An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Jean Lapierre  Liberal

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 3, 2005
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment extends the application of the Official Languages Act to certain affiliates of Air Canada and deems the articles of ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. to include provisions respecting the location of its head office and the right of persons to communicate with that corporation in both official languages.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Official LanguagesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 26th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I knew she would react if I said “du-Renard” instead of “du-Nord”. I did that on purpose.

This motion is important. In 1988, a private company decided to buy Air Canada, knowing that it was subject to the Official Languages Act. It knew what it was getting into when it bought Air Canada. It knew that Air Canada was subject to the Official Languages Act. Air Canada belonged to Canadian taxpayers. That was the rule then and that is the rule now.

Knowing that it was subject to the Official Languages Act, Air Canada decided to create small subsidiaries that were not subject to the Act, even though it states the contrary.

What does the committee want? It wants the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to introduce a bill that would require Air Canada, its subsidiaries and its partners to comply with the Official Languages Act. It is not asking for much. We have been calling for such legislation since 2005. The previous Liberal government, in the person of the hon. Jean Lapierre, introduced the first bill, Bill C-47.

In 2006, the Minister of Foreign Affairs introduced Bill C-29. In 2007, the same minister introduced Bill C-36. Today, the government is claiming that it is considering how to draft a bill. It is wondering how to draft a bill when the Standing Committee on Official Languages has been talking about this for months.

The Commissioner of Official Languages said he was disappointed at how long it was taking to pass new legislation, and he is concerned about the ongoing legal vacuum. He says that the new bill must clearly and adequately protect the language rights of travellers who do business with Air Canada, but also the rights of the company's employees.

In 2006, the commissioner appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages to talk about Bill C-29. He was worried about what would become of the language rights of travellers and the rights of Air Canada employees to work in their own language in a new entity of the Air Canada group.

He talked about a new bill that would protect those rights, and he said the bill should clearly and specifically name the entities that would be subject to the Official Languages Act. The bill should give the government the power to require by law or order that any other entity that might be created in future as a result of restructuring also be subject to the act. It should also provide for imposing language obligations on any entity that replaces a named entity, such as Air Canada or Jazz, and provides air and related services. The new bill should specify that Jazz and Aveos are subject to the Official Languages Act.

The year is 2010. On March 11 this year I was on Air Canada Jazz flight AC8742. Air Canada masquerades as Jazz to cover its tracks. It leaves Montreal for Bathurst. No one should tell me that Montreal is not French. And Bathurst, counting the Acadian peninsula, is 80% French. A local man was arriving home from Fort McMurray, Alberta. He asked for a glass of water and the flight attendant replied, “I don't understand you.” Is that normal? I complained to Air Canada about this incident.

On March 29, I was on flight AC8739 leaving Bathurst, New Brunswick, for Montreal, Quebec. The same flight attendant was on duty. I asked her for a glass of orange juice and I got a glass of water.

It seems to me that “verre de jus d'orange” and “orange juice” sound similar.

I filed another complaint with Air Canada and with the Commissioner of Official Languages. I learned that Jazz does not fall directly under the Official Languages Act, but Air Canada does. Air Canada's response came from Jazz, which told me that the attendant had taken tests and that, according to their information, she had passed. My goodness, when someone does not know the difference between a glass of orange juice and a glass of water, there is a big problem.

This becomes serious when there is an emergency on board. Which cassette will they put in the player? Which cassette will they put on when the plane is going down? We have talked about this for years and years. It is time for the government to take action. The government told us today that it has a firm position on the Official Languages Act but the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages told us earlier this week that passing bills on bilingualism divides Canadians. This is not a government that respects our country's Official Languages Act. It is shameful.

Earlier, the member for Rivière-du-Nord said that when one is aboard an airplane and goes to the trouble of showing a picture of the meal one wants, only to be met with “I don't speak French” from the attendant, that is a big problem. There is a lack of will on the part of Air Canada because the government lets it do whatever it wants. The company is subject to the Official Languages Act, and there should be a law enabling authorities to ticket the company for violating the Act. The police do not tell people who break the speed limit that they are subject to the highways act and must therefore drive at 100 km/h. They issue tickets and $140 fines. The same goes for Air Canada. There should be ticketing provisions to enforce those laws.

Earlier, the member for Saint Boniface said that the member for Acadie—Bathurst was shouting. I want to say that we have no choice but to shout because the people on the other side of the House do not hear or understand us. That is the problem. We have to raise our voices to make them realize that what is going on is not right.

