House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rail.

Topics

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Peace River, I will let him know that the top of the hour will bring this particular debate on this motion to an end.

The hon. member for Peace River.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to be in this House this evening. I am proud to be here defending my constituents with regard to this legislation that we have before the House today.

I believe it is important for us as Canadians, including those who might be watching this tonight and for some in the opposition, to talk about Canada's air carrier industry. There is a larger issue at stake here, one that needs to be fully explored if we are going to understand the state of affairs we find ourselves in today.

As all of us in this House know, Canada's land mass is the second largest in the world. It spans six time zones. That factor alone underscores the importance of the aviation sector.

Our aviation sector links us together as a nation, connecting us from coast to coast to coast and beyond to the rest of the world. We, as members of Parliament, with constituencies across this country know it very well.

Our aviation sector not only helps to bring us to together as Canadians but contributes enormously to our economy as well. Shippers use air services to move time critical and other goods across this country and around the world, and of course people use air services to connect and to make renewed relations with those people they meet for business, family or other reasons, including, especially in the case of the constituents in my riding, medical treatment.

The prosperity of the air carrier industry directly reflects how well the economy is performing. When the economy is doing well, air carrier services do well, but when the economy is faltering, there is a corresponding drop in passenger and cargo traffic. This reflects the relatively discretionary nature of travel.

When times are tough, much air travel either gets cut back or does not happen at all. Indeed, the volume of air cargo is often cited as a reliable barometer of how well the economy is doing. The air carrier industry is generally a low margin, high fixed cost industry.

The International Air Transport Association, IATA, is an international trade body representing some 230 international air carriers. They have estimated that for 2012, the industry's profit margin would be a mere 0.8%—less than 1%—owing to the large reduction in their capacity as well as the increases in fuel prices. In short, low margins are characteristic of the industry.

As I indicated, the vitality of the aviation sector is largely derived from the health of the economy. Statistics Canada recently reported that Canada's economy grew at an annual rate of 1.8% in the fourth quarter of 2011. Historically, when economic growth is below 2%, the air carrier industry overall loses money, particularly the large carriers like Air Canada.

Air Canada is Canada's largest air carrier, and together with its partners that operate in its regional services, Air Canada accounts for about half of the domestic capacity. Air Canada also provides about one-third of the transporter and other international capacity. These are the largest volumes of capacity provided by any air cargo to, from or within Canada. They represent essential connectivity, both within the country and with the rest of the world.

For a country such as ours, which is very large and highly dependent on trade, the importance of this connectivity cannot be understated. Given the large capacity that Air Canada provides our country, any work stoppage at the airline as the result of a strike or lockout would have serious impacts for Canada's economic future, as well as for the travelling public.

On average, Air Canada transports over 100,000 people a day at this time of the year. Thus, each day of a work stoppage would represent an important disruption for individual Canadians who might be stranded, or who had to change their plans or assume important additional cost to get to their destinations and this would be compounded over time.

We have heard it said in the House many times that during this March break period that over one million Canadians are expected to travel with Air Canada. This is a huge number of hard-working Canadians who will be significantly impacted by any work stoppage at Air Canada. Under these circumstances, at the present time this is not what the economy needs and it is certainly not what the travelling public needs.

There would be an important spillover effect for many Canadian businesses that rely on air traffic, as well as the many companies that provide services on behalf of Air Canada. For example, food suppliers, partner airlines, airports, Nav Canada and other organizations rely heavily on Air Canada in order to maintain their own operations and, thus, a lengthy disruption in Air Canada's operations would mean lost revenues for these entities.

Along with passengers, a disruption of Air Canada's service would have an important impact on the supply chains and, thus, on Canadian manufacturers and retailers. This is because there is simply no substitution for air transportation when it comes to the movement of critical time-sensitive goods. In our just-in-time world when suppliers can ill afford an unnecessarily tie-up of capital in inventory, the efficient movement of air cargo is vital to a trading nation like Canada.

As I hope everyone in the House begins to realize, Air Canada is of such a scale and scope that it is a major economic player in Canada. In 2011 Air Canada spent nearly $2 billion on wages, salaries and benefits for its employees, just over $1 billion on airport and navigation fees and $681 million on aircraft maintenance. The vast majority of these expenditures by this company, particularly those related to wages, salaries and benefits, have third party impacts for all Canadian businesses.

I would emphasize that the movement of passengers and cargo is essential to many industries that make up the Canadian economy. In many cases, they are inextricably linked. Tourism, for example, would be difficult to sustain without the capacity to bring in travellers by air. Similarly, the ability to deliver high-value and time-sensitive goods, such as seafood, Canadian diamonds or pharmaceuticals, is almost exclusively dependent on the ability to transport these goods by air.

