House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was country.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

I have livened them up. They are awake. They are alive, even at ten to six in the afternoon.

In a very direct way for members opposite, they will never get anywhere by running down the neighbourhood. They will never get anywhere by running down the place where they live. They will never get anywhere by running down the people who work hard.

I am proud to say that all of Canada is a good place to invest. I am proud to say that every province is a good place to invest. I will always say that whether I am in opposition or whether I am in government. Canada is the best place to live. Canada is the best place to invest. Canada is the best place to bring up children. Canada is the best place to be. Every province can claim the same thing.

We will never succeed as Canadians if we have the attitude that somehow when we get into office it simply becomes a chance for us to make partisan hay each and every day. That is what we see in the House of Commons every day. It is a sad thing.

I read the farewell speeches of the former member of Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent, and my predecessor, Bill Graham, who was the member for Toronto Centre. Both of them commented at the end of their time that they could not believe the lack of civility in the House of Commons and the way, from their experience, it had gone down.

I do not want to wait until I leave to make those remarks. If somebody asked me what the big difference between what life was like in the old days when I was first here and today, I would say it is the absolutely barbaric way in which debate takes place in the House of Commons. It is not a reasonable exchange. Every time someone asks a question, all the Conservatives say is the equivalent of “Your granny wears army boots”. That is the thoughtful response we get from the government each and every day, each and every step of the way.

We on this side have a principled difference with the government. We do not agree with its vision. We do not agree with its direction. We do not agree with its policies. We have a principled division, but that does not require us each and every day to simply refuse to answer questions or refuse to deal with the nature of the House.

I was on television today with a member of the Conservative Party who said the reason the Prime Minister would not appear before a committee was because he knew it would be a circus. What is he saying about Parliament? Parliament is a place where we are supposed to do the public business. Our committees are supposed to be the place where we do the public business. It is a sad commentary that this is what has happened to the institution which we are supposed to revere.

I disagree strongly with the comments that were made by the Minister of Finance because they are harmful to my province and to my country. I believe he should stand up and correct the record. I believe he should say that he may have differences from time to time with other governments, but he should never say that this is a bad place to invest or a bad place to do business.

We need to have that capacity as a public place in Parliament where we recognize that each and every one of us has limits to what we can and should say about other places and other members.

When I see the government in action, I see a government that is consumed by a partisan interest. It is a government that, in a sense, is still an opposition party that has suddenly found itself in government.

The Conservatives do not think like a government. They do not act like a government. They act like a group of people who have temporarily taken over the government and who cannot resist taking partisan, nasty, brutal shots at everything that gets in their way, whether it is a provincial premier or a mayor they do not like, or a member of the opposition they do not like. Whatever it is, they throw the ball and their heads to see how they respond.

Some of us who have been around can handle it and we will deal with it. However, we will continue to deal with it in a way that speaks profoundly to the need for us to share the great values we have as Canadians, the great values we see going forward and the great need for us to have a federal government that has the capacity to serve the interests of the entire country.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon
B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to what the hon. foreign affairs critic had to say.

He talked about the nobility of this place and the need to restore the demeanour of which all Canadians can be proud. I know he is like that, personally, because today during question period, for example, when pressed a little, he said that the members opposite spent their spare time pulling wings off butterflies. He is a noble man. He would not stoop to gutter politics. He would not say something out of line. He keeps the debate very highbrow so the people in Rosedale will understand it, even today, during question period.

Let me interpret for people watching. When he says he wants a government with enough capacity to give direction, what he means is he wants a big, big government. We know what that means. Look out for the taxes, because the taxes will go up. He says he wants to make a difference with the federal government. The interpretation is he wants to intrude in provincial jurisdiction. We should keep our eyes open.

There is a reason that support for separation in Quebec is at the lowest in our lifetime. Why? Because the government on this side of the House believes in respecting provincial jurisdiction. On that side of the House, they do not.

To get back to James, whom he quoted. There is a quotation from another book of James that he will remember. It starts with “Consider it all joy...when you encounter various trials”. If the Liberals were ever in power, we would have a pervasive carbon tax that would hit low income people the worst. We are talking about a leader who says that if we have a problem in Afghanistan, the way to solve it is to invade Pakistan. That will get things smoking for us.

If we want to encounter various trials, if we want to look for trouble, look to the—

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will try to focus on one aspect of the comments of the member opposite, because it is a real difference of opinion.