That became clear again on Tuesday, when the Commissioner of Official Languages said in his report that the government has a laissez-faire attitude toward official languages. The government has the nerve to stand up in the House of Commons and say that its position on official languages is firm. Instead, it should have said that it is firmly opposed to the Official Languages Act and to other laws passed in this House over the last 41 years. The government could not care less about those laws and does not respect them.

They talk about how they are spending $1.5 billion here and $2 billion there, but they are breaking every one of this country's laws and could not care less. That is what I call laissez-faire. We are not asking for much. All we want is for the government to enforce the law. How can anyone stand up in the House and fail to ensure compliance with a law passed in Parliament by a majority of the members of the House of Commons? That is all we want to know. Air Canada is subject to the Official Languages Act. Air Canada belonged to taxpayers. People bought it, and then things got out of control. They have to respect the Official Languages Act.

Official LanguagesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 26th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord for the motion she presented to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. I really wonder how serious the government is when it comes to bills like this.

We just heard the parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for St. Boniface. She talked about the legal notice from the court and the history of the bankruptcy in 2003. She talked about all of Air Canada’s problems. When people start talking about someone’s problems, it is because they are looking for excuses.

Then she said the government is firm and complies with the Official Languages Act and she was busy seeing how to introduce a bill in the House. We already had Bill C-47 in 2005, Bill C-29 from her colleague at foreign affairs, and another one, Bill C-36.

Does the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord think the government has no computers? We can all copy and paste nowadays.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2007 / 5:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, at the risk of repeating myself, I wish to say that I rise today to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act. We know that the government wants to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act in order to take into account the restructuring it went through after it emerged from bankruptcy protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.

I would like to point out that the Bloc Québécois is favourable to the intent of this bill. The Bloc Québécois considers that Air Canada, no matter what its financial structure, must be subjected to three conditions: first, keeping a maintenance centre in Montreal; second, keeping the head office in Montreal; and, third, applying the Official Languages Act to its air transportation activities. And to make sure that the government and all the members of the House understand, I will repeat more slowly this third point. We are asking that the Official Languages Act be applied to its air transportation activities. It is indeed a very important point of consideration for this bill.

As official languages critic for the Bloc Québécois, I must say that it is very important for the Bloc Québécois, for all Quebeckers and for all Canadians to be able to express themselves in the language of their choice when dealing with Air Canada airline subsidiaries, with French obviously being one of those languages. Anyone must absolutely be able to use French—it is a sine qua non condition—without any problems or difficulties for someone who uses French with Air Canada airline subsidiaries.

Since this bill maintains and sets out some of these obligations, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of it in principle, as I said earlier. We do, however, regret certain shortcomings, which may be remedied during the committee study. The Standing Committee on Official Languages is the appropriate place to debate this bill, once it passes second reading.

This bill would ensure that the obligations set out under the Air Canada Public Participation Act are maintained despite the restructuring of the Air Canada group. Since we supported those obligations, we cannot oppose adapting them and clarifying their meaning.

The former Minister of Transport, Jean Lapierre, until recently the hon. member for Outremont, said:

It is imperative that the important obligations set out in the Air Canada Public Participation Act continue to be respected. I have committed to Air Canada that they would be subjected to ‘no more, no less’ regulation.

Furthermore, there is now some urgency to adapting the legislation since, in his news release, the minister stated:

Neither act however, applies to the operations that have been spun-off into limited partnerships under the direct or indirect control of ACE Aviation Holdings Incorporated and are now affiliates of Air Canada, such as Jazz Air Limited Partnership.

In addition, ACE Aviation Holdings Incorporated, the parent company that controls, directly and indirectly, all the entities within the new corporate structure of Air Canada, is not covered by official language obligations or the requirement related to head office location.

That is why it is so important to pass this bill immediately.

Although we do not agree with this very uncompromising interpretation, there is no doubt that it will give the Air Canada group a strong argument to justify its failure to meet its obligations. That is entirely understandable.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share some concerns and express some reservations, at the very least, about this bill.

We think that the legislative protection is not very strong with respect to these two very important points: Air Canada's head office and the maintenance centre.

Since the advent of Air Canada Technical Services as a limited partnership, the requirement that Air Canada keep a maintenance centre in Montreal rings hollow because Air Canada Technical Services is under no such obligation.

