Madam Speaker, Bill C-34, the transportation appeal tribunal of Canada act, would create a transportation appeal tribunal that would replace and expand upon the civil aviation tribunal by extending its jurisdiction to cover rail and marine. It makes consequential amendments to various other transportation acts in order to make this possible.
It is certainly a good idea, but given the circumstances in which Canada finds itself one has to ask the question: Why now? Why are we dealing with this now? Given all the other issues that are at stake in the aviation and the transport industries in general, why are we dealing with this issue now?
The legislation was tabled on September 26, 15 days after the terrorist attack. On the transportation side, the government could have chosen to table any legislation it wanted to. It could have tabled literally anything. The members of all the opposition parties have said that they would be open to any legislation that advances the ball in terms of airport security, airline security and now, given the reality of Air Canada and Canada 3000, the concerns we have with the layoffs and so on. We would be willing to consider any legislation that deals with the health and financial stability of the airline industry as a whole.
Instead, what does the government table? It tables the transportation appeal tribunal of Canada act. Do not get me wrong, it is decent legislation. In fact, the official opposition will support the legislation. However we have to ask where are the priorities of the government.
The immediate impact on the airline sector of the September 11 attack has been a serious lack of consumer confidence. Bookings are way down. Air Canada reports that bookings are down anywhere between 30% and 35%. There is a serious loss in consumer confidence.
People still have very serious safety concerns. I raised the issue in the House that Transport Canada, through its own internal studies and tests, tried to smuggle mock knives, guns and bombs past airport security. Transport Canada knows statistically that over the past year one in five attempts to smuggle replica guns, knives and bombs past airport security has been a success, or a failure, I guess, as the average Canadian would look at it.
Canadians have serious concerns about that. We have serious concerns about a gentleman flying from Yellowknife to Vancouver who managed to smuggle two submachine guns and several boxes of ammunition onto an airplane and onto the ground. The gentleman was drunk. He threw two submachine guns and a few boxes of ammunition into a duffle bag. He was not attempting to smuggle. He was not a MacGyver in a unique attempt to get things past security. He just threw this stuff in a duffle bag and walked onto the plane drunk. Airport security is failing in the country and it is having a dramatic impact on consumer confidence in flying, but the government is not doing anything about it.
The official opposition has repeatedly called in the House for the institution of air marshals. The institution of air marshals would be a dramatic and positive step in terms of airport security. The United States has been doing it on international flights for over 30 years. Air marshals are plainclothes police who are specifically trained to deal with security concerns on planes while they are in flight. As a deterrent, they are put cyclically on different flights so terrorists do not know which flights they are on and which ones they are not on.
If the government were to institute that post-September 11 it would do two things. First, it would add another level of security in the air. That is important. It is important given the realities we are facing; as the Prime Minister, the president of the United States, NATO, article 5, and the House have said, we are facing a war against terrorism, against people who do horrendous things like hijack planes and fly them into buildings. Once they are on those planes they use them as missiles and guide them in a kamikaze mission to murder innocent people. There is no other way to stop them but in the air with armed air marshals. This would provide another important level of air security.
What this would also do, and this goes under the issue of consumer confidence, is boost consumer confidence in a dramatic way. The government has failed to do that.
There have been calls for financial support for the airline sector. Again the government has not really said or done anything. The transport minister yesterday announced $160 million for Canada's air carriers for the out of pocket costs they incurred on September 11, and again the official opposition supports that, but he announced it across the hall. He announced it in a press conference.
He did not show due respect to this place by announcing it here where we could have had an open debate to find out exactly how the $160 million was arrived at and how it was meted out to the different air carriers. Every party in the House has said that it will support the idea of paying for the out of pocket costs incurred by the air industry. If the minister had announced that in the House rather than at a press conference he would have had political parties supporting it; that would have been a vote of confidence for the airline industry that the government did not seize upon. The government is failing in that sense.
The United States congress has approved over $15 billion for the air industry. I am not calling for us to give $15 billion to the air industry or 10% thereof, but the U.S. has put concrete legislative proposals on the table, good or bad, in the long term interest or not, and we are dealing with the transportation appeal tribunal of Canada act.
Air Canada has asked for $3 billion to $4 billion in bailouts. The government has not ruled it out. The official opposition sure has. We could currently buy every single share of Air Canada stock in the stock market, I am told, for in the neighbourhood of $695 million to $711 million.
