House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Motions in Amendment
Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed from June 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.

Aeronautics Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize. I had been led to believe that there would be an introductory speaker from the government side. Nonetheless, I am ready.

I believe that Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, should proceed.

When I first arrived in the House four years ago, I undertook an exercise that took several months and that was to read Marleau and Montpetit. Many of us here have read it and found it to be absolutely riveting in terms of jurisprudence and parliamentary procedure. I know the hon. member opposite found it exhilarating when I asked him what his comments were in the book review.

Let me just paraphrase what Marleau and Montpetit talk about when they talk about hoist amendments, which originated in British practice and appeared in the 18th century. A hoist amendment enabled the House of Commons to postpone resumption of consideration of a bill. An analysis of hoist amendments moved in the House of Commons since Confederation shows that the cases in which this procedure has been used fall into two specific periods: the first was from 1867 to about 1920 and the second from 1920 to the present day.

The first hoist amendment was moved on November 28, 1867. Prior to 1920, it was the government not the opposition that used hoist amendments most often. Because the House only had a little time for government business during the short sessions of that era, the government sometimes felt obliged to dispose of a great number of private members' bills by using the hoist procedure, so it would have more time to devote to its own legislation. Since 1920, the period set aside for government business has grown to take up the largest share of the time in the House. Hoist amendments have gradually come to be used almost exclusively by the opposition.

From an examination of the precedents, it is clear that hoist amendments were moved to motions for second and third reading during periods when there was considerable tension between the parties. Those amendments rarely passed. Of the scores of cases recorded in Journals, only four succeeded. In each of those four cases, the hoist amendment was moved by the government with the intent of defeating a private member's bill.

Thus, in order to stop the work of the other parties, and not just the three parties but by this very Parliament itself, the NDP has put forward this ancient parliamentary tactic, I believe, just to be obstructionist.

Bill C-7 deals with integrated safety management systems, or as we say in the vernacular SMS. It authorizes the designation of industry bodies to certified persons undertaking certain aeronautical activities. Other powers would be enhanced or added to improve the proper administration of the act, in particular, powers granted to certain members of the Canadian Forces to investigate aviation accidents involving both civilians and military aircraft or an aeronautical facility. This enactment is thus a proactive measure to assist in preventing airplane accidents from occurring in the future.

The opposition's approach at the committee table was clear from day one. Public safety was and is our number one concern not partisan politics as we have seen permeate so much of the government's manoeuvring in the 38th and now the 39th Parliament.

Regrettably, and I must introduce this little negative, the bill did not get through the House in June 2007 as it should have. I think most of us, if not all, were expecting that it would, especially when all members of the committee were working together.

Members of the NDP, who were also working diligently on this in the House, ended up fighting every improvement and then voted to accept them all, coming into the House with a change of mind. That is fine. Such is the way of politics. However, each party seemed to contribute to improve the bill. Government members also demonstrated that they were ready to accept the very good position that all parties had worked diligently to bring forward.

Now, we have a bill that says we have taken into consideration all of those issues and have put into place a safety management system that does not replace the ministerial regulatory oversight required to ensure that the weight of the law is behind all regulations, systems and requirements, that ensure that the public is being served, and that this is always put forward with security and safety first and foremost. If nothing else, that level of cooperation merits supporting this bill.

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has already heard from many key witnesses and stakeholders, such as the Air Line Pilots Association, Transport 2000 Canada, the Union of Canadian Transport Employees, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, the Air Canada Pilots Association, the Canadian Federal Pilots Association, and the Helicopter Association. It heard from unions such as Teamsters Canada, business organizations such as the Canadian Business Aviation Association, transportation associations such as the Air Transport Association of Canada, and airport representatives such as the CAC, the Canadian Airports Council, and the International Civil Aviation Organization. In addition to other organizations, it heard from CUPE, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and departmental officials from the Department of National Defence and Transport Canada.

As a party, we listened to witnesses' concerns on the possible reduction of aviation inspectors with the implementation of this system. If Transport Canada were to essentially diminish the role of the inspectorate or eliminate it altogether, Liberals would not support the bill. However, all the witnesses had the same point of view or enjoyed concurrence in one way or another.

The committee dealt with the issues that appeared to focus particularly on safety. Of the concerns that were raised, the committee realized that these were responsible amendments and, thus, responsible amendments were put forward to strengthen the bill.