Furthermore, all the provisions on keeping headquarters in Montreal can easily be circumvented. There are no criteria defining the head office. So nothing is stopping ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. and Air Canada from moving their real decision-making centre out of Montreal, and to keep some sort of a branch in the city. It would be advisable to find ways to reinforce these measures to ensure they are effective.

Let us now talk about the concerns regarding the Standing Committee on Official Languages. This is what the committee said of Bill C-47 in its report on June 16, 2006:

Aeroplan would not have been subject to the same provisions as the former internal divisions of Air Canada, because the company would not fall under the legislative jurisdiction of Parliament;

As a separate entity prior to restructuring, Air Canada Vacations would not have been subject to the Official Languages Act.

According to the Commissioner of Official Languages, some aspects of this bill left room for interpretation that could potentially have reduced the linguistic obligations of Air Canada, ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. and their subsidiaries.

Here are the five recommendations of the committee:

That the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities reintroduce in the shortest possible time another bill repeating the provisions of Bill C-47, and adding the amendments suggested by the Commissioner of Official Languages when she appeared by the Standing Committee on Transport on November 22, 2005;

That the new bill stipulate that Air Canada continue to be subject to the Official Languages Act in its entirety;

That the new bill stipulate that the divisions of Air Canada that became limited partnerships during or after the restructuring (including Air Canada Technical Services, AC Cargo, Air Canada Ground Handling Services and Air Canada Online Services) are subject to the Official Languages Act in its entirety;

That the new bill stipulate that the companies that were Air Canada subsidiaries prior to the restructuring, including Jazz Air, Air Canada Vacations and Aeroplan, are subject to Part IV (language of service) of the Official Languages Act;

That the legislative review of the new bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

As we can see, there is a well established structure, with the ABCs spelled out, precisely to make sure that current Bill C-29, former Bill C-47, will go forward and help us find a solution to this problem.

Parts of the previous comments are taken from recommendations to which the government did not even bother to give an answer. Those recommendations were made by the Standing Committee on Official Languages at that time, with the approval of the Commissioner of Official Languages, in view of making this bill as clear as possible, in accordance with the official languages policy.

In those days, the government did not see fit to accept all the elements. The Bloc Québécois has now put them all back on the agenda. This can serve as a reference point in due time.

At the risk of repeating myself, part of the previous comments are taken from recommendations which the government did not even bother to answer. Worse still, the government seems to scoff at francophones in its answer, in a fine statement of principle that reads:

The Government believes that the linguistic rights that have been acquired by Air Canada should continue to be preserved. As a symbol of Canada around the world, the carrier should continue to be bound by the obligation to adhere to linguistic obligations it agreed to when it became a private company in the late 1980s and as subsequently amended.

However, it also says:

Bill C-47 proposed a number of amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act that would have restored many of the linguistic obligations at a number of these entities in the Air Canada family of companies to the same level that existed prior to restructuring.

The government has simply presented a bill identical to C-47. Bill C-29 has the same shortcomings that were recognized by the government. That is rather interesting. Is that not an unbelievably boorish way to behave toward the French language? I say that for the simple reason that the flaws of one become the flaws of the other when power is acquired. This is rather deplorable. The Bloc Québécois, together with all the hon. members who are committed to doing so, will ensure that this bill respects the Official Languages Act to the letter when it comes to Air Canada.

There is nonetheless an injustice toward Air Canada and there needs to be better protection of the workers and users. Most of all the need to provide a bilingual air service and the opportunity for francophone workers to work in their language are the best arguments in favour of the obligations imposed on Air Canada. However, these reasons do not explain why this corporation alone has to be subject to these restrictions. It would be appropriate to consider the opportunity of imposing the same rules of the game to all the players in the industry, including Air Canada Jazz, by leveling their obligations up and not down. Bill C-44 could be the vehicle for this reform.

In that vein, the current Prime Minister promised during the 2004 election campaign—which was not so long ago—that under the Conservatives, which is the party currently in power, all the airlines would be required to offer services in both official languages. This answers the question asked earlier by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works, who, I presume, is listening to my speech from his office.

That is also Air Canada's point of view.

This is also an opportunity for everyone, in other words, one rule for all in a world where there is air service. Everyone living in Canada or Quebec, regardless of the point of departure or arrival within Canada, should get the same service.

Allow me to make a slightly tougher analysis of the bill. The bill has only seven clauses. However, only one, clause 5, is really relevant. It provides the following additions to the Air Canada Public Participation Act. When I talk about the act, I will refer to it as such.