I spent 15 years in the provincial jurisdiction. I know pretty well what a provincial jurisdiction is all about. The key challenges we face in our country are areas where both the federal government and the province have to learn how to cooperate and work together.

Is the question of urban transportation a municipal issue, a provincial issue or a federal issue? It is all three. It requires the cooperation of all three levels of government. There are no watertight compartments. There are no firewalls between municipalities, provinces and the federal government.

The key challenge of governance today in Canada, and this is a real difference that we have with the Conservative Party because it has this very narrow, locked-in view of what the responsibility of one level of government is and of another and never the twain shall meet, and that is a ludicrous—

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

It's called the constitution.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

It is not called the constitution. It is a ludicrous proposition. If we had that idea, we never would have had unemployment insurance and then employment insurance. We never would have had health insurance and health care and a national health care program. We would have had none of these programs. We never would have had Central Mortgage and House. We never would have had any of the institutions that have made a real difference in the lives of families.

Yes, I believe there is a role for the federal government in terms of providing leadership. I believe there is a role for provinces and for municipalities. The key challenge in the future of our country is how to make sure these governments can work effectively together. If they are captured and ensnared by the philosophy or the ideology of the Conservative Party of Canada, the condition of all the people in the country will deteriorate for sure. That is why I am so strongly opposed to it.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member used the term “principled position”. How is it that there is any principle involved when in Bill C-50 there is the theft of $54 billion of workers' money that they will need if they become unemployed? We know that Ontario is in trouble. We talked about that earlier. A lot of the unemployed manufacturing workers and their families will need this fund, yet this bill only puts aside $2 billion to set up a crown corporation.

How could there be a principled position when 92% of Liberal members refuse to vote on this issue? Tell me.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, if we were to treat employment insurance as real insurance, what would that mean? It would mean that the workers who have the highest rate of unemployment would have to pay the highest premiums and that the industries that have the highest rate of unemployment would have to pay the highest premiums. It would be a complete disaster for working families across the country.

I do not know why the New Democratic Party and indeed many of my friends in the labour movement continue to persist in this notion that somehow the answer for everything is to get back to the idea of employment insurance being real insurance. They are not serving the interests of working families when they do that, because they do not understand that the experience ratings that would apply would absolutely clobber working families.

Ironically, it is the New Democratic Party that has contributed to one of the most inane aspects of Bill C-50, which is the creation of this crown corporation. The NDP members got their wish and they will come to regret it.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, on Monday, thanks to the opposition, the House had the opportunity to debate two specific aspects of Bill C-50, namely immigration and the creation of an employment insurance financing board, or parts 6 and 7 of the bill. I had the opportunity to speak about these subjects in the House on Monday. Today I will be challenging the bill in its entirety. I will bring up various points.

Bill C-50 deals with the implementation of the intentions the government laid out in its 2008 budget speech, a speech that I criticized then, on April 9, for reasons that I would like to restate today.

Although the budget speech included some timid measures, it had nothing to offer in terms of redistribution of wealth and government management of the common good.

The bill's preamble concerns me a great deal because it talks only about global economic uncertainty when there is real uncertainty in all regions—mine in particular—about economic development; we know that. And the government should be concerned.

What has the government done in this time? I am sure everyone will recall that it created this trust fund, which, at the time, was linked to the budget. We managed to stop it, after some citizens demonstrated their dissatisfaction.

Although the trust fund, totalling a billion dollars over two years, was removed from the budget, the government did not really address the crises currently facing our communities. The agricultural and forestry sectors are in crisis. Of course, there is also a crisis facing non-profit organizations, which saw their funding suddenly slashed by the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

Although he says he will space it out over two years, we all know what this means in Rimouski, for example, and in eastern Quebec for all non-profit organizations in the marine sector. We have a research centre. We are the hub of marine technology, and this will have a major impact. In that sense, the government has set us back. I will never accept this kind of thing.

The government created a savings account, known as a TFSA, and would have us believe that they have reinvented the wheel. In reality, it will not help modest to middle income earners. It will only help those who are already well off.

Speaking of the less fortunate and of the poor—and I will probably wrap it up here—I want to say once more that the government had an opportunity with this budget to help our seniors and to bolster the guaranteed income supplement. Instead, it put $10 billion towards the debt and decided that only the first $3,500 earned by seniors who choose to work would not affect their benefits.

