Mr. Speaker, I am going to speak in favour of Bill C-38, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act, but I would like to reiterate the points I made when I last spoke to the bill on October 31.
This change is long overdue. It finally puts Air Canada on a level playing field with other Canadian carriers with respect to the sale of its shares. For the first time in Canadian history a Canadian citizen can buy, sell or trade as many Air Canada shares as he or she wants, just as if they were shares of any other private sector Canadian company.
Bill C-38 represents a marked departure from traditional thinking of Liberal governments. Air Canada was created by an act of parliament in 1937 as Trans-Canada Airlines. Ever since that time it has been the subject of much discussion in the House. For the first 40 years of the company's existence it was seen as an agent of the crown and as the federal government's principal policy instrument in the field of aviation. That changed with the passage of the original Air Canada Act in 1977. For the first time Air Canada was required to borrow in its own name and was declared to no longer be an agent of the crown. Even so, it remained a crown corporation and cabinet retained the power to appoint its directors.
Then in 1987 the Progressive Conservative government passed the National Transportation Act. This fundamentally changed the rules of the game and attempted to introduce competition rather than regulation as the primary arbiter within Canada's domestic airline industry. Within a year the Progressive Conservatives had correctly realized that in a competitive situation the government had no business owning one of the competitors, so the parliament of the day quickly passed the Air Canada Public Participation Act essentially privatizing Air Canada and turning it from a crown corporation into a regular company whose operations were subject to the Canada Business Corporations Act.
Section 6(1)(a) of the Air Canada Public Participation Act limited to 10% the number of shares that could be owned by a single shareholder. This was presumably done in the interests of ensuring that Air Canada stocks would be held broadly by as many Canadians as possible. The clause also put Air Canada on a level playing field with its principal domestic competitor, Canadian Airlines International. Let us not forget that the Air Canada Public Participation Act was first read in the House on May 19, 1988, nearly six months after the January 1, 1988 birth of Canadian Airlines International from the fusion into a single entity of all of Air Canada's pre-1980 domestic competitors: Pacific Western Airlines, Transair, Nordair, Québecair, Eastern Provincial Airways and Canadian Pacific Airlines.
In 1988 Canadian Airlines' parent company was governed by Alberta's Pacific Western Airlines Act which set a 4% limit on the number of shares any one group could control. The 10% share limit set in the original Air Canada Public Participation Act was actually a more liberal limit than the 4% set in the act governing Canadian Airlines. Then with the takeover of Canadian Airlines by Air Canada in 2000, Bill C-26 raised to 15% the number of shares that could be held in Air Canada.
Now, some 64 years after parliament first created Air Canada, we are finally discussing whether to give it some of the same rights as any other private sector company. If we were to believe the government members, Bill C-38 would put Air Canada on a level playing field. By striking down section 6(1)(a) of the Air Canada Public Participation Act, Bill C-38 ostensibly does put Air Canada on that level playing field with other carriers with respect to the way its shares can be bought, sold and traded by Canadian citizens. On that basis alone quite frankly, it should be supported. As a party that believes in free market and free choice we support that.
At the same time it must be said that Bill C-38 does little to address Air Canada's short term financial concerns that have led to thousands of layoffs at Air Canada. This is because: one, Air Canada does not obtain money when its shares are acquired by a new buyer unless Air Canada is the seller; two, no single shareholder is currently restricted by the present 15% limit, in that no current shareholder owns 15% and has publicly expressed a desire to purchase more but cannot as a result of the current restrictions; and three, if one were not inclined to buy Air Canada stock before this legislation, the fact that one can buy more of it does not work as an incentive.
In fact there are only two ways that Bill C-38 would financially benefit Air Canada. One would be if some of the debt which the Caisse de dépôt et placement holds were to be converted into shares. The caisse currently owns roughly 9% of Air Canada's stock. Converting its debt into shares would give the Caisse roughly 18%. This move, based on the $2.50 price per share at the date of the transport minister's announcement of his intention to introduce this legislation, would allow the company to convert roughly $17.789 million worth of caisse debt into 9% of Air Canada's voting shares.
The second way it could help Air Canada is if an individual or group were to take control of Air Canada with a clear plan to restructure the company.
It has been alleged that this legislation is legislation on behalf of the transport minister, urged by a whole bunch of interests as a “get Robert Milton” piece of legislation. It may very well be but time will tell. Frankly that is not any of the government's business but it puts it on a level playing field. If that leads to broader restructuring of Air Canada and new management, and looks after the broader interests of the company, the people who work there and Canadian consumers, that is a choice and decision for the board of directors of the company.
