House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to join in the debate on an issue that means quite a bit to not only those I represent in Sudbury but Canadians across the country, Bill C-241.

If passed, the bill would put in place something the New Democrats have been calling for, for quite some time: an end to the two-week waiting period before an EI claimant can receive employment insurance benefits.

Let me first discuss why the bill is so important, not just to my riding but Canadians across Canada. As I stated, the bill is important to all Canadians who will be forced to apply for employment insurance, an action that is much too common these days. When workers lose their jobs or are laid off, the absolute last thing they need is a gap in their income.

When Canadians lose their jobs, not only is their usual source of income gone, but also their personal work relationships, daily structures and sense of self-purpose. Unemployment can be, and often is, a shock to the whole system. People can experience some of the same feelings and stresses that one would feel when they were seriously injured, going through a divorce, or mourning the loss of a loved one.

Dealing with the devastating news of losing one's job should not be worsened with a break in income. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens. Canadians who have lost their jobs, and in many cases their self-worth, must then wait two weeks before they are eligible to receive a stipend from employment insurance, the same insurance they paid into in good faith for the term of their employment.

The waiting period is an unnecessary hardship. Out of work Canadians do not need more adversity when they have just been dealt one of the biggest hardships they will ever experience in their lifetime.

Let me illustrate this point with a local example from my constituency of Sudbury. My riding of Sudbury is familiar with hardship. My community has endured a great deal in the past year. About a year and a half ago, Xstrata laid off 686 workers, months before the three year agreement the government signed under the Investment Canada Act expired. Xstrata is also closing down its copper refinery in Timmins. For its part, Vale Inco laid off over 400 workers. Those who were not laid off, well over 3,000 workers, are about to enter into the 11th month of their strike.

These layoffs and the ongoing strike are also affecting the mining supply and services sector, meaning that 17,000 employees in Sudbury have gone from about 40 hours a week to about 20 hours a week.

The families in my community have endured enough hardship: layoffs, a strike. If we had the ability to do away with one hardship, it would be the two-week waiting period before one qualifies for EI benefits. It would go a long way toward helping these families stay on track.

Thus far, the Conservative government has not been interested in any measures that would help Canadians through these tough times. In fact, the Conservative government has repeatedly let down northern Ontario. This past year, when multinational mining giants Vale Inco and Xstrata violated their agreements with the Canadian government under the Investment Canada Act, the government did nothing. When these companies threw hundreds of workers out on the street contrary to the agreement they signed with the government, the Conservatives failed to act.

Now, as we debate the bill, a bill that would bring immediate relief to those Canadians who are at the front lines of this economic crisis, the government is once again leaving workers and families to fend for themselves. In fact, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development revealed her contempt for the unemployed by stating that EI is too lucrative.

Comments like these are not only downright shameful, but also a window into how the government views the unemployed. I invite the minister and any other member of the Conservative caucus to come to Sudbury and meet some of the people I have: fathers who are worried about their mortgage payments and how they are going to be able to keep up, and single mothers who are resorting to food banks to feed their children. The list can be endless.

The government will argue that it has done enough, more than enough, by tacking on a few weeks of EI. Let us set the record straight. The Conservatives think that if they add five weeks at the end, by that time it is their hope that these people will have found a job. As such, it is their hope that these workers will never benefit from these additional five weeks. What it truly comes down to, for the Conservatives, is that those extra five weeks will be of no cost to the government.

The government seems to have all kinds of money for tax breaks for corporations, except when it comes to the unemployed. This is just plain unacceptable. What makes the government's approach even more inexplicable is the fact that unemployment insurance makes monetary--

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hesitate to disturb the Speaker but the member has strayed for a considerable period of time from the essence of the bill.

We seem to have two standards here. It would seem that the member should be brought to the place where he somehow connects the bill to what he is saying. He has ventured off to talk about a whole number of things that are not specific to the bill and perhaps should be cautioned as well.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I think we are all getting an education in the rules of relevance at third reading.

The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas raises a point of order in the same regard.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect for my colleague, I do not think he really understood what the hon. member for Sudbury was saying. The hon. member correctly gave the example of Vale Inco in regard to the waiting period. He was giving specific examples of people who were unable to take advantage of the two-week period. That is what he was talking about.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Sudbury has about three minutes left in his speech. As I have reminded two other members this evening, the rules at third reading do call for more strict attention to relevance to the actual contents of the bill. With his remaining time, I think the House would appreciate it if he kept that in mind.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was very clear that I was speaking to this bill because this bill is about actually helping unemployed Canadians and I was talking about how the Conservatives are choosing not to help unemployed Canadians. So that is very relevant. I will continue on with my statement.