The government should have accepted motion M-383, which I moved and which was adopted by a majority in this House. It would have allowed seniors to not be penalized had they wanted to work up to 15 hours per week at the average wage in their province of residence. This would have been a significant gesture that would have helped seniors currently living below the poverty line and who, obviously, want to work. I am not suggesting that all seniors should go back to work. Far be it for me to suggest that.

However, there were some relatively easy and practical ways to help our seniors and other disadvantaged groups, as well as to fight poverty. Instead, the government cut corporate taxes for companies that are already making obscene profits, such as banks and oil companies.

I see no sign, in the government's vocabulary or ideology, of the will to concern itself with the common good and the redistribution of wealth. They are focused solely on looking after companies that are already doing very well. Their tax cuts will not help those who have little or no income—

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order, please. It being 6:05 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The member will have five minutes to finish her speech.

The House resumed from April 17 consideration of the motion.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of Motion No. 465, moved by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte.

Members of the House should realize that this motion is actually motivated by events that happened in Newfoundland during Christmas, 2007 and again in central Canada during reading week in 2008. In both cases Canada's airlines were flying full airplanes during a peak travel period. Indeed, in both cases severe storms closed major airports and resulted in hundreds and hundreds of flight cancellations. Because of the huge numbers of people travelling, the airlines had real trouble finding empty seats on other flights in order to accommodate the passengers from the cancelled flights. In some cases the airlines actually removed luggage from their airplanes in order to be able to carry as many extra passengers as possible. In another case one of the airlines actually added three extra wide-body jets for flights to one destination in a desperate effort to clear the backlog.

No jurisdiction anywhere has passed legislation that would force airlines to operate in a storm, or to bump paying passengers in order to accommodate other paying passengers from a weather cancelled flight.

This motion proposes a Canadian airline passenger bill of rights based either on the European model or U.S. legislation that has been proposed.

European regulation No. 261/2004 establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and deals with the very concerns raised in this particular motion, and it has the force of law. I will refer to it as the European charter. It deals with denied boarding, delays and cancellations.

Curiously though, the European charter does not deal with luggage at all. In that sense it does not address one of the most significant complaints of the Newfoundlanders whose Christmas nightmares prompted Mayor Woodrow French and Mayor Graham Letto to call for this motion.

Furthermore, article 5(3) of the European charter takes away a passenger's right to compensation if the airline is forced to cancel a flight due to extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Extraordinary circumstances clearly include weather conditions that are incompatible with the operation of the flight.

The European Directorate-General for Energy and Transport stresses the importance of flight safety in evaluating weather as an extraordinary circumstance. It states:

Weather conditions are by their nature unpredictable and it is not therefore possible to create an exhaustive list of the circumstances that may lead to weather related disruption. In evaluating an incident, [one] has to bear in mind that the safety of flight operations has to be the overarching priority and should therefore consider each incident on its own merits.

The Canadian approach is similar in that it recognizes, for this government especially, that safe operation of the aircraft is absolutely paramount. In fact, Canada's air transportation regulations specifically excuse “delays due to weather conditions affecting safety or abnormal operating conditions”.

However, the motion also refers to legal instruments being either proposed or enacted by jurisdictions within the United States for the purpose of protecting passenger rights.

The major advocate of airline passenger rights in the United States is Kate Hanni, president of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights. She is very familiar with existing airline passenger rights in the U.S. and understands that a European style bill of rights is not what North America needs. Her 11 point bill of rights focuses almost entirely on providing relief to people stranded for hours on an airplane. The only other major new idea is to compensate bumped passengers, or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours, by refund of 150% of the ticket price.

Although there are various legislative proposals in the United States, none at this time have the force of law. I repeat: none. The only one ever to be passed by a legislature, specifically New York state, dealt almost exclusively with rights for passengers detained on an aircraft prior to takeoff or after landing.

Before members of Parliament spend a lot of time examining legislation in other countries, it would probably be very helpful to look at the current Canadian situation.

First, after researching this, I will note that it is important to understand that Canadian air travellers have more legislated rights than travellers in any other country in the world. That is right: currently we have more legislated rights than anywhere else in the world.

Further, through the passage of Bill C-11 just recently, the government has strengthened the complaints provisions in the Canada Transportation Act and requires airlines to publish their tariffs or the terms and conditions of carriage for both domestic and international travel. The Canada Transportation Act requires Canadian airlines to actually file their tariffs with the Canadian Transportation Agency. This makes those tariffs legally binding.

