Mr. Speaker, like my NDP colleague, I find the bill seriously flawed.
I want to be clear: we know that from the outset this was basically a Liberal government bill. It is roughly the same bill that was placed before the House in 2005 by the Liberals. Back then it was known as Bill S-33. It was slated to go through the Senate before the House of Commons. It was introduced in the Senate by a Liberal senator but subsequently was ruled out of order because it was a money bill. Interestingly enough, it was challenged in the Senate by Conservative senators.
The bill then reappeared magically as Bill C-62 in the fall of 2006 and of course died on the order paper because of an election. Apparently there were forces at work that made this very bad bill disappear.
Needless to say, there have been numerous concerns about the way in which governments, both the Liberals and the Conservatives, are dealing with this area of aeronautics policy and safety management.
One of the biggest concerns that we and other Canadians have is about accountability, accountability to Parliament, accountability to the people of Canada, and open and transparent decision making, all the things that the Conservatives said were intrinsic to their mandate and inherent in their philosophy and would be fundamental to the work of the House, the work that they would do here.
Yet here we are again, as we have been on so many other occasions over the last little while, with another example of the Conservatives reneging on accountability and the interests of Canadians because of expediency. On a fundamental issue of accountability and safety and security of the people in the country, the government once again is going the route of expediency rather than route of what is in the best interests of Canadians.
While we have made substantial progress, Bill C-6 emphasizes cutting costs rather than improving safety standards. There can be no compromise on airline safety. Let me repeat: there can be no compromise on the safety of Canadians. These are major policy issues that will have a direct impact on Canadians who travel by air. The financial bottom lines of Air Canada and WestJet unfortunately will be a factor in setting safety levels in this country.
Transport Canada will be relegated to a more distant role as general overseer of safety management systems, or SMS, as we have heard it called. Adequate safety costs money, but SMS will foster a tendency to cut corners in a very competitive aviation market racked by high fuel prices.
That of course will lead to concerns about the profit margin, with a lot of money for fuel and less money for profit. We know that in business profit is paramount. It is called bean-counting. That is where corporations analyze the degree of risk they are willing to take in order to make money. But when it comes to airline security I say that any risk is unacceptable, and I say not in Canada, no bean-counting when it comes to airline security.
In collaboration with stakeholders such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, airline inspectors and other representatives from the trade union movement, the NDP transportation critic successfully fought for a number of amendments to Bill C-6 in the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Unfortunately, serious flaws still remain in Bill C-6. The bill will enshrine SMS, which will allow industries to decide, as I said before, the level of risk they are willing to accept in operations rather than abide by the level of safety established by a minister acting in the public interest.
The SMS would let the government transfer increasing responsibility to the industry itself to set and enforce its own safety standards. It is designed in part to help Transport Canada deal with declining resources and high projected levels of inspector retirements. This just cannot happen. The Government of Canada has to be responsible. It cannot relegate and slough off its responsibility to the industry.
While the NDP passed an amendment in transport committee that emphasizes a reduction of risk to the lowest possible level rather than just accepting or tolerating these risks, we are still concerned about the delegation of safety to corporations.
The NDP did manage to improve this legislation somewhat in committee. A new legislative requirement for the minister to maintain a program for oversight and surveillance of aviation safety in order to achieve the highest level of safety was passed. A new legislative obligation for the minister to require the aeronautical activities be performed at all times in a manner that meets the highest safety and security standards was passed. A new legislative requirement for the minister to carry out inspections of operators who use SMS was passed.
The NDP supported a government amendment to give the transport committee the unprecedented ability to review Transport Canada regulations that may have a reported safety concern.
Under pressure from the NDP, the government was compelled to introduce extensive amendments to limit the scope of designated organizations, the bodies that would assume the role of Transport Canada in setting and enforcing rules on airline safety.
An amendment was successfully pushed through to ensure that the Canada Labour Code would prevail over the Aeronautics Act in the event of a possible conflict.
An amendment was added that would ensure employees and their bargaining agents were included in the development and implementation of SMS.
The government was again compelled, after extended debate, to introduce a form of whistleblower protection for employees who report to Transport Canada that their employer is violating the law.
A new definition of safety management system was put into the legislation, emphasizing a reduction of risks to the lowest possible level rather than just accepting or tolerating risks.
We still have a number of concerns with Bill C-6 and the fact that it compromises the safety of Canadians. We believe that the travelling public and aviation workers deserve better.
We are also concerned with issues involving SMS secrecy, weak whistleblower protection and a lack of airline accountability. These compromises are unacceptable. They are unacceptable to the NDP, and I believe they are unacceptable to Canadians.
The airline industry would be permitted to increasingly define the safety levels of its operations. While the scope of designated organizations has been restricted, significant loopholes still remain. Unfortunately, an amendment ensuring these designated organizations respect key laws in their rule making was defeated.
There is no three year review clause for SMS, as is the case for designated organizations.
There is still no real accountability because this legislation seeks to heighten secrecy. It restricts access to information on the safety performance of airlines. Canadians will be left in the dark when it comes to important safety information. Public access under the Access to Information Act, the ATIA, to safety information reports provided to Transport Canada by air operators will be totally unavailable. We have heard about this.
The NDP amendments sought to preserve operations like ATIA in key areas. Unfortunately, these were defeated.
This new hands off enforcement policy by Transport Canada under SMS would mean that there would be no action taken against corporate offenders if there were problems. The government contends that companies will no longer divulge safety problems without this provision. We find this very unconvincing.
We believe there has to be protection. We believe this bill does not afford that protection. We demand that the government and this House consider the safety of Canadians first.