Air Canada has publicly said that it wants $3 billion to $4 billion but its net worth, if one were to purchase every single share of its stock, is in the neighbourhood of $700 million. Somehow that does not add up yet the government has not ruled that out as an option. In fact it has not put any numbers at all on the table for us to discuss and to deal with. It has not brought a single thing before the transport committee for us to deal with and sink our teeth into so that we can contribute to a positive alternative solution to the situation we are facing.
The transport minister needs to reassure the public that the government is doing something. Bill C-34 does not reassure the public that the government is doing something because of the September 11 attack. The fact that we are debating Bill C-34 right now is an indication that the government is totally out of step within the realities of the world post-September.
Since I have been the transport critic for the official opposition or since I have been a member of parliament, I have not had a single call to my office asking me when Bill C-34 would be tabled nor have I had people telling me that they are really curious about the transportation appeal tribunal act or that as I am their member of parliament they really want me to expand the civil aviation tribunal so could I please deal with that. That is a really important issue right now.
The terrorist attacks and the status of Air Canada with 9,000 to 12,000 people laid off can be put aside. We talk about a tribunal act. Nobody is calling for that. We have to wonder: To whom is the government listening? What leadership role is it fulfilling by doing this?
Again, the government needs to address safety concerns for a whole host of reasons, like boosting consumer confidence and providing more security for flying Canadians. It also needs to ensure long term competition in the air industry.
I noted that the transport minister in an interview yesterday said that we may need to have a thorough restructuring. He said this at the same press conference where he announced the $160 million for the airline industry. He said that we may have to restructure the entire airline industry again, not that the restructuring that was done 24 months ago was bad, but it may need to be restructured again. However, we should not ask him if the last one was a success or not, but we may have to restructure again.
Those are the sorts of things that we need to be dealing with, the restructuring of the airlines, airport security and airline security. The situation with Canada 3000 may be more volatile in the short term than that of Air Canada. The transport minister is just not showing leadership.
We should compare what Canada's transport minister, the finance minister and the Prime Minister are doing with what the United States is doing. In Chicago on Thursday of last week President Bush did three things. First, he called up the national guard and placed guardsmen at inspection stations in airports. They are still there. He said:
--we will work with the governors to provide security measures--visible security measures--so the traveling public will know that we are serious about airline safety in America.
The second thing he did was dramatically increase the number of air marshals on planes. He said:
When Americans fly, there need to be more highly-skilled and fully-equipped officers of law flying alongside them.
The third thing he did was give $500 million in new funding for aircraft security, the physical infrastructure of planes. He gave grants to airlines for enhanced cockpit protection. He will work with the pilots and airlines to fortify doors and provide stronger locks so pilots will always be in command of the airplane and no one can get into the cockpit.
Again this goes back to what I said before, about the transport minister announcing $160 million, but across the street. He announced that the government would be closing cockpit doors and that it would be mandated now on every flight. Fine. That is good and we support that. It is a solid step in the right direction. Good show. However, again he announced it outside the House.
I will applaud the minister when he announces an initiative, a bold initiative, any initiative, a meagre initiative, but that will be the day when he actually does it in the House. When he does he will earn our applause. However he has not done it yet and he is abdicating his responsibility to make parliament the decision maker in terms of the long term interest of our airline industry, in terms of security and in terms of competition. Parliament should decide it, not just the transport minister. The transport minister can propose it. That is the duty and obligation of the transport minister and of the executive of the government, but parliament as a whole should be deciding these issues.
Relative to what the United States has done, the government's response has been utterly and completely lacklustre. Air Canada, as I have said, has announced that it will lay off 5,000 people in addition to the 4,000 already announced. The numbers may be as high at 12,000 when all is said and done.
I have called on the transport minister, and I will do it again, to do four concrete things. I call on him to reconvene the transport committee, which happened on Monday, but to give us a set agenda to address the security and financial issues the air industry is facing.
I was happy to learn this afternoon that the transport minister announced he will be appearing before the transport committee tomorrow. I hope he comes with better answers and solutions than he came to the House with when we had our take note debate on the airline industry as a whole. He came to the House and said literally nothing. He said that everything was fine. He did not mention any specific numbers with regard to Air Canada. He did not share with the House the specific financial crunch that Air Canada is facing. He did not tell the House exactly what Air Canada has asked him for in private, which he could share with the House so that opposition members could consider those numbers and consider how we might approach these things. He did not say anything. I hope that when he comes before the committee tomorrow he actually has something concrete to contribute.