It is true that unemployment insurance is by far the best short-term economic stimulus available to the government. This way, EI has the single best multiplier effect out of the stimulus tools available to the government. It has a multipler of $1.64 for every $1 the government spends on it. Therefore, basically, when people receive EI sooner rather than waiting for that two-week period, they are not the ones who will be taking big vacations. They are out there spending money in their communities, hence, the economic stimulus is even greater. Employment insurance, bar none, has the best bang for the buck.

What is more, we are not the only ones calling for these changes. This bill has a great deal of support with communities and organizations across Canada. Among them is the Bloc, of course, which recognizes, like we do, that the two-week waiting period for employment insurance should be eliminated. We also have the Canadian Labour Congress, le Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec. le Confédération des syndicats nationaux and le Centrale des syndicats du Québec. Those whose lives would be changed the most with these changes, unemployed workers themselves, are also asking for these changes.

Those groups see the benefit in keeping our unemployed workers in their communities, allowing stores to stay open and rent and mortgages to be paid. They see the real difference a few weeks of EI benefits can make in earlier access and so do we. That is why our party will support the bill when it comes to a vote and why I hope the government will recognize the need for this measure and support it as well.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi for introducing Bill C-241 and framing his arguments so well in regard to its main purpose.

Our colleague from Sudbury was exactly right. He showed very well what this measure is good for when people lose their jobs. He gave the example of the employees at Vale Inco, who have been in a labour dispute for a number of months now. Previously, there were job losses that had a domino effect on companies in Sudbury and caused further layoffs. Often these people do not earn big salaries, especially those working in retail. They were deprived from the outset of two weeks income. My colleague from Brome—Missisquoi did a good job of describing the impact of such an income loss.

These families still have financial obligations at month’s end, but they have two weeks less income. People who lose their jobs do not have any time to make financial adjustments. They have to start looking for a job and do not receive an income right away.

It is incredible to hear what our Conservative friends have to say about this. The parliamentary secretary quoted David Dodge, who was the long-time governor of the Bank of Canada and earned between $1.5 and $3 million. I do not know how many millions he got when he left his position and received a huge separation allowance.

He went so far as to say that giving employment insurance benefits to people who have contributed to the system—it is their money—could well push Canada into bankruptcy. It is incredible to hear such things. There are shows like Just for Laughs where people imitate what happens in the House of Commons and say things like that. It makes me laugh, but they could make similar arguments. They quote rich people to say how little the poor deserve what belongs to them. But this is their insurance, to which they contributed the whole time they were working.

They say that the government cannot pay for it. Well it is not the government paying, because only employees and employers pay into employment insurance. The benefits are paid with that money. They also say that the fund will go into deficit, but that is not true.

My colleague the parliamentary secretary, talking about the budget, acknowledged that $57 billion in surplus over the last 14 years was taken from the fund and used for other purposes. Over the next three years, from 2012 to 2015, an additional $19 billion in surplus will also be used for other purposes. They tell workers who lose their jobs they are going to bankrupt Canada. It is wrong to mock people like that. That money belongs to the workers.

Yesterday, in committee, a witness was asked whether workers are going to agree to having their premiums raised. They do not have anything to say about it, because the government has already decided it will increase premiums by 15¢ per $100 in earnings each year for the next five years. There is a $19 billion surplus. Are workers going to agree to that increase? They have no choice because it has already been decided.

Is there enough money to pay for it? Of course, it is being used for something else. This is a serious economic crime, committed against workers who lose their jobs, against their families, against the regions and provinces affected. Those people find themselves with no income, and it is the province in question that has to cover the cost. It is the Quebec nation that covers the cost, even though there is money in the bank.

It has to be said. The issue has to be debated in its proper context.

The waiting period was set nearly 39 years ago, as my colleague said. It was set because there were jobs at that time. Employers could not find workers. There was a lot of work and you could change jobs virtually every week if you wanted.

They decided they were going to punish people who did not want to work by imposing a two-week penalty on them. That was the reason at the time. It no longer exists. When people who have the misfortune to lose their jobs do not find a job overnight in their region, it is because there are no jobs. That is the reason why.