The United States does not have a realm of legally binding passenger rights at this time. The European realm has inconsistent enforcement and, as I said, does not cover baggage claims. In practical terms, Canadian travellers already have far more rights, with better enforcement, than travellers in either the United States or Europe.

Canadian travellers currently have the following rights. I would like to go through them. First, there is compensation for denied boarding. Second, there is compensation for flight cancellations. Third, there is care during delays. Fourth, there is compensation for lost or delayed baggage.

First, on compensation for denied boarding, in order to be eligible for denied boarding compensation a passenger has to meet the airline's minimum check-in time. In a situation where an aircraft is oversold or a smaller aircraft is substituted at the last minute, it is the practice of Canada's airlines to call for volunteers to take a later flight. Indeed, typically a volunteer will be offered a credit for future travel of $100 or more as well as transport on a later flight.

If there are not enough volunteers, though, passengers may be denied boarding on an involuntary basis. Here, the passenger is typically offered free transport on another flight or a refund of the fare paid. In cases where the airline's next flight is not relatively soon, the carrier will often try to get the passenger a seat on another airline flight, even if that seat costs more than the passenger paid.

Where a passenger must wait another day to take the airline's next flight, the carrier will pay for meals, hotel accommodation and airport transfers as necessary. I know this because it recently happened to me. The carrier was very accommodating.

Second is compensation for flight cancellations. If a Canadian airline cancels a flight, the airline will undertake to ensure that the passenger is routed or transported to his or her ultimate destination as per the contract of carriage, within a reasonable period of time and at no extra cost to the traveller. If this cannot be done, the passenger is actually offered credit for a future flight or a full refund.

Third is care during delays. If the delay is within the carrier's control, such as a mechanical problem, the carrier will pay for meals as well as a hotel stay and airport transfers if appropriate.

Finally, there is compensation for lost or delayed baggage. If an airline loses a passenger's baggage, it will pay provable damages or a minimum financial compensation. The actual amounts vary by airline, but in each case the full legal details are contained in the airline's tariffs. They have the force of law in Canada and they are enforced by the Canadian Transportation Agency.

In conclusion, even though Bill C-11 received royal assent a year ago, most Canadians do not know what the rights of air passengers are or how to go about enforcing those rights. Thus, as a result of the passage of this motion and the support by this Conservative government, Canada will take steps to publicize passenger rights of Canadians and the ways to enforce those rights. This is good news for Canadians.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

June 4th, 2008 / 6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Motion No. 465 from the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, concerning rights for airline passengers.

The spirit of my colleague's motion is not unique to Canada. Similar regulations already exist in other countries, and could even serve as models for an airline passenger bill of rights.

In 2004, the European Union adopted Regulation No. 261/2004 of the European Parliament and Council of the European Union. This regulation came into force on February 17, 2005, in the 25 member states of the European Union. The United States has a similar regulation established by the Air Transport Association.

In general, these regulations set out the rights of airline passengers and the responsibilities of carriers, for example: to provide compensation for passengers who are denied boarding by the carrier; to reduce any problems and inconveniences to passengers whose flights are cancelled, by encouraging carriers to inform passengers of cancellations and propose an alternative; to see to the needs of passengers with reduced mobility and their attendants; to inform passengers of their rights if they are denied boarding or if their flight is cancelled or significantly delayed, so that the passengers can properly exercise those rights.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of adopting such a bill of rights, although it recognizes that airlines cannot be held responsible for any mistakes made by other industry players such as NavCanada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority or the Canada Border Services Agency.

It is important to answer two distinct questions regarding the motion we are discussing today. First, what are the responsibilities of all the service providers in the airline industry with respect to this issue? Second, what exactly are airline passengers' rights? The Bloc Québécois recommends that Parliament take decisive measures on a matter that is of vital importance to Canadians: creating guaranteed protection for the rights of airline passengers.

These measures will apply to all industry players involved in serving passengers. The industry as a whole will be responsible for implementing these measures.

I would now like to talk about the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, of which I am a member. In 2007, the committee heard a number of witnesses when it examined Bill C-11 concerning complaints about air travel.

