House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was insurance.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, despite his good faith, the hon. member confused the employment insurance program and the training programs. Of course, employment insurance programs are managed by the federal government, but training programs are managed by the Government of Quebec.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I also have a question for my colleague, the member for Laval, whom I congratulate on an excellent speech. I would like to know how she reacted when she heard the Conservative minister responsible for employment insurance say that enhanced benefits would be too generous. What she said was that it was “lucrative” to get employment insurance, as if it were something people did by choice, not because they were victims of a situation.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the woman who appeared before our committee this morning told us that she made $4.38 an hour on employment insurance. I do not know whether this is lucrative or too generous. This may be too generous for some, but I am sure it is not generous enough for others. You cannot pay all your bills on $4.38 an hour when you work 15 hours a week.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 5:15 p.m., pursuant to the order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed to have been put and a recorded division is deemed to have been requested and deferred until Tuesday, March 10, 2009, at the expiry of the time for government orders.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek the consent of the House, you would find unanimous consent to see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is it agreed?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed in today's order paper.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.
Private Members' Business

March 5th, 2009 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

moved that Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking to Bill C-310 this evening, leading off on the first hour of what I hope will be a constructive debate.

I would like to begin by thanking Woodrow French, the mayor of Conception Bay South in Newfoundland, and Bruce Cran of the Consumers Association of Canada, who have been actively supporting the bill and have hit the road recently to promote it across the country.

We have been approached by a U.S. consumers group expressing interest in the bill, a group called FlyersRights.org run by its founder, Kate Hanni, who organized a press briefing in California regarding Bill C-310. She praised the bill as the best airline bill of rights legislation she has seen, and she will distribute copies to the U.S. legislators in Washington D.C.

Bill C-310 has been getting a lot of media interest, and with it, numerous responses from Canadians sending in their personal stories. Almost everyone from whom I received a response has been very supportive of the bill. There are always some people who are not, but most of them are supportive.

The bill is based on Private Member's Motion No. 465, introduced last year by the hon. member of Parliament for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte of Newfoundland and Labrador from the Liberal Party, and the resolution passed unanimously in the House, but the government did not bring in the bill promised in the resolution.

Instead, it introduced the voluntary agreement called flight rights, which had no effect in law, but did promise the tarmac delays, for example, would not exceed 90 minutes before people would be let off the plane, so we then had a recognition at that time by the airlines that 90 minutes was a long enough time to keep people cooped up in a plane on the tarmac.

What did the airlines do? They proceeded to keep people on the tarmac for six to eight hours just three months later. So much for flight rights and I think the Conservatives recognize as well that we need tougher laws to govern this area.

Just three days ago the airlines decided that they will put flight rights in their tariff, voluntarily letting the Canadian transportation agency enforce it, but where are the penalties if they do not follow through? They did not last time, why should they now?

In addition, the airline letter is full of falsehoods about the actual bill. In terms of the National Airlines Council of Canada, it sent us a letter called “reality check”, so I am responding in the same way, saying, “reality check”: I want to deal with the concerns of the National Airlines Council of Canada's March 2 letter to all members of Parliament and the outright factual errors in that communication.

It says the maximum compensation for denied boarding in Bill C-310 is two to three times higher than in the EU, when it is exactly the same. We used the EU figures in the bill.

It says it was not consulted. The reality of private members' business is that there is not a lot of time for consultation with external parties in the development of a bill. A member whose name is drawn near the top of the list has 20 sitting days until the completed bill must be deposited at the House of Commons Journals Branch.

In this case, however, I did speak to representatives from both the National Airlines Council on the phone, gave them complete details of the bill, and invited them to give me an email response before the bill was sent for translation. We were making amendments right up to the very end, and I received no submissions from either party, unlike the Consumers Association of Canada, which did come forward with valuable contributions right up to the last day.

The National Airlines Council claims that the fares will rise as a result of this legislation. I would like to ask, did the fares rise when the Air Canada president earned $26 million in 2007? That was a considerable amount of money that it expended at that time, and I do not think fares rose because of his salary. I do not really believe they would now either, because if airlines follow the rules in the bill, they would not pay any penalties. By our experience in Europe so far, it does not look like they are paying much in the way of penalties over there either.

The National Airlines Council says, “No jurisdiction has ever held airlines responsible for weather delays or cancellations. To do so is fundamentally incompatible with the safe operation of an aircraft”. Well, neither are we. We have taken the exclusion from the European Union bill and put it verbatim into our bill, giving the airlines the extraordinary circumstances exclusion, which they are happily using in Europe the last four years. This statement implies that Bill C-310 would make an air carrier responsible for weather delays and cancellations when that is not the case.

