House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was air.

Topics

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's responses to 68 petitions.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to present to this House, in both official languages, a document from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that indicates that at the end of fiscal 2009-10, CFIA inspection staff has increased by a net total of 538 members since this government was formed in 2006. That is an 11% increase.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

May 26th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology regarding the main estimates for 2010-11.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eleventh report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

In accordance with its order of reference of Wednesday, March 3, 2010, the committee has considered Vote 5--House of Commons, under Parliament, and Vote 15--Chief Electoral Officer, under Privy Council, in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011, less the amount voted in interim supply, and reports the same.

International Trade
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present today, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on International Trade in relation to the Canada-United States agreement on government procurement.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved that Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts, be read the first time.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, as per the notice of motion that you have just read, which was presented to the House on April 19, I move, seconded by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer, that the first report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages be concurred in.

This short report contains a motion moved by our colleague, the member for Rivière-du-Nord. It is asking the government, specifically the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to introduce a bill regarding the application of the Official Languages Act to Air Canada, its subsidiaries and partners so that the committee may study the bill this spring. That is the essence of this report. The committee felt that this matter was urgent enough to encourage the government to introduce such a bill this spring so that it can be studied in committee.

This is very timely. My colleagues all know that yesterday the official languages commissioner, an officer of Parliament, tabled his fourth report, which at times is quite critical of the government. The report refers to the laissez-faire approach by the Treasury Board Secretariat, which has a key role in the government’s official languages policy. The Treasury Board Secretariat is supposed to play a leadership role for the government when it comes to language policy but seems to have completely abandoned the job. Among other things, the report also mentioned the difficulties experienced by certain official language minority community organizations.

But I want to return to last year’s report, which referred in particular to Air Canada and recommended that the government take immediate action to introduce an appropriate bill.

A bit of the historical background might help people understand why the situation is so urgent.

Air Canada used to be a crown corporation, but in 1988 it was privatized. At the time, its linguistic obligations were maintained by Parliament, which even specified a little later, in 2000, that these obligations applied as well to Air Canada subsidiaries and any airlines it acquired.

In 2003, Air Canada was forced to seek protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and underwent a restructuring process. We all know how that turned out. The restructuring resulted in a regulatory vacuum regarding Air Canada’s linguistic obligations because ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. took over 75% ownership of the company. In addition, some of its former subsidiaries, specifically Air Canada Jazz and Aeroplan, became limited partnerships, responsible henceforth to ACE and not Air Canada. As a result, Air Canada Jazz, for example, could say it was not subject to the Official Languages Act.

Three times Canadian governments tried to make legislative changes spelling out the linguistic obligations of Air Canada and other subsidiaries of ACE, but every time the bills died on the order paper.

The first bill was introduced in 2005 by then minister Jean Lapierre. It died on the order paper. In 2006, another bill was introduced under the new government by the minister who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Then another bill was tabled in 2007, so far as I remember. Three attempts were made, therefore, to clarify the situation. None were successful, though, all of them dying on the order paper.

In 2007, the situation became even more complicated because ACE, the umbrella company, liquidated Air Canada Jazz and Aeroplan shares. As I mentioned, the two former subsidiaries are now held independently by two separate income trusts. Air Canada Jazz and Aeroplan are therefore no longer either Air Canada subsidiaries or even companies whose shares are held by the majority shareholder in Air Canada. The situation has therefore become even more complicated and the regulatory vacuum has worsened. That is why it is so urgent to take quick action.

As I mentioned, the Commissioner of Official Languages commented on this last year in his report—I think an entire chapter was devoted to it—and specifically recommended that the government bring forward new legislation to clarify this situation and ensure that Air Canada, its subsidiaries and partners—that is, any companies and individuals with whom it may contract to provide services—must meet all linguistic obligations that would normally apply.

People have often wondered if Air Canada should continue to be subject to these obligations.

On April 13 when representatives of Air Canada came before committee they hinted at that matter. One of the representatives had been with Air Canada since 1989 and therefore had a very complete history of the corporation. She was asked if back then Air Canada had in any way, shape or form expressed any reservations that the linguistic obligations of serving the Canadian travelling public in both English and French would apply to it at the moment it became a privatized corporation. She clearly responded that was not the case.