The committee actually devoted six months to the hearings and that was a very large amplitude and cross-section of stakeholders and witnesses. Some, indeed, were opposed but most were in favour. Many had concerns but that is why we have an amending process.

Most of the amendments made by the three opposition parties were passed and now form part of the legislation before the House. This is an example of a committee doing its work and expecting a forward movement with the bill. Hopefully, a vote will occur and members can actually indicate it in a democratic fashion.

To summarize some of the key amendments, we have provided definitions to explain safety management systems and have updated the International Civil Aviation Organization's standards. There have been several amendments made to the Aeronautics Act over the years but none of these amendments seem to have actually addressed the matter of bringing Transport Canada's standards and regulations up to ICAO standards. The amendment was put forward by the opposition parties.

Another amendment had the minister take responsibility for the development and regulation of aeronautics and the supervision of all matters relating to aeronautics, thus ensuring, hopefully, the highest safety and security standards.

Ensuring that regulatory oversight is not replaced by safety management systems so that safety management systems have to be implemented by each company that operates in the aeronautics industry, whether it be the carriers, the maintenance companies or the suppliers, would have an additional layer of safety available to Canadians who are justifiably concerned when they use airplanes. I note that the hon. member for Charlottetown, in supporting some of these key amendments, was keen to ensure that there is a definition to explain safety management systems.

Those types of hearings, meaning that people are responsive to them, represent what Parliament can do in a minority government that actually listens, acts and agrees on amendments that make the minister responsible for the development of regulations on these matters of supervision. Canadians want to know that we as a nation have taken a leadership role, and that when they get on board an airplane they know it meets our expectations as Canadians to meet the highest possible standards, and rightly so. Do we know of anyone who would want to take a chance on getting on an aircraft? I do not think so.

Further, I note that the hon. member for Charlottetown made mention that the committee devoted six months to hearings. He stated that there was a whole host of stakeholders and witnesses and that some were opposed but most were in favour, that some had concerns, but that is why we had many amendments.

I believe that the hon. member for Charlottetown, in the spirit of compromise and in trying to make the committee system work, really was on the right track. I know he has spoken at length on this matter several times. We hear now in the last days perhaps of this parliamentary session that we should try to pass as much legislation as possible. If we were almost a year late on this bill already, then at the very least we should be moving forward and trying to clear some of this legislation so that people in the public service can actually get to it and start doing their job, which they are eager to do, to tighten this up and to make our skies more secure.

I see that during the previous debates there were more compliments than there were acrimonious accusations. In this House it is always a pleasure to see people getting compliments. I notice that all parties were recognized for their contributions. It is interesting that in coming together on something like this we can recognize that safety is paramount. We cannot say it enough times that safety is first.

Taking into consideration all of these issues, I believe the committee members deserve credit for their six months' worth of work, which is enough in itself, but the introspective scrutiny and lack of partisanship is a compliment of which we can all be proud.

The hon. member for North Vancouver was also active in this matter. Including aspects of the Canadian Forces to assist in the investigation of aviation accidents that involve both civilians and the military is something that can be done in Canada. It would enhance our inspection services and the reliability of a system that has a built-in backup and follow-through for these things.

I was trying to calculate the total number of witnesses and stakeholders. Among them are CUPE, the teamsters, the airline pilots associations, the Canadian airport associations and the Canadian Business Aviation Association. That is just a precis of the organizations that appeared. When we add up all of that input, we are talking well into hundreds of thousands of people converging on one point in everyone's self-interest. Fortunately the public is the main beneficiary of those hundreds of thousands of people represented by those dozens of organizations all aiming for the same thing which is to make sure that those planes that everyone takes land safely.

The concern about the possible reduction of inspectors has been addressed. We have assurances that this will not happen. Judge Moshansky was the commissioner of inquiry into the Air Ontario crash at Dryden. To my continuing sorrow, and I will never forget the day when I heard the news, I lost two of my very best friends in that crash. It was a very emotional day. I can remember it vividly. In having a chance to speak to this now, it is almost impossible to think of this in that context, when one loses one's best friends. At the best of times one wants to make sure that there is some legacy to actually ensure that no one else will have to endure that kind of sorrow.

In summary I will talk about key amendments. First I want to mention the many major organizations that spoke in favour of the bill: the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, Teamsters Canada, Transport 2000, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, the Canadian Airports Council, the Air Transport Association of Canada, the Canadian Business Aviation Association, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada.