The witnesses included Marie-Hélène Beaulieu and Christiane Théberge of Option consommateurs, a Montreal-based consumer advocacy group, Michael Janigan and Michael Pepper of the Travellers' Protection Initiative, and Fred Gaspar, Vice-President, Air Transport Association of Canada, all of whom appeared before us on October 5, 2006.

I would like to read part of Ms. Théberge's testimony:

The second concern we would like to address is with respect to [much-needed] airfare advertising transparency.

[Travellers' Protection Initiative] does not believe that the airlines will willingly change their advertising practices. We see every indication that they increasingly tend to break up their airfares and announce one way fares when these are not even available. We have seen cases where consumers, upon completing the transaction, had paid 25%, 50% or even 90% more the amount initially advertised by the airline.

In the past, the airline industry has promised to take voluntary measures but they never delivered the goods. We are therefore skeptical of arguments put forward by the airlines, in other words that the airline industry can be self-regulating with respect to consumers' interests. Despite years of discussions with the airline industry and a series of false starts, the airline industry has not moved voluntary on this issue.

We believe that the requirement to full disclosure, with details, should be firmly entrenched in the legislation and apply to all airlines which advertise in Canada. After all, air carriers providing services in United States are already subject to these requirements.

As I said earlier, many of the issues we are discussing today were addressed during the committee's study of Bill C-11. That bill was passed here at third reading, was passed by the Senate, and received royal assent on June 22, 2007.

This legislation provides enhanced consumer protection for air travellers. These enhancements were in addition to existing consumer laws. Under this legislation, airlines are now required to prominently display and post their terms and conditions of carriage at their business offices. This legislation 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.

In order for these new measures to be officially adopted following royal assent to Bill C-11, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has to approve them by order in council. Almost a year after the new legislation was passed—it has been just about a year now—these measures still have not been ordered by the minister.

This week, in the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, we passed a motion calling on the minister to appear before our committee in order to give us some follow up on his discussions with the industry, which might explain the delay in adopting the order in council regarding the provisions of Bill C-11.

Despite the passage of Bill C-11 nearly a year ago, it is clear that consumers are still not benefiting from the provisions of that legislation. This is why the Bloc Québécois will support the motion being debated here today: in order to do something about the Conservative government's failure to act when it comes to the rights of air travellers.

My colleague has had to move Motion M-465 in order to do something about the unwillingness demonstrated by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities regarding the bill introduced by his own government.

If the motion were adopted and enforced, consumers would receive a good deal of publicly available, government sanctioned information.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I support the motion before us, in order to ensure that air travellers get the real protection they deserve and in order to strongly urge the minister to take action on this issue, which greatly concerns consumers.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on Motion No. 465.

I want to read the text of the motion so the folks who are watching will have some understanding of what we are actually considering tonight. The motion reads:

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 United States for the purpose of protecting passenger interests in a consistent and rules-based way and to provide a means of ensuring 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.

I appreciate that we have the opportunity to discuss this this evening and have had another occasion to do so. At that time, the NDP transport critic, the member for Windsor West, indicated that this motion had his support, and it is something that has my support as well. It is an important initiative.

Over the years, consumer protection has been an area where we have fallen short in Canada. There was a time in Canada when we actually had a minister of consumer affairs and that was an integral part of our government. It was seen as an important post in government, someone who had the specific responsibility to look out for Canadian consumers in all manner of ways to protect consumers. That was specifically on the agenda.

Unfortunately, over the years that capacity of government has kind of dwindled down and is not what it once was. It might be a desk in a department someplace now rather than a full-fledged department in its own right. There has been something significant lost with those changes over the years.

Recently, in many ways we have seen concerns around consumer protection come to the fore again, whether that be with regard to food products, with regard to toys imported from overseas or with regard to the concerns with pet foods that were very much on the minds of many Canadian pet owners in recent months. There have been many places where we seem to have fallen short of offering appropriate protection to Canadian consumers and where our government has been slow to take initiatives to offer that kind of protection.

That is an appropriate role for government. It certainly seems to me that Canadians, as we come together collectively, as our government, would want us to take that kind of responsibility to ensure that our fellow citizens are safe and secure, and that they get value for the products that they consume and the services that they purchase. It seems to me that is an entirely appropriate role for our federal government, especially so in the area of transportation, which is clearly something that is a direct responsibility of the federal Government of Canada.