That measure has become antiquated and regressive over time. It applies to a situation that existed 39 years ago but no longer exists. Let us get to 2010, and let the government join us in voting for this bill. To do that, let it stop invoking the royal recommendation. That is a ploy to fool people. This bill is not asking that charges be made on the consolidated revenue fund. It does not cost a penny. The yes-people on the other side, particularly from Quebec, are not standing up for the people in their ridings. Let them show some backbone for once in their lives. The member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean admitted it himself today. He said he was proud of the token role he was being asked to play. So let him stop—

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member opposite was one of the people who wanted other speakers to be relevant here but he has insisted on launching ridiculous personal attacks on members of Parliament on this side of the House who have been doing tremendous work for the people of Quebec, while he in turn would divide the country rather than bring it together.

I think the member should probably get back to discussing the bill and, if not, perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, could read the standing orders to him, which he wanted to hear so much earlier.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I do not think that will be necessary because we have come to the point of debate where I must stop the hon. member and return to the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi.

I must interrupt the debate because the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi has a five-minute right of reply.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is very unfortunate that only five minutes remain for a bill that is so important for workers throughout Canada and Quebec.

When the government, through the parliamentary secretary, said that people will not accept the truth, what truth was it talking about? Was it talking about its own ideological truth that fails to help workers? Eliminating the two-week waiting period has nothing to do with ideology; it has to do with necessity and need.

I very much appreciated the fact that my colleague spoke up and pointed out that David Dodge is not someone who needs money. What does David Dodge have to do with it? No one asked the unions; no one asked the food banks. Instead, they asked David Dodge.

The Conservatives are saying they conducted prebudget consultations. Who did they consult? The minister told us: they consulted heads of banks. They did not conduct any prebudget consultations with grocery store owners or the people who would receive that money.

If we were to eliminate the two-week waiting period, people would not be saving that money for a rainy day. That money would return to the economy immediately because those people need it. That money would generate GST and other taxes.

The parliamentary secretary is saying that this measure would cost $1.3 billion. He increased his estimate, since last time he said it would cost $1 billion and now he is talking about $1.3 billion. We better hurry up and vote on this bill, or soon he will put the cost at $1.6 billion.

Our researchers old us that it could cost nearly $900 million. But most of that money will come back to the government.

He says that this is inefficient. Inefficient compared to what? We think it is efficient for workers. It may not be good for their reputation. He says that this is unnecessary spending. What does he know? Has he ever been unemployed? To say that this is unnecessary spending is an insult to people who lose their jobs. These people need this money. As my colleague said, they are the ones who paid into the program, not the government.

We cannot really expect the Conservatives to change their ideology, because there will be no royal recommendation for this bill. But as my colleague said, this money does not come out of the government's budget. I want to say that again, because it is important. It is important for the unions to hear and for the workers to hear. We will refuse the royal recommendation for this bill if the government should ever decide to grant it, because it should not apply. I believe that the government should listen to us and not apply the royal recommendation.

I therefore call on all parliamentarians to do the right thing and be sensitive to workers who fall victim to the neo-liberal crisis and globalization. That is why plants are closing without notice. We must correct this injustice.

The Conservatives are saying that this measure will not fix everything. We know that. We want to put forward a whole slew of measures to make employment insurance more equitable, and I used the word equitable deliberately. This measure may be modest, but it is very important to workers who lose their jobs without notice. This is something very real we are asking for.

The Conservatives still have time to think about this and admit that they had not realized how much workers across Canada needed this, even workers in Alberta who sometimes lose their jobs. They had not realized why people lose their jobs or how great their need was. I hope the Conservatives will come to this realization tonight and agree with us tomorrow morning.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for the debate has expired.

It is my duty to inform hon. members that the requirements for printing royal recommendation in accordance with Standing Order 79(2) have not been met. The question on the motion for third reading of the bill will therefore not be put.

Accordingly, the order for third reading is discharged and the item is dropped from the order paper.

(Order discharged and item dropped from order paper)

Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

April 29th, 2010 / 6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Pursuant to Standing Order 97.1(2), the motion to concur in the first report of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers, presented on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 is deemed to be proposed.

Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, this government certainly supports consumer protection measures and in September 2008 we launched Flight Rights Canada, an initiative that informs the travelling public of Canada's consumer protection regime and their rights under the regime.