These amendments include additional regulation making powers for things such as aircraft emissions and fatigue counter-measures, as well as safety management systems for holders of Canadian aviation documents. Agreed? I hope so. There are new powers comparable to those of the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board for the Canadian Forces Airworthiness Investigative Authority to investigate aviation incidents and accidents involving both military and civilian contractors. Agreed? I sure hope so. There are provisions to encourage employees of Canadian aviation document holders to report safety concerns voluntarily without fear of legal or disciplinary action. Supported? I believe that should be so. There are provisions to allow for more self-regulation in low risk areas of the aeronautics industry. Hopefully this would receive unanimous consent. There are additional tools for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to ensure compliance and increased penalties for contravention.

I hope that this bill is passed with its amendments and that everyone supports it when it comes to a vote.

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Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have to say at the outset that the greatest expertise in my caucus lies absolutely with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. He has been very thorough in his study of this bill. He has followed it very closely. He has consulted widely. One of the things that concerns me a lot is that while the Liberal member who has just spoken has acknowledged there were many amendments needed and a number of amendments were adopted, it is very much the view of my colleague, who is the critic for this bill, that about 50% of the flaws, omissions or sins committed by this bill have been adopted. In other words, about 50% of the problems remain to be fixed.

I wonder if the member could elucidate for those of us who are trying to follow the debate here in the House but also for the public who share a real concern when we are talking about something as fundamental as air safety. Can he honestly say that fixing about 50% of the flaws in the bill is the kind of assurance that absolute air safety, of which we have a responsibility to assure the public, is reflected in this bill?

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5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I read through that huge list of organizations. I would have to say that if we have a committee that has been working for six months and has come to an agreement, especially with the chance of Parliament adjourning perhaps by June 20, there must be some form of compromise to move forward and get that large number of constituencies on board rather than lose all of that work. The committee has been six months in the process; it almost had it a year ago. I have to say that some may feel that the legislation is flawed.

Of course everybody in this House knows that Thunder Bay's airport is the third busiest in Ontario.

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5:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Of course.

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5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Thank you for understanding that fact. It is great geography.

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that when everybody's goal is primarily aviation safety and security, we really want to show some conclusion to the committee's work rather than risk losing it all and starting from scratch again in the fall. I would really encourage everyone in this House to support the bill.

Hoist motions are one thing. There is a historical precedent for why they are used, but now they are being used as a technique to slow things down and just be obstructionist. I think that in the spirit of compromise among all parties, getting these amendments through should be the goal of this Parliament.

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5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have something I want to get on the record related to aeronautics, and this is the only spot where I know I can do it.

The Department of Transport is trying to force every airplane to have an upgraded ELT machine. I wish I had the number, but I was not expecting to debate this so quickly. This is fine for commercial airlines because they can afford it. The item will cost between $2,000 and $5,000, once it is inspected and integrated into the airplane. The problem is between 70% and 90% of the time it fails because the plane crashes and it gets wrecked. There are modern pieces of equipment, such as the GPS, which can be bought for a few hundred dollars. It will do the same job and in some ways a better one. I am talking about small private airplanes. Thousands of pilots in Canada are complaining about this. There was an agreement with the pilots association and then, for some reason, the government went back on that.

I ask the government to revisit this regulation because it will cause people to unnecessarily die. Pilots will ignore this because they cannot afford it, yet they could have had an alternative. I would ask the government to go back and negotiate with the pilots again and come up with something that is reasonable. Let the airlines have this fancy piece of machinery, which does not necessarily work all the time. However, for pilots of small aircraft let us keep them safe and let them use some of the alternatives that have come on stream since this was originally envisioned. It will make the skies safer and it will be a win-win situation for everyone.

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6 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Yukon has made a statement, which is a reasonable one. From the standpoint of northwestern Ontario, I understand for the large number of smaller aircraft the concern is the expense. It is the kind of thing that committee should have on the record as addressing. In many cases in our society there is frequent over-compensation. In this modern era of technology, almost everyone in this room who has a BlackBerry can pretty much find out where they want to go or where they have been. Therefore, the technology need not be so expensive.

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6 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I very much enjoyed the speech of the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River. I have the opportunity to work with him on the natural resources committee and the agriculture committee. I know how effectively he performs on those two committees and how he keeps uppermost in his mind the concerns of his constituents.