When we really look at it, the bill basically is political posturing. It lets the government claim to be addressing Air Canada's concerns while ignoring the company's pleas for bigger and bolder policy moves such as the implementation of air marshals or putting the issue of airline industry restructuring before the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations for immediate consideration and redeliberations.
Bill C-38 requires us to examine specifically the Air Canada Public Participation Act, and while I must report that I am in favour of striking down section 6(1)(a) of the act which this legislation does, we should not stop there. There is more to be done. We should ask ourselves a basic philosophical question. As we enter the third millennium, do we believe that the government should continue to regulate the internal affairs of a publicly traded corporation whose shares it no longer owns? Why for example should sections 6(1)(d) and (e) of the Air Canada Public Participation Act require Air Canada by law to maintain facilities and/or offices in certain cities? Surely these decisions are more properly the responsibility of the company's shareholders and board of directors.
Why for example should section 10 of the Air Canada Public Participation Act make the Official Languages Act applicable only to Air Canada while no other Canadian airline is similarly bound? If we really believe that the Official Languages Act should apply to Canada's airline industry, to place it only against Air Canada and not against other carriers, against in the sense that it is a regulation and a requirement that they meet its standards, then it hardly seems fair to hold Air Canada to a higher standard than the former Toronto based Canada 3000, Calgary based WestJet and Montreal based Air Transat.
Why should sections 6(1)(b) and (c) of the Air Canada Public Participation Act restrict foreign share ownership in Air Canada when a more equitable regime would see similar limits placed on all Canadian carriers? I believe that sections 6(1)(b) and (c) of the Air Canada Public Participation Act are wholly unnecessary. There already is a prohibition against foreigners owning more than 25% of a Canadian air carrier in the Canada Transportation Act. Section 55 of that act defines a Canadian carrier as:
--a corporation or other entity that is incorporated or formed under the laws of laws of Canada or a province, that is controlled in fact by Canadians and of which at least seventy-five per cent, or such lesser percentage as the Governor in Council may by regulation specify, of the voting interests are owned and controlled by Canadians.
Section 56.3 of the act gives the Canadian Transportation Agency the power to review all mergers and acquisitions in the airline industry and determine whether such activities would affect the airline's status as Canadian under law. Section 6(1)(a)(i) requires a carrier to be Canadian in order to have a licence to operate domestic services. Section 69 only allows two types of carriers to operate international air services: Canadian air carriers under the definitions I have just outlined; and non-Canadian carriers which have been designated by a foreign government or an agent of a foreign government to operate an air service under the terms of an agreement or arrangement between that government and the Government of Canada.
Under the Canada Transportation Act, if WestJet, formerly Canada 3000, or Air Transat were to allow foreigners to acquire more than 25% of their voting shares, they would no longer be Canadian. As such they would lose their ability to serve domestic routes within Canada and international routes between Canada and any other country, which is to say they would lose their value to any potential buyer.
Given that restrictions against foreign ownership are already present in the Canada Transportation Act, sections 6(1)(b) and (c) of the Air Canada Public Participation Act are wholly unnecessary. As well, it is important to note that if we do have a debate finally in this place, as some government members have said should happen, that the foreign share restriction on carriers, specifically Air Canada, should be raised from 25% to 49%, then it makes total sense to scrap that provision in the Air Canada Public Participation Act and leave it in the Canada Transportation Act so that when we do have that debate, the new restriction which would be lifted would apply to all carriers evenly. We would not have to amend two pieces of legislation in order to get the same thing done which would require more time of the transport committee, more bureaucracy and politicians wasting more time standing around talking about things they already agree on.
This is just simple streamlining and making things easier to do.
Even if there were no prohibition in the Canada Transportation Act on the 25% foreign shareholder limit, Air Canada's board of directors would undoubtedly take actions to ensure that control of the firm remained in Canadian hands because the convention on international civil aviation, more commonly referred to as the Chicago convention, sets out the basis of international commercial aviation.
Internationally scheduled commercial air traffic is then made possible only by bilateral agreements in which governments typically exchange air rights for the benefit of their respective carriers. Typically, on any international route, each country can designate a national carrier. Thus Air Canada and Air France fly between Montreal and Paris, Air Canada and Korean Air Lines fly between Vancouver and Seoul and Air Canada and Cubana Airlines fly between Canada and Cuba.
