenance of those services. The Canadian Conservation Institute is working closely with the museum community to ensure that museum staff have the knowledge and skills they need to take advantage of the transportation services offered by the private sector.

The institute developed special courses that have been offered to museums across the country. Seven training sessions have been presented across Canada this winter and spring.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:41 p.m.)