He mentions, very eloquently, the ability of the House of Commons to work together. He took us very thoughtfully through the workings of the committee as it went through Bill C-7. He mentions that the overwhelming majority of groups, which are involved in this industry on a hour to hour basis, clearly are in favour of Bill C-7.

What are the member's constituents saying about the bill? How do they feel it will advance the issue of air safety, which is a concern to every Canadian?

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6 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting that in northwestern Ontario, my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River, there are several small airline companies. There is the Thunder Bay International Airport Authority, which is the third busiest airport in Ontario. A number of very small private charter operations and a number of tourist camp operators have their own systems in concert with their tourist camp operations.

As someone who used to be in the insurance industry, not only do I know these operators personally, and they are far from shy people, they will always let me know if there is an issue of concern to them. In addition to the airport authority board, which is rather dynamic and forward thinking, in my meetings with the Canadian Airports Council, it has been pretty unanimous that everyone in these professional organizations and as independent business people have been very much in favour of something that strengthens safety for all passengers in Canada.

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6:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I know some members in the chamber have said how much they enjoyed the speech from the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River. I do not particularly want to single him out, but I am very nervous about his speech. I heard him say that we have been at this for a long time, that some amendments have been and we should now recognize that some compromises should be made and get the bill through.

I, for one, am not a nervous flyer at all. I am quite relaxed flying, but there are a lot of reasons to be nervous, particularly if one is inclined to be a nervous flyer and sees us sailing through a bill that is based on compromises. Surely there is nothing less appropriate to compromise over than airline safety.

This is one of the areas in which it is pretty absolute, that if there are any doubts or any possibilities that safety considerations are being compromised, then we should stick with the project, keep working at it until, as my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster has said, we absolutely get rid of the flaws in the bill and we can assure the public that no compromises have taken place with respect to it. It is very hard to imagine one would rationalize to members of the public, whether they are frequent flyers, or are occasional flyers or do not fly at all, because I am sure they have loved ones who fly, that we have decided to make some compromises in order to say that we have something to show for it.

I know the member, as have others, said that a good many of the amendments brought forward were adopted and the majority of those who appeared before the committee were satisfied with the amendments. However, as I look back at some of the testimony before the committee, I am very worried about the fact that some of those who clearly were not satisfied, those who remain very concerned and very critical of some of the fundamental aspects of the bill appear to be those who would be the most knowledgeable. I think it is fair to say that those who do not have a self-interest involved, but rather who have a particular technical and professional expertise makes them in some ways the most informed and the most reliable critics. They are the ones to whom we ought to pay the most attention.

There is no question that this is very complicated legislation. Therefore, I do not pose as somebody who has suddenly become an expert because it would not be true. What I do have is a very great concern about what appears to be the most fundamental principles that need to be upheld. We do not simply pass over, essentially to the airlines, the ability to enforce their own safety requirements.

The simplistic way of putting this is the notion of the fox looking after the hen house. I know some will object and say that there are some checks and balances. However, it does seem as though it is really a concern, that we essentially are putting in place a system that depends on the airlines being their own safety management enforcers. That is fundamentally wrong, and not because all would act responsibly. I think we would agree that the overwhelming majority of airlines would act absolutely responsibly. Thank goodness we can say that about the vast majority. However, there are also known situations where particular airlines have acted very irresponsibly, have disregarded the need for the most basic safety requirements. Therefore, we need to be sure that we have a fail proof system that attends to those who will be least responsible.

I have reviewed some of the concerns that have been brought forward. It seems to me that we are playing somewhat fast and loose with what is ultimately our responsibility as legislators. We have to ensure we put an airline system in place that is tight enough and based on the important principle that self-interest cannot be allowed to interfere with fundamental safety requirements, and not a system that will work for the vast majority. We have to ensure a system of checks and balances is in place that will never make the mistake of putting self-management into the hands of an irresponsible airline.

It is really a concern when I hear members talk about compromising in order to have something to show for what has been a year's work. What could be more serious than placing the fundamental issue of safety in the hands of those of us who are not experts, those of us who are not professionals in the field? The fundamental issue of safety should be placed in the hands of the most appropriate structure and the most appropriate system. A number of those who expressed real reservations about that are the very people who have the most expertise in the field. This is indeed a worry.