At the time of privatization it was quite clear that Air Canada would continue to have the responsibility of offering service in both English and French to the Canadian travelling public and travellers coming to Canada from abroad. Air Canada accepted that because it goes willy-nilly with a corporation that would carry the name Air Canada.

My colleague from Rivière-du-Nord presented this motion which was supported by all parties. I would hope that all parties would support the adoption of this report, because it is important that Parliament send a clear signal of its will to see the government introduce legislation. It is also important to send a clear signal to Air Canada that we are serious about its obligations that flow from as far back as 1988, the time of privatization, and before.

I would like to quickly address another subject. The Commissioner of Official Languages promised to help the committee improve the bill if necessary. I also asked the minister responsible if he could argue in favour of sending it to committee before second reading. This would give the committee some latitude and capacity for action that it would not otherwise have.

The Commissioner of Official Languages and the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, when he appeared before the committee, recognized that overall, the committee works very well and is responsible. I therefore urge the government to seriously think about sending us this bill before second reading, so that we may examine it critically and constructively.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for introducing this motion in the House. That motion had previously been proposed by the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord. The House has been debating this issue for a long time, in fact since 2005, as the hon. member pointed out.

Does the member find that the Conservative government is sitting on this bill and is not doing anything because bilingualism is not important to it? Is that the problem, or is it because this bill could divide Canadians?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, two years ago, I would have answered that the Conservative government seemed as quick as the previous Liberal government to act, considering that something needs to be done. However, for the past two years we have been hoping for a bill that is not coming. Therefore, it is important that the committee make a decision. And I hope that the House will also do so. If that is the will of this House, then it should ask the government to introduce a bill. We hope that the government will quickly comply with that wish, so that we can deal with this issue, because it is long overdue.

I want to thank my colleagues from all the parties, particularly the member for Rivière-du-Nord and the member for Acadie—Bathurst, who both sit on the committee, and also other members for their critical but constructive support regarding this issue. It is a very important matter, because every year Air Canada is the target of the largest number of complaints to the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for improving my motion, since it made it to the House of Commons.

Does my colleague believe that the lack of legislation governing bilingualism at Air Canada poses a risk? For example, passengers on an aircraft could face some danger and have to react quickly. If the staff does not speak both official languages, this could result in a chaotic situation.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, as far as I know, any airline in Canada is required to provide safety instructions in both languages, whether it is Air Canada, Porter or any other company. All are required to do that. That said, I agree with the hon. member that any business that uses the word “Canada” in its name, and particularly Air Canada, should meet its linguistic obligations. That was the case when Air Canada was privatized. This requirement reflects the Canadian linguistic duality.

Therefore, it is perfectly normal that the legal vacuum that has existed since Air Canada's internal restructuring be corrected. We must pass legislation to monitor ACE Inc. and its subsidiaries, and also the partners of these subsidiaries that provide services to the travelling public, and we must also ensure that the latter are well aware of their legal obligation to provide their services in English and in French.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is important to understand that, in an emergency situation, the personnel must be bilingual. For example, VIA Rail experienced an emergency situation while there was a lack of French language personnel. It is French-speaking passengers who took charge during that emergency. It is the same thing with air transportation. If an emergency occurs during a flight and the staff only speaks English, then the passengers who only speak French will have a problem.

When an emergency occurs, it is really critical that the personnel on board be bilingual. I wonder if the hon. member could elaborate on this.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that Air Canada—just like VIA Rail, which has the same obligation—must ensure, first and foremost, that its passengers are taken to destination safely. This implies the ability to communicate with passengers, with its clients, not only through videos, as is sometimes the case, but in person if an unforeseen situation occurs. This means that there must be staff members on board who speak English and French.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues and am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss the Standing Committee on Official Languages’ first report on the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

First of all, we should understand how important Air Canada is. Including Jazz, it is a major economic catalyst that facilitates Canada’s economic growth and its trade objectives. Air Canada has 28,000 employees and more than 23,000 retirees and is the largest airline in Canada. It has more than a 50% share of the domestic market and provides about a third of our international flight capacity. Its economic impact was estimated in 2009 at more than $6 billion in direct contributions and more than $20 billion in indirect spin-offs.