The foundation for Flight Rights Canada already existed in Canadian legislation as the Canadian Transportation Act requires that terms and conditions of carriage, which are the elements of the contract between an airline and its clients, be made readily accessible to consumers. WestJet, Air Canada, Jazz and Air Transat incorporated Flight Rights Canada in their terms and conditions of carriage for international and domestic travel. We are encouraged by such positive action taken by the industry leaders.

The member of Parliament for Elmwood—Transcona introduced Bill C-310 in February 2009, just over a year ago. The bill passed second reading and was referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for review. Through the parliamentary process, industry and consumer stakeholders were given an opportunity to share their views on the bill as, of course, they would have the best perspective.

Although the bill's intention to improve airline customer service and ensure appropriate compensation was well received by all witnesses, industry stakeholders highlighted how this bill was structurally flawed. After hearing the detailed testimony, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities recommended that Bill C-310 not proceed further for several reasons that I will share with members now.

During the committee meetings, industry witnesses raised many concerns. In fact, the National Airlines Council of Canada, an industry association comprised of Canada's four largest passenger airlines--Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Jazz--argued that while the bill's intent was commendable, it actually penalized airlines for situations that were simply beyond their control.

Although the National Airlines Council of Canada's president reiterated the industry's commitment to quality service, he noted that the bill's excessive penalties on matters external to the airlines' responsibilities would substantially increase their business costs. We know when business costs increase, those costs are put directly on consumers. In doing so, this extra financial burden would simply be passed on to them in the form of higher priced tickets and would also risk reducing services to remote Canadian communities.

I come from a constituency with several remote communities, including Fort Chipewyan. The expert testimony in the committee greatly concerned me and many of the other members on that committee. This reduction in service also includes rural areas in Atlantic Canada, including Newfoundland. I spoke with one industry representative who simply said the airline would stop flying into some of these communities if this bill were passed. Northern Connect also goes to some very remote communities as well.

The most important concern raised by witnesses, however, is that Bill C-310, by imposing such harsh penalties for circumstances that were simply beyond the control of the airlines, could compromise passenger safety. In order to avoid paying high levels of compensation to jilted passengers, pilots may be inclined to fly in unsafe conditions. Pilots may simply put the issue of safety behind them and worry more about the monetary penalty that may be assessed to the airline and ultimately, their jobs. Although the government is committed to consumer protection, as we have seen in many pieces of legislation that this Conservative government has put forward, safety of Canadians is always our ultimate, number one priority.

Bill C-310 does not mandate any enforcement agency to implement most of its provisions, many of which are unclear. As the National Airlines Council of Canada testified to the committee:

Because Bill C-310 employs Canada's court system as a dispute resolution mechanism, and because imprecise terms...are sprinkled through virtually every major provision of the Bill - no one...can determine with any certainty at this point how C-310 will actually be applied - and no one will know until a series of protracted and costly legal battles take place.

The National Airlines Council of Canada also highlighted the fact that Bill C-310's exclusive focus is the airline in question and not other organizations. As one can imagine, the airline industry itself has many aspects within the chain of travel.

Following is a direct quote from expert testimony that we heard at committee:

Federal agencies or entities such as NAV Canada, CATSA, [Canadian Air Transport Security Authority], CBSA, [Canada Border Services Agency], and Canada’s Airport Authorities are not contemplated and there is no consideration given to any foreign entity or legal framework, despite the complex and vital roles those organizations play in every trip Canadian passengers make.

By ignoring these obvious connections, C-310 fails in any meaningful way to address the problems it identifies--instead leaving it to airlines to deal with circumstances beyond their control, or face excessive penalties.

That certainly raised a lot of alarm bells with our members.

In addition to being held to account for the actions of other entities beyond the airlines' control, under Bill C-310 airlines are also taken to task and would be required to provide food and other compensation in the event of unfavourable weather conditions that simply delay flights.

We do not have control of the weather. I know members on the other side think we do have control of the weather because we are doing such a great job in keeping Canada's economy on track, but the reality is that as a government, we do not have control of the weather. It would be unfortunate to hold airlines to account for things that are simply beyond their control.

The committee also invited Mr. John McKenna, president and CEO and Tracy Medve, a member of the board of directors for the Air Transport Association of Canada. Like the National Airlines Council of Canada, the Air Transport Association of Canada also reiterated that the bill's high fines could put passenger safety at risk. We are not prepared to take that chance. They said that this would be a result of taking away the pilot's ability to decide whether to fly during dangerous weather conditions in order to avoid facing penalties.