This is an important initiative to be discussing. There is a lot of room for improvement in how we ensure that consumers of airline services are protected in Canada. It is very important that we have clear, accessible information about what the protections available to passengers are,. The clearer, more accessible and better organized that information is the better off we will all be.

I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport say that Canada would be taking measures to publicize the protections that are available now to Canadians. That is a good initiative but I wish it had happened sooner. I wish we could have seen some tangible result of that commitment by now, but perhaps organizing that in some way that makes sense to consumers, with information that they can use easily and readily, will be an important step to take.

However, that commitment should not deter us from pursuing the motion that is before us today. It seems to me that we have not had that commitment, that we have not seen the government move in that direction.

Since we do not have that kind of information readily available, the House should put pressure on the government to organize an airline passenger bill of rights and organize it in that kind of format so people will know what the airlines' responsibilities are and what their rights as passengers are.

We know there have been very serious issues related to airline passengers. We had the 10-hour incident where people were kept on a plane on the tarmac and were denied access to appropriate hygiene and food. It took a 911 call to get the kind of help those folks needed. I am sure we all believe that it should never happen again and that it should never have happened in the first place.

We also have seen situations arise, especially at times of mergers or bankruptcies of airlines, where many passengers are inconvenienced or right out of luck when it comes to their travel plans. I think all of us would agree that it is not an appropriate time either.

We have seen weather delays but we know we cannot always control that. However, we do want to ensure that the response to those kinds of delays is done appropriately and with the consumer and passenger in mind.

There is also the issue of pricing of airline tickets and the advertising of those airline tickets. We have seen a significant concern around the hidden costs in airline advertising about ticket prices. This is something that we thought we had taken some initiative on in the House. There were proposals in Bill C-11, which was passed almost a year ago, that would have had some effect on that had the government taken the necessary action to implement it. We are still waiting on that and I think it is very important.

The member for Windsor West has asked in the House, as recently as April, when we would be seeing the implementation of that policy that was passed in the House.

We need to ensure the airlines are not hiding fees and not misleading consumers about the actual cost of flying in Canada. We want to ensure that what is called all-in pricing is the standard for airline advertising here in Canada. The mechanism to do it is in the legislation but, unfortunately, the government has not acted to actually put that into practice yet in Canada. It needs to do that without delay because that would be a significant improvement in consumer protection for Canadians.

There are a number of proposals already. We have heard that the European Union has such a consumer airline passenger bill of rights in place. We have seen attempts to do it in the United States and we know there are ongoing discussions in the United States.

The Canadian Association of Airline Passengers and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre have a proposal around an airline passenger bill of rights that includes things like public participation to ensure the public is consulted and is part of the process of developing such a code and developing awareness around issues of safety, pricing and service quality; that safety principles are important; that the importance of public safety and decision making is emphasized; that normal and emergency levels of service are clearly elucidated; that there is a culture of safety in the airline industry; that additional risks arising from mergers and restructuring that would affect passengers are addressed; that there is access to public safety information for passengers; and that in the event of accidents that passengers are entitled to rescue and firefighting services that are equal to or better than international standards.

Those are all some of the things that would be part of that kind of passenger bill of rights. There is also the whole category of service quality, that there needs to be full passenger information disclosure, that there are certain standards of onboard quality and that there are general service standards available to the public, just basic common courtesy needs to be one of those. The whole area of fair pricing rules is one that is very important.

The regulation of the airline industry is another key area that is part of this proposal from the Canadian Association of Airline Passengers for an airline passenger bill of rights. I think this motion gets us going in the right direction and I am happy to have been able to speak in favour of it this evening.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte for Motion No. 465, an airline passenger bill of rights.

Having attended meetings in his riding, I know very well the esteem in which he is held for his tireless work for all of his constituents. Indeed, it was my privilege as a graduate student in environmental studies to work out of Rocky Harbour at Gros Morne National Park. Those were the early days of site design and ecological inventory, and for me it was a great learning experience.

When we talk about air travel, my very first arrival in Newfoundland was at the same time as one of its most famous citizens was getting off the plane. The security people advised everyone that “he is coming”. Sure enough, to my amazement and delight, it was Joey Smallwood who stopped, shook my hand and asked if it was my first time on the rock and then told me I would love it, which, of course, I did.

I wish all air passengers had it so pleasant. There are two good times to plant the tree: one is 20 years ago, the other is today. This motion is for today.