Bill C-310 does not require an air carrier to pay compensation to a passenger in respect of a flight that has been delayed or cancelled due to weather. A flight that is cancelled due to weather falls within the exemption, which I already explained, and is provided for in the bill.

If the air carrier can prove that the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken, under this subparagraph the air carrier is not required to pay compensation to a passenger whose flight was cancelled. This is the standard that has been adopted by the European Union and the cancellation due to weather clearly falls within this exemption.

All that an air carrier is required to do in a case of cancellation due to weather is: reimbursement, which is reasonable, or rerouting the passenger; meals and refreshments in relation to the waiting time, nothing wrong with that; hotel accommodation in cases where a stay of one or more nights is required; ground transportation between the airport and the place of accommodation; and a total of two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or emails. There is nothing here that is unreasonable for an air carrier to do.

The European Union commissioned a study two years into their bill, about two years ago, after the rules were in effect. While the airlines have been aggressive in using extraordinary circumstances arguments to avoid paying compensation, all stakeholders agreed that the extraordinary circumstances exclusion was still a good and fair balance between the customer's right to compensation and fairness toward the airline. The reason for that is because it is held up in court. We do not want to tilt the bill too much against the airlines because then they will take it to court and they will win their point.

The bill covers denied boarding due to overbooked flights and specifically trying to get people off the flight by agreement, not by forcing them off the plane.

I was on a Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis several years ago. It needed six people off the plane. It got the volunteers by offering free passes to get people off the plane. Everyone was happy with that result and I am sure they are still talking about it to this day. Happy customers are what the airlines need.

If airlines have to deny boarding to customers involuntarily, why should they not be paying compensation of $500, $800 or $1,200, based on the length of the trip? The same compensation applies to cancelled flights. Europe has been doing this for four years. Bill C-310 was inspired by the EU legislation which has been in effect since February 17, 2005.

Air Canada operates in Europe, so it knows all about this legislation. The airlines know that in the EU airlines try to use the exemption as often as possible to avoid paying compensation to passengers. Airlines fought the EU legislation in court and they lost. They know this legislation is sound and it will hold up in court, which is why they are mounting such a big campaign against it. They know it is going to be popular with the public when it is passed.

I have spoken to many MPs, and while they all like the bill, several have questions about the compensation to passengers. I tell them that they can vote for the bill at second reading because it shows they agree with the principle, just like they all did a year ago on the resolution. If they disagree with it, they can come to the committee to try and get it amended. If they think the penalties are too high, they can bring an amendment reducing it to a level that they think is appropriate.

I have even asked the National Airlines Council for amendments, but I got the “Dear Member of Parliament” letter instead, with all the misinformation about the bill. How can it amend the bill when it is clear that it has not taken the time to even read it?

In most cases, we copied the compensation levels of the European Union, and by the way, those compensation levels were doubled in the European Union four years ago because it had earlier legislation from 1991 which dealt with denied boarding only. It did not deal with cancellations and it dealt with scheduled airlines only. It did not deal with charters and it had penalties that were too low, so four years ago it expanded it to include charters. It expanded it to include cancellations and it doubled the penalties. The review panel, two years later, said the penalties were just fine the way they are. They are not too high and not too low.

Why should passengers not have the right to cancel and get a refund after a four hour delay? Why should passengers not get a meal voucher after a two hour delay? Why should passengers not get $100 payment if the airline misplaces their baggage and does not notify them within an hour after finding it? Will the $100 bankrupt the airlines or will it cause them to smarten up and stop misplacing baggage, and not notifying us when the baggage is found?

Why should customers not expect better service? Why should passengers not be informed of flight changes, delays and cancellations under penalty to the airlines? Why should the new rules not be posted at the airline counter to inform customers of their rights and the process to file for compensation? Why should the public not expect all-in-one pricing so they know the total cost of the flight before they click the buy button?

Because the EU carriers have fought the law so hard in Europe, it has taken the small claims court system in Europe to get settlements out of the system. There is no lawyer required. Passengers in Canada can still complain to the Canadian Transportation Agency, but as in Europe, the transportation agencies are not the bodies that are getting the payments. It is the small claims court. British Airways is a good, recent example where it received a settlement on behalf of a large number of claimants through the courts.

The bill would not solve all the people's problems, but it is fair to customers and the airlines. The airlines that follow the rules will not pay a cent. Airlines that claim extraordinary circumstances too often risk getting even tougher rules in the future. Bill C-310 applies to all Canadian air carriers and all air carrier operations that take place in Canada. Why should an Air Canada customer receive better treatment in Europe than in Canada?