They also stated that tarmac delays are usually the result of bad weather. Let us face it, in Canada we have excessive snowstorms from time to time and other weather occurrences that are simply beyond the control of Canadians and beyond the control of this government and the airlines themselves. These should not be blamed on airlines whose flights may be delayed because of the need for de-icing.

The Air Transport Association of Canada actually argued that compensation under the bill should not exceed the cost of the original airline ticket. To do so obviously would be bad business and could hurt the financial bottom line of the airlines. Ultimately, that cost would be passed on to consumers. It penalizes airlines but the cost would be borne by Canadians all across this country.

By imposing such harsh conditions on airlines, the bill neglects to take into account, and I quote again from the organization, that:

Some small airports don't even have a terminal building. If an airline flying to and from such a location takes a look at the financial risk that Bill C-310 engenders against a smaller return to flying the route, it is possible that the air carrier will not service these locations, or, alternatively, will provide service on a reduced basis.

There are many northern communities, many aboriginal settlements, many communities in Newfoundland and Labrador and other parts of the country that simply cannot afford to be isolated without airline travel on a regular basis. The government, as a result, cannot support legislation that would contribute to a reduction in the number of flights serving remote locations throughout the country, especially in our north.

Another key industry stakeholder present at the committee was Mr. Marco Prud'homme, president and general manager of the Quebec Air Transportation Association. I actually heard from him today on another matter. The association is a non-profit organization whose mission is to serve and work in developing Quebec's air transport industry.

Mr. Prud'homme's main concern with the bill was that it does not recognize the inherent complexities of the air industry and the particular issues for various regions in Quebec. For example, the bill's high fines would have a particularly great impact on smaller, regional carriers like Air Inuit, which primarily services the province's northern community. This would not be acceptable.

I would like to conclude by emphasizing this government's support for consumer protection legislation in the aviation industry especially, and our objective to create a balance in protecting passengers, the safety of Canadians, and ensuring a competitive industry.

Our Conservative government supports passengers and will continue to look at all possible practical ways to protect them while not punishing Canadian businesses or services to remote areas that rely on air transportation.

Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, after having heard that and the government's position, I can only suggest to you and to anybody who is watching that one can craft words in order to deprive consumers of their rights. One can shape arguments so as to prevent them from moving forward. Indeed one can fabricate facts to support those who are in a position of authority and power against those who would be served by the companies that are mandated to provide a service.

This bill is about protecting consumers against unscrupulous behaviour by service providers who care not a whit about them, and more importantly, it is about reflecting the will of this House.

Keep in mind, and you were here, Mr. Speaker, that on June 12, 2008, by a vote in this House of 249 to 0, there was unanimous acceptance of a motion by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, which mandated the government to come up with a list of rights for passengers not only on scheduled flights but on chartered flights. The House will recall as well that this concern had been raised as a result of some unscrupulous and rather dismissive behaviour by some operators that kept passengers on a plane, on a tarmac, for 12 hours.

We are trying to work with the airline companies to provide a service that would be acceptable, and indeed I say humane, for all those who pay for the privilege of flying from one place to another. All this business about the weather in Canada and the business model of all of these companies is mere hogwash, because the government members accepted, as part of that 249-to-0 vote, that the government would be obligated to come up with a bill of rights, not legislation.

We were all in the mood to work with the companies, and the government took until September of 2008 to come up with a flights rights bill. It was nothing more than a recounting of all the rights that a consumer has when he or she buys a ticket, and it referred to the websites of the appropriate companies. It was laughable. The only reason the government was not laughed out of this House is that it prorogued Parliament and went to an election.

Subsequent to that election, to his credit, the member for Elmwood—Transcona introduced Bill C-310 in February of 2009. He did it following what that motion indicated, that the will of this House was for the government to come up with a model. It was not that difficult. It was provided by legislation in the European Union and in the United States that said these are the rights a passenger acquires once he or she buys a plane ticket, elementary service considerations. We want those for our Canadian passengers on Canadian routes and on routes that go from Canada to elsewhere.

Every single consumer who embarks upon one of these flights in Europe already has the protection of legislation that has been operative in the European Union for 10 years, by the same companies that came before the committee. No, I am sorry, they did not come before the committee. They went first to the minister's office and said that he could not do this to them. It would destroy their business model. It would make them less competitive. It would increase their costs. They could not operate in Canada because they would not be able to offer service to those remote communities. All the members of his caucus who come from remote areas would never get another flight there again. They begged him to understand what this meant.