As the past chair of the Subcommittee on Persons with Disabilities, I presided over hearings which heard from many witnesses who attested to their humiliating, degrading and disrespectful treatment by some of the larger airlines. I will immediately clarify this by stating emphatically that the personnel of these airlines should not be blamed. They are left with the very difficult and unpleasant task of telling the blind that their seeing eye dogs must go into a hold, of telling the wheelchair disabled that they will be carried into their seats because of a lack of proper ramping, of telling guardians and health care assistants that they must pay for a second seat.

The recent excellent news that such personal attendants will not be compelled to pay for their seats is a most welcome relief. I applaud the airline industry for understanding the reasonableness of this and understanding how much it adds to the dignity and self-esteem of the disabled.

In my riding there are numerous not for profit organizations that have long championed the rights of the disabled. These include: Persons United For Self-Help, the Handicapped Action Group, Human Rights Northwest, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the George Jeffrey Children's Centre, Superior Greenstone Association for Community Living, Avenue II and Wesway Respite Care, among many others.

Fortunately, I believe we are making progress. Thanks to the efforts of those and similar community-minded groups across Canada whose mottos invariably imply compassion and caring, the message of inclusivity is being heard. An accessible society is a healing society. An airline passenger bill of rights would be a fundamental enhancement to a society where no one is held back by their disability or disabilities, physical or mental.

Once a delegation from a foreign land came to visit Thunder Bay when I was the mayor. They commented facetiously on how poor the drivers must be because there were so many people that they saw out and about in wheelchairs, walkers and with canes moving about freely. When I explained that it was because we had set a goal to have Thunder Bay become known as Canada's most accessible city, they were justifiably impressed.

If a community can show such leadership, then certainly the airline industry can be accepting of a bill of rights for its valued customers.

By and large, I must admit that the airports with which I am most familiar, like Fort Francis, Thunder Bay of course and all of those served by Bearskin Airlines and Wasaya Airlines, the service is excellent. Truly, the number of negative incidents that I have personally incurred are very few.

The number of complaints that have come to my great staff in our four offices, which, incidentally, starts at the Manitoba border and stretches right here to the nation's capital over two time zones, are also few but, regrettably, those are valid.

For the record I will include the mention of a resolution passed during my past role as president of the Association of Municipalities and as an executive member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The FCM passed a resolution which states that the Government of Canada should prepare a national airline passenger bill of rights to be adopted into legislation by this Parliament. Support is coming nationwide for this. Indeed, Sam Barone, the president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada, sent correspondence recently that is worthy of including in the record. He states:

...if we are truly serious about addressing customer service challenges, everyone involved in the system needs to be part of the solution. Certainly air carriers do not control the airports, the navigation system, the security screening process or the various regulatory agencies that control passenger movements across borders and through the boarding process.

He goes on to state:

...members [of Parliament must] recognize and support the principle of the supremacy of ensuring safety as the primary aspect of all flight-related decisions. I know Parliamentarians would agree that delays or inconveniences caused as a result of compliance with safety regulations or considerations should not be subject to the constraints of this proposal. ...members [must] consider the impact of weather and other factors outside a carrier's direct control as matters for which the carrier should not bear financial responsibility.

I do not believe that was the intent of the motion, and as it is presented, we have a very balanced and fair motion before us.

In conclusion, I can only attest to the wisdom of hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte in designing such a conciliatory motion. I am quite hopeful that in the positive spirit in which this motion has been presented, it will find unanimous consent to pass this evening.

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Fabian Manning Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in favour of Motion No. 465, put forward by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte. This motion deals with protecting the travelling public and is something that many people have been waiting for. The story of how this all came about is interesting.

During Christmas 2007 some major storms were experienced in Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout Atlantic Canada. Many flights were cancelled or delayed which created major havoc especially for people in Newfoundland and Labrador, and among them, people in my own riding of Avalon.

Many people in Conception Bay South, a town in my riding and one of the fastest growing communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, have the opportunity to travel back and forth to other parts of Canada.

A movement was started at that time by Woodrow French, the mayor of Conception Bay South. I met with Mayor French on a couple of occasions to discuss this issue and other issues. Mayor French involved many families and people who travelled. He sought and received the support of the Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador association. He also sought and received the support of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. With that combination of support, Mayor French found a need and a want for a passenger bill of rights in Canada.

I am certainly delighted that the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte brought his motion forward because it gives us an opportunity to protect the travelling public. We hope we can do that through this process.