The second thing the transport minister should do is ask Robert Milton of Air Canada and the heads of all of Canada's national and regional air carriers to appear before the transport committee immediately, for the committee to hear arguments for and against any potential financial support.
The third thing he needs to do is institute air marshals today, as I said, to boost consumer confidence in the airline industry and to offer another layer of air travel security. We have to think of this not only in the context of boosting consumer confidence and within the context of giving another layer of security in the air but also to the extent that specifically, if there is ever a financial bailout beyond the $160 million, the lion's share of that money will go to Air Canada, principally because it has a dominant share of the domestic air travel in this country with the customers it flies. It will take the lion's share of that money.
Given that reality and the fact that Air Canada is the only real Canadian based competitor that competes internationally, Air Canada will be competing against American carriers that now have air marshals. In the United States as a whole there are over 12,000 people who are now being trained and assigned as air marshals. Air Canada will be competing on the international stage with Lufthansa, United, American Airlines, Continental and a host of other air carriers that will all have air marshals on planes.
In the future when people fly the questions they will ask will not simply be about what the in cabin amenities will be, how long the flight will be, how much leg room they will have, what movies will be shown and whether a hot or cold meal will be served. They will also be asking serious questions about the security of the airplanes. They will ask about cockpit doors. They will ask about air marshals.
In regard to the United States having air marshals, the transport minister said in the House that he is ruling out the idea of air marshals altogether as an extreme and radical proposition. He is just ruling it out right away. What he has done is cement himself into a position that will force Air Canada into a situation where it has a competitive disadvantage with other international carriers in trying to bring more people on board. That is a big mistake, not only in the security sense, not only in the sense of not boosting consumer confidence but in the sense that he is putting Canadian carriers at a competitive disadvantage by ruling out the idea of air marshals. That is a big mistake.
The fourth thing I would ask the transport minister to do is ask all of Canada's air carriers to submit a full list of their direct out of pocket expenses incurred during the days that Canada's airports were shut down so that consideration can be given to compensation for those costs. We are told that the transport minister has those numbers and therefore acted to give $160 million. We support the giving of the out of pocket costs, but it is very difficult to say whether or not we support the precise figure of $160 million when the transport minister has not tabled the exact figures before the House.
The out of pocket costs incurred by the airline industry on September 11 are legitimate costs. The skies were closed, not because of any market forces but because of a government mandate. Therefore it is entirely reasonable for the government to compensate the airlines for the closing of the skies.
I assume those airlines gave the transport minister an itemized list of what all their expenses were but he has not shared them with the House. That is irresponsible. Given the fact that we have not had a budget in 18 months and we may not have a budget for another 18 months as we have not had a firm commitment on that front, the House needs to send a signal by voting on specific measures. I would be proud to vote in favour of giving $160 million to the airline industry, given that the appropriate accounting has been done for those expenses. That would be a signal from the House that we will support the airline industry for the tough times it experienced on September 11.
Specifically on Bill C-34, the transportation appeal tribunal act, on the face of it the idea of a transportation tribunal is a good one. It is clear that some bright person looked at the civil aviation tribunal which so efficiently deals with the suspension of a pilot's licence and with airworthiness certificates, and said "I bet this would work in shipping and I bet this would work in rail as well". It has been expanded and we support that.
It is a good idea. Anything that lets minor disputes be settled outside the court system, specifically when the decisions are made by people with some expertise in the area in question, is a positive step. To have some injection of some common sense into disputes makes a lot of sense and we support it.
However, the transport committee really needs to be brought into a broader discussion, as I have said before, not only on this legislation but on other pieces of legislation. Canadians think that the transport committee should be plugged in so that we can make travel safer on airplanes, highways, rail and in seaway navigation. They want us to encourage competition, service to communities and affordable prices. Right now Canadians want airline competition among healthy airlines. They want safer skies, better airport security, stronger cockpit doors and air marshals. They want the same standards the United States has.
Let us have a level playing field. We always talk about a level playing field in terms of trade and in a lot of areas. Let us talk about a level playing field in terms of aviation as well.