The government understands the word “fear” really quickly. We heard the parliamentary secretary say that the government was concerned about security. Notice that he did not say “service”. He said “security”, and then he said “safety”, because now the fault is all about those pilots, who might do something irrational like take off in the middle of a situation that clearly calls out danger. For example, in the last several weeks, a cloud of ash came out of volcanic eruptions in Iceland. Pilots said they could not travel, that they would not put passengers at risk.

The government is going to blame pilots, then an economic model and then consumers for wanting the service they paid for. The airline companies went to the minister's office and asked the government to fight back against this thing because they would come up with something. They said they would come up with some sort of accommodation in their tariff structure. They promised that, as long as this bill would not go forward.

Imagine a private company going to the Government of Canada, thanks to the minister, and saying it does not matter what Parliament comes up with and it does not matter that there is a piece of legislation that could be improved. It said nothing good could come out of this legislation or the process of debating, second reading, going to committee, garnering some amendments, trying to reach a compromise, making accommodation and trying to see the interests of business and how they are coincident with the interests of consumers. The companies came to the government and asked it not to do that, and the government said yes, aye aye, ready.

That being said, this bill still passed second reading and went to committee, where we were looking for amendments. Then the companies, especially Air Transat, said we could not do this. I have to mention names because the parliamentary secretary started to name some. They said we could not do any of this because it would be unfair to the companies. Imagine this, that the companies and the Government of Canada are now in bed together to destroy any chances of service the consumers might have. That is great.

We had an opportunity to present some amendments to address their issues. For example, notwithstanding section 1, the amount of compensation under the section would never exceed the total amount paid by the passenger for the flight in question. That means that, no matter what happened, the company would be off the hook beyond the actual cost of that flight segment.

We also wanted to propose amendments that would keep the companies safe, harmless, in the event that conditions were precipitated by circumstances beyond their control, such as decisions by the airport authority or by NAV Canada, or the weather. It is the same sort of things Europeans abide by. It is the same sort of thing these same companies abide by when they travel to Europe or the United States. But no, they could not have it in Canada because consumers in Canada who are using Canadian product do not deserve the same level of service as consumers in Europe and in the United States from those same Canadian companies.

Imagine the audacity and the insolence of those companies and the subordination of the Government of Canada to those kinds of presumptions. We were deprived of the opportunity to present amendments that would strengthen the bill, because the government accepted lock, stock and barrel the position of the companies that said this bill should not go forward because it was unacceptable to them. The companies said that we could not amend it or make it better and that the only people who could make it better were the companies.

They went on to promise that, if we killed this bill, they would do something. They have not done anything for a year and a half. The Government of Canada is aiding and abetting the total insolence of companies that hold consumers to ransom and then deny them the rights to the service that they should have and that they do enjoy everywhere else those companies operate except in Canada. Shame on the government for accepting such tripe as that which was enunciated a few moments ago by the parliamentary secretary on behalf of the companies and against Canadians.

Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, over the next 10 minutes, I will try to explain the position that the Bloc Québécois took in committee on Bill C-310.

I will take a moment to reread the motion before us today. The committee report reads as follows: “That, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, and, after some hearings on Bill C-310...the Committee recommend that the House do not proceed further with Bill C-310—” because it makes air carriers solely responsible.

This is important because our position has always been as clear as day. I think that airlines should be held responsible for what they do, but I will never agree that they should be held responsible for actions that may have been or may yet be taken by other air industry participants, such as airport authorities like ADM in Montreal or the Toronto or Ottawa airport authorities. They are responsible for, among other things, de-icing planes. I could say much more on the subject. CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, which conducts searches, could also be responsible. I would not want companies to have to pay for delays. NAV CANADA is responsible for flights, and its air traffic controllers make sure that planes are always safe. I would not want companies to have to pay if ever there was a problem and NAV CANADA grounded flights or if the Canada Border Services Agency, Customs and Excise, delayed a flight for safety or security reasons. I would not want airlines to be held responsible for that.

This has always been the Bloc Québécois' position. I agree that airlines should be held responsible for their mistakes and their actions, but I do not think that they should be responsible for the actions of other parties.