A lot of people are not aware that there is protection already in place in Canada. Canada's complaints process has been in place since 2000 and was made permanent by Bill C-11. It is one of the strongest features of Canada's consumer protection regime. However, like many other things, the regime and its strengths are not well understood by Canadians. We have not done enough to inform travellers of the consumer protections that exist and the redress available to them through this process. If passengers do not know their rights, they are unlikely to take steps to protect those rights.

There is no way that we can bring forward in this House, or any government can bring anywhere for that matter, a bill of rights that would dictate what the weather was going to be on a Friday or Saturday night, or whatever the case may be. Therefore, we have to work within the existing system. A bill or a motion will not dictate what the weather will be on any given night.

How passengers are treated when their carefully laid out plans are suddenly disrupted because of the weather or because of some other situation that might arise is what we are trying to deal with through this motion. Common courtesy is not something that we can legislate.

Because of the Christmas panic that ensued in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have a regime in place that we hope can provide some protection. Hopefully, by enhancing that and working with all members in the House we can bring forward something that would at least give people some kind of protection.

I heard many stories from people in my riding who contacted my office. Some had been in Halifax on December 22 and were told that due to flight cancellations, the next flight they could get to go home would be on January 2. Some people were in Toronto on Christmas Eve and were told that the first opportunity for them to get home would be on New Year's Day. Some people had to return to work on January 2 or January 3. That is totally unacceptable to the government and it is totally unacceptable to the travelling public.

I was delighted to hear the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca state earlier that we are not only supporting this motion, but we are going to make a concerted effort to inform Canadians of the rights and protections that are already in place.

I was delighted to hear the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, because if there is any area or town in this country that knows the importance of the travelling public, especially from Newfoundland and Labrador, it is Fort McMurray. A direct flight was brought in sometime in 2007. Every single day there is a direct flight from St. John's, Newfoundland to Fort McMurray, Alberta. There are in excess of 60,000 people travelling back and forth between Fort McMurray and St. John's, people who either live in Fort McMurray permanently and visit family in Newfoundland, or who travel back and forth on turnovers. This is a major concern for all those people. Many times we refer to the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca as the eighth member from Newfoundland and Labrador because there is no doubt that his constituency is made up of many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

I was delighted to see the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca on his feet here today announcing that our government is supporting this private member's motion. We are taking the concerns of the travelling public of Canada very seriously. We have a situation here where, as I said earlier, we cannot regulate the weather or how things happen, but we can provide protection. We can provide at least an opportunity for the travelling public to be treated fairly in a situation where people cannot have their concerns addressed in an airport at 2 o'clock in the morning.

I want to congratulate Mayor Woodrow French of Conception Bay South, who on February 13, I believe it was, sent a letter off to the Prime Minister, asking him to look at bringing in a passenger bill of rights similar to ones in other parts of the world. When we did some research on that, we found that the passenger bills of rights in other parts of the world do not exactly fit everything that we have here in Canada.

Hopefully, we can enhance what we already have in place to protect consumers and the travelling public. We want to ensure that the concerns that are being brought forward to members of Parliament are addressed and that we can have something in place so that at least people travelling do not have to worry that they are not being treated fairly.

We have a large geographic region. I mentioned the daily flight between St. John's and Fort McMurray. We travel long distances. Sometimes people arrive in one town but their luggage is in another city. Some people do not find their luggage at all. The attitude sometimes of the airlines is well, too bad. That is not an attitude Canadians should have to put up with. It is absolutely unacceptable that the travelling public of Canada have to put up with anything less than the service they pay for and deserve.

We as a government are here today to make sure that the protections that are in place are enhanced for the travelling public. of Newfoundland and Labrador in our case. I am delighted that a member from Newfoundland and Labrador brought this motion forward. In that way, every one who travels can know that if something goes wrong, if something does not work out, there is protection and that those who are responsible have to step up to the plate and say, “We are responsible for what happened”. They are not responsible for the fog, they are not responsible for the snow, they are not responsible for the wind, but they are responsible for the paying customers who deserve a service that sometimes we find is lacking.

I am delighted that we are here today to support the motion. I look forward to enhancing the protections that are in place now so that members of the travelling public of Canada feel that they are protected in some ways and feel more comfortable when they sit on a plane. After all, it is a major mode of travel now.