Only in the most exceptional cases do we find an airline flying between two cities when neither is in the airline's home country. In virtually every case where a foreign airline flies between two foreign destinations, it is only as an extension of a flight that started in the home base of the airline. Air Canada flies between Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, but only as part of a Toronto-Sao Paulo-Buenos Aires service and only with the approval of the governments of Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
Even without the safeguards in the Canadian Transportation Act, if Americans or anybody of any other nationality were to acquire a majority of Air Canada's voting stock, foreign governments might well refuse to recognize Air Canada as a Canadian company and thereby deny it the ability to continue serving routes to those countries. Thus, if United Airlines and Lufthansa were to buy 51% of Air Canada's voting stock, the British, French and Chinese governments would have the right to deny Air Canada permission to fly to London, Paris and Shanghai.
Without the ability to serve international routes, Air Canada, as an airline, would cease to have value to its investors. For this reason alone, its board of directors would never allow foreigners to own a majority of stock of Air Canada.
Anyone doubting this needs only to look at the arrangement that American Airlines had with Canadian airlines in 1999. It flew passengers from the United States to Vancouver and then from Vancouver on jets of Canadian Airlines to Asia. The reason for this was that the American Airlines had only been granted routes to Japan from the United States and needed access to Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines. The Asian services of Canadian Airlines were based on bilateral agreements between Canada and the Asian countries concerned. Had American Airlines taken control of Canadian Airlines, it would quite literally have killed the goose that laid the golden egg.
As I said earlier, I am in agreement with repealing section 6(1)(a) of the Air Canada Public Participation Act. For this reason I and the official opposition will be supporting Bill C-38. At the same time, having carefully examined the Air Canada Public Participation Act, I see no reason why we cannot just eliminate the entire act itself. It has at least four irrelevant clauses.
Section 4 deals with the transfer of shares to the Minister of Transport. Air Canada tells me that these shares have since been sold. Section 5 deals with continuance. Presumably this has been achieved in the 12 years since the act was passed. Section 11 deals with the continued appointment of the Air Canada directors past the privatization date. Presumably the terms of these directors have long since expired. Section 14 repeals the Air Canada Act. This clause has also been spent.
The act also discriminates against Air Canada in four specific areas.
Subsection 6(1)(a) limits share ownership of an individual or group to 15%.
Subsections 6(1)(d) and (e) make Air Canada maintain facilities and/or offices in defined cities. They make them maintain offices in Montreal, Mississauga and Winnipeg. We talk in the House all the time about getting out of the face of business, letting people sink or swim on their own merit, and getting out of the business of corporate welfare, mandating useless bureaucracy that is none of the government's business. This is a clear example of that.
I raised an amendment at the committee stage to have this part of the act struck down and it was voted down without any logic. It would be unheard of for the United States to mandate that Southwest Airlines, or United Airlines or American Airlines maintain facilities in Chicago, or Dover or Portland, Maine. The idea of telling a private sector company that it has to have a maintenance facility in a certain city is absurd. It is none of the government's business.
Specifically, subsections 6(1)(b) and (c) of the act restrict foreign share ownership in Air Canada, as I mentioned. Section 10 makes the Official Languages Act applicable only to Air Canada. As a Canadian who happens to believe in the principle of official bilingualism, who was taught in a French immersion class, whose mother taught French in this country, whose sister is a teacher of French immersion, in British Columbia no less, it seems bizarre to me that if we believe in bilingualism, if we believe that all Canadians should be able to speak equally in both of Canada's official languages, all we would have to do is put the idea of mandating official bilingualism in the air service, say that it was in the national interest and then put it under the Official Languages Act.
Why would we put the Official Languages Act and mandate it into the Air Canada Public Participation Act? It is a level of bureaucracy. It is a restriction and a burden on Air Canada that is not placed on other Canadian carriers. If we believe that people should be speaking in both official languages, if we believe in reaching out and it is an important principle for the country, then apply it to all of Canada's air carriers evenly, not just to one of them.
If the government is really intent on putting Air Canada on a level playing field with its domestic competitors, it can do this by not just removing the share limitation of section 6(1)(a) of the Air Canada Act, but by repealing the entire act itself. The legitimate policy aims which are contained in the act should apply equally to all Canadian carriers and not just Air Canada.
As written, the Air Canada Public Participation Act discriminates against Air Canada in ways that are utterly counterproductive and which retard the marketplace.
Just because Air Canada is a corporation, does not mean that the thousands of employees of Air Canada should be held to a higher standard than their colleagues at other companies. Either we believe in fairness as a nation or we believe in double standards. The official opposition believes in fairness and competition. I hope the government's opinion of the air industry will one day be the same.
Since 1937 the federal government has regulated Air Canada mercilessly. It is time to throw off the shackles. It is time to let Air Canada be held to the same high standards and only the same high standards as every other Canadian carrier. It is time to repeal the Air Canada Public Participation Act in toto and finally create the level playing field that people on both sides of the House say they want.