The transport committee needs to deal with a lot of things and it is not. We have some extraordinarily experienced parliamentarians on the committee. I think of the member for South Surrey--White Rock--Langley who used to be the transport critic for the official opposition. I think of the NDP member for Churchill, an outstanding member of parliament who has done a lot of hard work on committee. I think of the member for Toronto--Danforth and the member for Winnipeg South. There are a lot of very good, highly competent, very experienced people in the transport committee who are really ready and anxious to do a lot of good work, to help contribute.
The transport minister has not plugged in the committee. He has not given us any guidance or pushed us forward. He has not tabled any meaningful legislation. What on earth are we doing talking about Bill C-34, a tribunal act, when at this very moment we could be talking about airport security and the question of whether or not we should re-nationalize airport security?
We could be talking about the guiding principles of a possible bailout for the airline industry and whether or not it is appropriate. We could be talking about air marshals. We could be talking about mandating that older planes still in service have reinforced cockpit doors with the newest technology such as the Kevlar coming out of Boeing.
That is the sort of legislation we could be dealing with, but we are not being shown that leadership. We are being shown legislation, well meaning, decent legislation that would cut down on bureaucracy and would increase efficiency and inject some common sense into things, but on the radar screen of Canadians in terms of the legislation they want to see and the priorities they have for the transport committee, the transport minister and the transport industry of the country, the legislation is way wide of the mark. Canadians deserve better. They deserve better leadership.
I have one piece of advice for the transport minister. I have told him this in private and I have told him that I will say it publicly. I will do so now. The best thing parliament can do on a cross-party basis for the airline industry as a whole in this time of crisis is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. and announce the kinds of things that President Bush did in Chicago on Thursday of last week.
President Bush went to Chicago and stood on a podium in front of 1,200 airline employees, the people who check the bags, the in-cabin flight crews, pilots, security guards, everyone. He stood in front of 1,200 of them with the transportation secretary at one shoulder, with the governor of Illinois at the other shoulder, with a couple of senators on his flank and members of congress and the state assembly on the other flank. He stood on that big stage with a big American flag and he said his government would put air marshals on planes, mandate the reinforcement and renovation of cockpit doors, beef up security on the ground with the latest technologies and retrain everyone on the ground. "Fly the friendly skies" he said. He said there was no reason why Americans should not fly in their country. He said America will not be afraid, Americans will not allow the terrorists to alter their way of life, they will soldier forward.
President Bush did it. He made a big public statement. However the transport minister said in the debate on Monday night that he does not want to make big public statements. I know that he is not a shy man. He is a good guy, but he needs to make big public pronouncements. That is precisely what is called for. He says he does not want to make big public pronouncements because he does not want to send some kind of signal. Most people I talk to do not understand the signal he is trying to avoid.
The transport minister says he wants to make little announcements such as the announcement that he made across the street in a press conference. He wants to make announcements in scrums. He wants to make announcements as he is running down the hall and avoiding reporters. He does not want to stand up and make big public announcements, but that is exactly what is called for, a big public announcement, a big vote of confidence and a big boost to the airline industry, to say to Canadians that we are taking action, that we will not let the terrorists alter our way of life. That announcement would say to people that they are safe in the skies, the government is behind them, the airlines are safe and the Government of Canada will not fail them.
If the minister did that and put in the measures we are talking about, the kinds of measures I have outlined in my talk, if he put those things on the table, the official opposition would be proud to stand behind him if he initiated those things, because that is progress and growth and a step in the right direction. I am sure the other opposition members would be as well. We reconvened the transport committee on Monday and had a meeting yesterday. Right off the top, across all party lines, we all said that the big thing we want to talk about when the transport minister comes to committee tomorrow is the issue of airline security. We are all concerned about this, just as all Canadians are concerned about it.
Rather than substantive legislation and a substantive signal from the transport minister that he will get behind this, encourage, push and mandate new security measures, what do we get? We get Bill C-34, the transportation appeal tribunal of Canada act.
This is an abdication of leadership. This is an abdication of responsibility on the part of the transport minister. We need to be showing leadership, putting real solutions forward and seizing the moment, carpe diem, so we can encourage more people to fly and have a better transportation industry. Bill C-34 does not accomplish that.
It is a real disappointment to have to say as a Canadian, not even as a parliamentarian, that the government is sleepwalking through what may be the largest crisis in our transportation industry with the layoffs at Air Canada and sagging consumer confidence. The government is sleepwalking through this entire episode and abdicating its responsibility to show leadership and put substantive reforms on the table that will make our industry better.