In conclusion, I want to issue a call to action. I ask Canadians to not just sit there and say that this is a good idea and hope that it passes. I ask them to go to their computers, send their MP a message requesting him or her to support the bill and send me a copy so that we can keep track of their support. I ask them to send a letter to their local newspaper editor.

MPs listen to their constituents. It is how they get here in the first place. They will keep getting re-elected if they listen to their constituents' concerns. This is a free vote in Parliament and members are free to vote any way they want. The airlines are sending them letters and asking for meetings to try to convince them to vote against the bill. I want Canadians to help me even the odds and counter this special interest lobby that is working against their interests.

All the airlines have to do is keep fresh air and lights working, make sure the toilets are working, make sure food and water are provided, and allow for disembarkation of the airplane if it is possible to do so without risk to health or safety of the passengers. They are suggesting that we have an absolute in the bill that they are going to have to start paying their penalties after one hour no matter what. There is enough of an exemption in there to allow them a certain amount of leeway. If it is going to risk the safety of the passengers, they do not have to let people off within the hour. It is as pure and simple as that.

If they do not want to do these things, why should they not compensate the passengers? If $500 is too high, then bring in an amendment to lower it. However, if it is lowered too much, the airlines will keep the passengers locked up for hours without the lights, air, toilets, food and water.

The next time people are on a flight and things go wrong, they will wish they had emailed or written their MP. They will wish they had written a letter to the editor to support this bill and if that person is an MP, he or she will have wished they had voted for this bill.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am sure many of the people he was talking to out in the public would be in favour of an initiative like this, so I would like to congratulate the member and also the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte for coming up with this concept in the first place.

I am pretty excited about the concept, but I have a couple of questions. The success of any bill depends on the consultation with those who would be affected. I would like to ask the member, how many airlines has he talked to and what were their estimated costs? I am particularly interested in what Air Canada and WestJet said. What did they say this would cost them based on their experience? He said that those airlines have had experience in Europe already, so it should be an easy calculation. How much would the fares go up?

The second question is related to fairness. A lot of delays such lineups, de-icing and things like that are caused by the airport, not the airlines. I am wondering if, in his bill, the airport would have to pay that fee or would he unjustly put that fee onto the airlines when they have nothing to do with the problem?

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, there were many items in the member's question.

We have had a very difficult time trying to find out how much the airlines are paying in Europe, as did the study commissioned by the European Commission. In fact, almost all the airlines refused to give the information. There were only a couple that were very forthright about it.

We know from the history of the bill that the airlines claim extraordinary circumstances all the time, as many times as they can get away with it. It is up to alert passengers to say, “That is not true; that is not the case at all,” and follow through with small claims court actions.

We need a law, but the enforcement is a big issue. It is really up to the passengers themselves. They cannot take action if there is no law to protect them, but if there is a law, those passengers who are alert will take action.

I have answered this question many times about what it will cost the airlines. The truth is it will cost them nothing if they simply follow the rules. WestJet, for example, does not overbook, so it will pay nothing. As a matter of fact WestJet's criticisms are not very strong at all. I have been on radio shows with its representatives and they are not hostile to the bill, let us put it that way.

However, in terms of trying to--

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Questions and comments, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I was very happy to hear the member suggest to other members that before they vote on this piece of legislation that they read it first. I think that is a great concept.

My first question is, does that mean the policy of the NDP members will change for the next budget and that they will actually read it before they decide to vote against it?

My second question is, why did the member refuse to meet with the two major Canadian airlines when they asked to meet with him to go over the bill some two weeks ago?

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my speech, I spoke to the representatives of the airlines before we sent the bill for translation. They did not respond. They were given time. I explained the bill to them and they were given time to respond. They did not. The Consumers' Association on the other hand did respond. In fact, it did get a provision put in the bill because of its response.

I cannot account for why the airlines did not do it, but I received the letter addressed to members of Parliament just as the parliamentary secretary did and I am sure that I will be talking to them again very soon. They are on radio shows that I am on, so I have had occasion to talk to them.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill. It follows on the motion that we put forward in the House in the last Parliament that was endorsed unanimously, not only by members of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party, but members of the Conservative Party of Canada as well. The motion called on the government to bring forward legislated consumer protection with respect to the airline industry.

I have read the bill in depth. I agree with the concept thoroughly, as all members do and they voted unanimously for it. However, I was wondering if the hon. member would be open to amendments to his bill with perfections to create better legislation at the committee stage.