Air Canada plays an important role in providing Canada's capacity to move people and goods. Any labour action that would affect the company's operational safety and efficiency could negatively affect our nation's livelihood. We are proud of the fact, thanks to good stewardship, that Canada's economy has been resilient despite the global economic crisis. However, we are also aware of recent financial turmoil beyond Canada's borders which could threaten the strength of Canada's recovery overall. As such, this is not time to further weaken our recovery, with very real impacts for Canadians families by way of a work stoppage at Air Canada.

We will not sit by and let the airline shut itself down. That is why the Minister of Labour has introduced Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations. These actions are essential to keep the airline flying. The government's concern is the broader Canadian public and we think that the public overwhelmingly expects this government and members of Parliament to act.

I come from a rural constituency, one that is served well by Air Canada. If a strike were to occur, the capacity of our local airport would drop significantly. It is absolutely essential that communities like mine have connection through air travel, not only for the local economy, not only for the travelling public, not only for those leaving on vacation, but it is also important for us to recognize many communities that are in rural and remote parts of our country need the airlines to provide attention for medical services.

Many people in my constituency will travel to larger centres for medical treatment and thus any disruption within the airline service, specifically for Air Canada or its regional partners, would have a significantly negative impact on those people who would be travelling for those reasons.

For this reason, as well as the many reasons that I have outlined in this speech, I am very supportive of my colleague, the Minister of Labour's important efforts to facilitate a solution to this situation. I believe we as members of Parliament are called to the House to undertake a number of things, but first and foremost in our minds should always be the defence of our constituents.

In the House we have heard tonight, and many times, people articulate very clearly their own reasons they believe that air service is essential during this March break for the people who live in their constituencies. For those reasons, I am proud to be here to defend air service for my constituency and for those people who travel.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, does the member opposite not think there is a bit of inconsistency with his government getting involved in the private sector with a company and a union that have not even concluded negotiations yet? Conservatives are introducing legislation to legislate them back to work. Does he not think there is a bit of irony there, let alone a ham-handed effect on the negotiation process?

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we have fair and balanced legislation, one that does not take sides, one that protects the rights of both the employers and employees but also respects the needs of the employer.

The member did not mention what I believe is the most important person at the table, and that is the general Canadian population. When I consider some of the impacts that would be precipitated by a long strike or one that would take place during March break, our economy would be affected, the travelling public would be affected and those people seeking medical assistance would be affected by a work stoppage at Air Canada.

The inability to travel would have a significant impact on the Canadian population. I was sent here for one reason and I will continue to defend that until I leave this place, and that is to defend my constituents and Canadians from coast to coast.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 8 p. m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the motion now before the House.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Government Business No. 10
Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #158

Air Service Operations Legislation
Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 8:45 p.m.

Halton
Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Minister of Labour

moved that Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations, be read the second time and referred to a committee of the whole.

Mr. Speaker, the labour disputes between Air Canada and the two unions, the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, IAMAW, have continued for the past year. They have moved through the many stages of collective bargaining, from direct negotiations to requesting and receiving support from both myself and the labour program. This includes the appointment of conciliators and mediators at various stages.

Just last month, I was very happy to hear that Air Canada had successfully ratified collective agreements with three of its unions, which represented flight dispatchers, in-flight service and flight operations crew scheduling personnel.

Air Canada and the IAMAW bargaining unit had also reached a tentative agreement, and it seemed to be one that was strong.

At the time the union's negotiators said that the deal provided “wage and premium increases, improved benefits and secures a defined benefit pension fund for the members”.

The conciliator commissioner whom I appointed said, “The tentative agreement is reasonable and fair”, and, “Under the full circumstances, I consider that a reasonable agreement had been reached”.

However, the union membership did not agree, and on February 22, the union announced that the deal was rejected by 65.6% of its members, and they also voted 78% in favour of strike action. Talks between the IAMAW and Air Canada broke down on March 5. On March 6, the union gave notice that on March 12, it intended to exercise its legal right to strike.

For the pilots, things had seemed promising for Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association. In fact, in April 2011, through direct negotiations, not utilizing the services of Labour Canada, a tentative agreement was reached. While it was rejected, negotiations did not recommence until November 2011.

As they moved through the process, I met with the parties twice in February and found that they were committed to working together to reach an agreement that was in the best interests of the airline, the employees and Canadians.

At those meetings, specifically on February 6, it was suggested, having noted how far apart the parties were and how little time was left, that the parties agree to interest-based arbitration to bring the matter to a close.

While Air Canada accepted the process, the pilots rejected the solution outright. As a result, to further facilitate their efforts, I offered them a special six-month extended mediation process with two co-mediators appointed to the file. This time they both accepted my offer and began meetings with their mediators. However, things did not progress--

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. I will just ask all hon. colleagues who need to carry on conversations to do so outside the chamber. The Minister of Labour has the floor and some members have indicated they are having trouble hearing the minister. Could members keep the noise down. Members are free to use either of the two lobbies conveniently located on either side of the chamber in order that the Minister of Labour can be heard.