It is not clear to me, from having followed some of the debate here and having reviewed some of the Hansard transcript, whether official opposition members will stand and vote, for once, on something as important as this. Some members may vote for the bill and some may vote against it. I have heard people speaking on both sides of this issue.

It is not surprising to me that a number of members on the official opposition bench, if we can still call the Liberals in the House the official opposition, have indicated that they will be voting for the legislation. If I recall correctly, the bill was brought in by the Liberals in the first place and we find ourselves still working through it to try to arrive at a higher standard of safety enforcement.

Once we get the kind of references to the need to compromise and some indication it looks like there will be Liberals voting on both sides of this, some really important work still needs to be done to get this thing right.

I am persuaded that some of the most important principles about assuring the checks and balances are in place and that it is not just the airline industry policing itself have yet to be really properly grounded, if I can use that in the context of what we are talking about, which is airline travel.

I do not get to ask questions on this for the member who has advocated compromise. I do not want to seem like I am singling him out, but when we are talking in terms of compromise, it is frightening to imagine that we could be rationalizing our way to voting for the bill in its current form.

Enough concerns have not been addressed in terms of the amendments. W e have to be very mindful of what some of those concerns were. Who would better know what the hazards are in the current bill than Justice Virgil Moshansky, who conducted the Dryden crash inquiry and who expressed some major concerns about the bill in its current form. Who would know more than those who have themselves served as inspectors about the remaining flaws in the bill now before us?

My time is up, but I want to say finally, one more time for the record, that there is no room for compromise on something as fundamental as airline safety. Therefore, this bill in its current form is not supportable from my perspective and that of my NDP colleagues.

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6:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Halifax spoke eloquently, as she always does, on this issue of compromising passenger safety, which is really the intent of the bill, essentially.

Because Transport Canada wants to cut back on the number of flight inspectors it has, it came up with this brilliant scheme that it simply will give the safety management systems to the airlines themselves, which, as the member for Halifax noted, works very well in the case of a number of airlines but will not work so well with some of the fly-by-night airlines that exist in Canada, which have had problems in the past. Without appropriate oversight, it is a very real compromise for passenger safety.

I want to ask the member for Halifax this question. Given the fact that she travels every week to her riding in Nova Scotia, has travelled across this country as a former leader of my party and continues to do so today as a member of Parliament, and since she meets thousands of people in her own riding and elsewhere throughout Nova Scotia and across Canada, what does she think the reaction of members of the Canadian public would be to find out that Parliament has adopted legislation that compromises their safety when they fly on certain airlines?

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6:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I suppose all of us as members of Parliament do not want to scare the wits out of the travelling public, but it does come up from time to time. One tries to raise the issues where one thinks there is some expertise to lend to addressing the legislation in its current form and certainly to what we have identified as flaws.

The fundamental question remains. How many Canadians would vote to have an airline that has a record of repeated safety violations made responsible for its own safety management system? That is the question.

I said earlier that I am not a nervous flyer. I actually have a great deal of confidence. For example, I travel most of the time with Air Canada and I have never on a single occasion had a concern about whether my safety was assured or not.

However, we know there are such airlines. Some of them get into the business and get out of the business. Unfortunately, the one that most easily comes to mind is Jetsgo, which has had a really serious record of concerns about playing fast and loose with safety.

I do not think that one has to be the kind of expert who gave testimony in order to express real concerns. If there is any question about there being some airlines that would not operate in a totally safe manner and that would use the fact the safety management systems are put back in their hands, one just needs the common sense to say that this piece of legislation is not adequate to absolutely guarantee safety. That is why we have to keep working at it.

There is nothing about the deadline that people are suggesting which means that all the work is for naught. It means we have to go forward with the amendments that have already been made, but we still have to address those that have not been adequately adopted.

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6:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Halifax referenced Jetsgo. I want to read into the record the problems of Jetsgo:

Three months after the launch of the discount airline, sloppy maintenance forced an emergency landing in Toronto. Pilots noticed they were losing the hydraulic fluid that helps run aircraft systems...Mechanics had installed a temporary hydraulic line with the wrong pressure rating, and it failed within two flights.

There are a lot of articles on Jetsgo. Could the member for Halifax comment on the well-documented safety problems of Jetsgo and what it could mean for Bill C-7 and the safety of the travelling public if the airlines are responsible for their own safety?