I will be supporting Bill C-38, as will the official opposition, but I have also introduced amendments and will continue to push for the full repeal of this legislation, so that Air Canada can be put on a level playing field with its domestic competitors for the first time in its 64 year history.
I also wish to mention something else. We are now at the third reading of Bill C-38. Many thing have gone on in Canada's air industry. Since we started debating Bill C-38, Canada 3000 has gone bankrupt and thousands of people have lost their jobs.
Since we started debating Bill C-38, 78% of Canadians have said that air marshals would make them feel safer. Since we started debating Bill C-38, 66% of Canadians have said that they worry that the airline they use will go belly up, leaving them stranded. Since we started debating Bill C-38 the U.S. congress has passed S-1447, the aviation security act, dramatically improving U.S. airline security. Since we started debating Bill C-38, a host of experts have come before the transport committee and called for the entire scrapping of the Air Canada Public Participation Act to put all air carriers on a level playing field. In all of these areas the government has turned a deaf ear.
I want to look specifically at the poll that was released by Ipsos-Reid, CTV and the Globe and Mail , six days ago. It is quite something. The press release reads:
As Air Canada begins flights to Washington, D.C. Reagan National Airport with an armed security officer known as an Air Marshal on board, an Ipsos-Reid/Globe and Mail/CTV poll released today indicates that most Canadians support the idea of Air Marshals on Canada's airlines. Eight-in-ten (78%) Canadians say that they would feel safer flying if they knew that there was an armed Air Marshal on board. In fact a majority (52%) strongly agrees with this view. The cost of providing security aboard flights should be covered by the Federal Government according to seven-in-ten (72%) of Canadians.
Two-thirds (67%) indicate that they would be more likely to fly if they knew that an armed Air Marshal was on board the flight.
When we break down the numbers, it is quite something. It went on to say:
Those in Atlantic Canada (87%) are most likely to agree that they would feel safer if they knew an Air Marshal was on board their plane. This compares to those in British Columbia (78%), Alberta (78%), Ontario (78%), Saskatchewan/Manitoba ( 77%), and Quebec (77%).
Canadians with a high school education (82%) or less than high school education (86%) are more likely than those with post-secondary education (76%) or those with a university degree ( 72%) to say they would feel safer if an Air Marshal were on a flight.
Older (81%) and middle aged (80%) Canadians are more likely than younger (74%) Canadians to say that they would feel safer on a flight with an Air Marshal.
Women (81% versus 75% of men) are more likely to agree that they would feel safer on a flight with air marshals.
According to seven-in-ten (72%) of Canadians the cost of providing security aboard flights should be covered by the Federal Government. In fact, four-in-ten (41%) strongly agree with this view.
It goes on and on. It is overwhelmingly evident that Canadians believe in this principle. When we came back to the House after the September 11 attack, I raised the issue of air marshals with the transport minister. He said it was a radical idea and he would not go in that direction because it was not a good idea. He has for years said that Canada should have a seamless security regime in our skies. Yet about a month ago he said that he would put armed air marshals on flights only to Reagan National Airport, by definition creating a seam in the security regime in this country by saying we would have air marshals on some flights but not on other flights.
Either we agree with the principle or we do not. The United States said that we could only fly into Washington's downtown Reagan National Airport, if we had air marshals on planes. The transport minister has said that because it is an important relationship he would do it. He either agrees with the principle that it is safer, he agrees with 78% of Canadians and with most parties and most members in the House that it would make air travel safer and does it, or he does not. If the transport minister does it for Reagan airport and if he is to hold to this principle of a seamless security regime in this country, I would think that he would extend the air marshal program and make everybody feel safer flying. That is what we need.
It should also be noted that since 1993, when this government came to power, seven Canadian air carriers have either declared bankruptcy, sought bankruptcy protection or have been taken over. Almost one carrier each year has been dropping like flies in the country.
Blame can be spread to a lot of places, but a lot of the blame does fall on the shoulders of the government because of legislation like the Air Canada Public Participation Act, which holds Canadian private sector companies to differing regulatory standards and therefore retards the marketplace. It does not allow carriers to compete on a pure level playing field so that the truly best will survive. It is time for the government to rethink where it is going, to end the political correctness and to stop mandating that Canadian air carriers and private sector companies have to have maintenance facilities in certain cities. Let Canadian carriers compete on their own.
We support Bill C-38, but if the government really had the chutzpah, it would show greater leadership, introduce real legislation on air marshals and airport security, scrap the Air Canada Public Participation Act and have renewed thinking with regard to Canada's air industry.