When Air Canada was a crown corporation, it was subject to the Official Languages Act. In particular, it had to serve the public in both official languages and ensure the right of employees to work in the official language of their choice. When Air Canada was privatized in 1988-89, its official language obligations were renewed under the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

Other carriers also provide bilingual service on the basis of customer demand and market considerations. So far though, Air Canada is the only carrier subject to the Official Languages Act. All airlines, of course, must provide safety and security information in both official languages, as my Liberal colleague mentioned.

In 2000, the Air Canada Public Participation Act was amended to ensure that Jazz, as an Air Canada subsidiary at the time, served the public in both official languages. Air Canada sought protection under the Bankruptcy Act in 2003-04 and was subsequently restructured, but the Air Canada Public Participation Act continues to apply, including the obligation to provide bilingual service.

Similarly, any future subsidiary of Air Canada providing airline services will be bound by its official language obligations under the Air Canada Public Participation Act, as it currently stands. However, as a result of organizational restructuring, Air Canada’s official language obligations do not apply to entities that are no longer part of it, such as the former Air Canada Technical Services, now known as Aveos Fleet Performance Incorporated. In addition, the Air Canada Public Participation Act does not apply to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc., which has been Air Canada’s parent corporation since restructuring.

Although the number of complaints is quite low in comparison with total passenger numbers, the Commissioner of Official Languages noted that Air Canada still has some challenges to meet in fulfilling its official language obligations.

As the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities said when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages in April, we must consider introducing a new bill. Although many years have passed since Air Canada became a crown corporation, and a lot of things have happened since then, Canadians still feel that Air Canada's official language obligations are important. However, before moving forward, we must ensure that we take appropriate measures and carefully examine the situation.

Even though Canada's economy has been showing solid signs of recovery, our industries are still struggling. The air industry has to deal with events that are out of its control, such as the ongoing closures of airspace over the European Union as a result of volcanic activity.

I think that we need to better understand the challenges the company faces in meeting its official language obligations.

After Air Canada representatives testified before the committee, we learned that Air Canada has improved its official language performance by offering comprehensive training sessions and by advertising to attract other bilingual candidates. Air Canada's testimony showed that it is committed to meeting its official language obligations under the Official Languages Act, in light of the challenges and pressures that I have mentioned.

I was also happy to learn that the Commissioner of Official Languages will conduct a detailed audit of Air Canada and its obligation to provide bilingual services to the public. I look forward to seeing the recommendations, which will no doubt be very instructive, for how Air Canada can limit the number of complaints in the future.

The member for Acadie—Bathurst shared some stories about the quality of services offered in French by Jazz.

Because Jazz is a private company under contract with Air Canada, Air Canada, under section 25 of the Official Languages Act, has the duty to ensure that services made available to the public by another organization on its behalf are provided in both official languages. However, since Jazz is not a federal institution under the Official Languages Act, the Official Languages Commissioner cannot intervene directly with Jazz but can with Air Canada, which is responsible for meeting official language requirements. In this context, the commissioner has been asked to obtain more information about the types of complaints received about Jazz.

It is important that Air Canada continue to fulfill its obligations under the Air Canada Public Participation Act and the Official Languages Act. That said, the best way to maintain and ensure progress on official language rights in the airline industry is to have a healthy, viable industry.

I would like to reaffirm our government's firm commitment to promoting and protecting official language rights in Canada. As was said in the throne speech, Canada's two official languages are an integral part of our history and position us uniquely in the world. Using examples from the road map to Canada's linguistic duality, the throne speech indicated that our government will continue to take measures that will further strengthen Canada's francophone identity. These statements are a strong testimony to our government's commitment to official languages in Canada.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech given by the hon. member for Saint Boniface. Her speech was very black and white. I am not sure how well she understands the issue, even though she is on the committee.

It always amazes me. The throne speech talked about bilingualism, but we still need a bill to ensure we have bilingual Supreme Court justices. This does not seem consistent with what the hon. member was saying.

The complaints have been rather weak, but even one complaint is one too many. As she said earlier, all safety instructions must be given in both English and French. However, in the event of an emergency, there is no time to play the recording that gives the safety instructions. The personnel on board must be bilingual in order to deal with an emergency.

Bills requiring that employees on all Air Canada flights be bilingual were introduced in 2005, 2006 and 2007. I think such a measure must be implemented immediately. Those people must be bilingual. We should not need a bill for this. The member said that all safety instructions should be bilingual. In that case, the staff should be bilingual too.