The Bloc Québécois submitted a proposal. The Bloc examined Bill C-310. The problem with private members' bills is that we do not have unlimited options. A government bill can be amended with the consent of the government, but the nature of a private member's bill cannot be changed. In this case, the bill introduced by the NDP member holds airlines accountable. I will read the amendment that we proposed for clause 4 in particular, but it was always the same amendment. The Bloc Québécois proposed adding the following to all the clauses:

If the air carrier required to provide services or compensation under subsection (1) is of the opinion that the flight cancellation results from a measure or decision taken by an airport authority, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), NAV CANADA or the Canada Border Services Agency, it may submit the matter to the Department of Transport, which shall determine the responsibility of the organization in question and its obligation to refund the air carrier the amounts it had to pay out under this subsection.

The goal was to make whoever was responsible pay, if it was not the airline that was responsible. Transport Canada would have to investigate and make whoever was responsible pay.

I think it was logical and useful, except that it was deemed to be out of order because the amendment concerned a private members' bill and would change the nature of it. Consequently, the House of Commons law clerks said that the amendment was out of order.

Once again, I was prepared to improve this bill, but I could not because the amendment was out of order. That is fine, that is how things work. That means that the bill from our NDP colleague could not do what I was hoping it could. I had the opportunity to tell him that it was not a good bill because it only held the airlines responsible.

I am not the only one. I heard the Liberal member and I will probably hear our NDP colleague, but we heard from more than just the airlines in committee. The Canadian Bar Association offered its conclusion about Bill C-310.

The CBA Section does not believe that Bill C-310 is required in the public interest. Passengers have established avenues for redress that appear to be functioning well. Bill C-310 imposes a universal standard of conduct that cannot necessarily be met – at all or without costs that may not be appropriate for the benefit obtained. The Bill's scheme of compensation and penalties is arbitrary to the point of unfairness.

The Canadian Bar Association came to tell us that this bill is unfair and I agree. It is unfair to the airlines that would have to pay for damages they did not cause.

My colleague touched on what happened in the Cubana case. Planes stayed on the tarmac for more than 12 hours. During the holidays, the Cubana company had to divert planes from Montreal because of the weather. There were Quebeckers on board those flights.

In Ottawa, they were not allowed to deplane and go into the airport. They stayed for 12 hours without food, water or toilets until a passenger called the police to say that it made no sense to be held like prisoners in a plane on the tarmac in Ottawa. They managed to resolve the situation. The airline had had to reroute the plane to Ottawa because of the weather. Again, they were exempt because of the weather.

I wrote to the Ottawa Airport Authority, Cubana and Transport Canada. Two years later, I still do not know who is responsible. At first, the Ottawa airport said that Cubana had not paid its fees and that was why the airport did not open its doors to let the passengers off the plane. Cubana told us that it did pay its fees. Was the person in charge of collecting the fees at the Ottawa airport away on vacation? Probably. Someone made a mistake, but it seems it was not necessarily the airline. It was exempt because of the weather.

We cannot solve everything with one bill. That is what our NDP colleague hoped to do. Someone is trying to play politics with a bill that would penalize airlines for things that are not their fault in many cases. The Canadian Bar Association said as much. We have analyzed the situation. After what happened with Cubana, the government asked that all Canadian airlines at least be able to regulate this.

That is when the famous flight rights Canada program came into being, referring to the rights we have when we buy a plane ticket. During the recent events in Europe, Canadian airlines were able to accommodate their passengers, at least.

I have been trying to follow what is being said in the media to see if any official complaints have been filed. I have contacted some airlines. They seem to have been able to accommodate people. They did not punish people who were unable to fly to Europe because of the volcano. They tried to transfer flights and reservations. These accommodations are included in passenger flight rights. They are included in the plane ticket.

These companies agreed to do so at the request of the government. It is a step in the right direction. Obviously, if there ever were a public outcry about the behaviour of airline companies, I am convinced that we would amend the law. When the Canadian Bar Association says that there is no need to amend the law, we must listen.

In Quebec, the consumer protection act gives passengers many rights with respect to reimbursement and other things.

I have always had the same focus: I want justice to be served. If the airline company is responsible for damage suffered by a passenger, I want the latter to be compensated. However, it if is not responsible, it should not be blamed. The financial situation of airline companies is fragile. Two companies have shut down in the past six months.

Can we impose an additional burden on the airline industry when the Canadian Bar Association has said it is not necessary? It is simply being done for political gain. In addition, it is good politics to offer this up against an industry that has shown interest by voluntarily participating in the government's suggestion of passenger rights.

Once again, we will support—