By adding section 10.2 to the act, the government brings under the Official Languages Act the corporations that used to be an integral part of Air Canada. This includes, based on our interpretation and that of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, Air Canada Technical Services. By the way, Mr. Speaker, you will be stunned—and you might fall off your chair—to learn that the Air Canada Technical Services website is not even available in French.

It is completely appalling. Let us continue. Among other things, Air Canada Ground Handling Services takes care of passenger check-in, baggage handling and refuelling. There are also Air Canada Online Services and Air Canada Cargo. By regulation, the government can name those corporations. That is the only difference between Bill C-47 and Bill C-29.

Moreover, this section provides that parts IV, VIII, IX and X of the Official Languages Act, regarding service delivery in both official languages and implementation of the act, will apply to Air Canada Jazz. It is worth noting that, in the past, this subsidiary was not technically covered by the Official Languages Act. This aspect of the bill is positive. Unfortunately, Air Canada Jazz is not subject to parts V (language of work), VI (equal participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians) and VII (development of communities and linguistic duality), in accordance with a legislative change adopted in 2000. Finally, the new corporations of the group that will offer air service will also be subject to it except if they only offer services abroad.

Let me continue the review of the bill. By adding clause 10.3 to the act, the government is proposing to force the body corporate ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. to serve the public and communicate with it in both official languages. However, that obligation is not imposed by virtue of the Official Languages Act. Moreover, the corporation must maintain its head office in the Greater Montreal area.

Finally, the obligation to keep Air Canada's head office In Montreal and its maintenance centres in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga continues to apply, as do the company's obligations under the Air Canada Public Participation Act and the Official Languages Act.

It is obvious that the bill exists for good reasons. Maybe it is not perfect, but we have an official languages committee. There are people of good faith in this House who, I am convinced—or I hope, should I say—will make sure that the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which is the standing committee created by virtue of the Official Languages Act, is put back on track. That committee exists to ensure the respect—I repeat “respect”—of the English and French realities of Canada. It exists particularly to ensure the respect of people who want to speak, work, receive services and be represented by the House of Commons and by the Canadian Parliament.

Keeping this in mind, the House of Commons must absolutely do all it can to ensure the operation of the official languages committee and to make sure that it properly represents all the Canadians who elected 308 members to this place. We have been elected to ensure that bills like this one can be studied in committee to promote the status of the official languages in this Parliament, in this government and in Canada.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2007 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was very interested in what my colleague had to say.

She touched on a number of issues, some of them actually relevant to the topic at hand, which is Bill C-29. I was impressed to see that she spoke at least a little to the bill.

I have a point to make. I know a lot of people who work for Air Canada and I know many aviators who fly with Air Canada. There is no question that we all fly on Air Canada a lot and there is no question that French and English have a pretty much equal place.

However, I do have a question. In the last Parliament, we had Bill C-47, essentially identical to Bill C-29, and my hon. colleague and her government at that time were quite happy to refer that bill to the transport committee rather than the official languages committee.

I am curious. Why has their agenda changed? What kind of an agenda do they have which now demands that the bill appear before the official languages committee and not the transport committee? This is essentially a transport issue.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2007 / 4:25 p.m.
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Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

moved that Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today in support of Bill C-29, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

This government is firmly committed to supporting our country's linguistic duality.

This bill is an important part of this government's efforts to promote and protect the linguistic rights of all Canadians. Respecting the French fact is what a federalism of openness is all about.

The proposed amendments are in line with the government's response to the report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages entitled “Application of the Official Languages Act to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. following the Restructuring of Air Canada”.

On April 10, 1937, long before we were born, Parliament created a national airline in order to provide essential air transportation, cargo and mail services across Canada. That airline would one day become known as Air Canada.

As a crown corporation, the airline has been subject to the Official Languages Act since that legislation came into effect in 1969.

When Air Canada was privatized in 1988, various public welfare obligations, particularly the obligation to respect the Official Languages Act, were imposed on the airline because of its status as a former federal crown corporation.

The government felt at the time that the various rights granted by the act, namely, the language of work and the obligation to serve the public in both official languages, had to be maintained for Air Canada employees and all Canadians.

This is also one of the determining factors in the government's current decision to ensure that the airline upholds its linguistic obligations.

The Government of Canada really cares about preserving the value and spirit of Canada's linguistic duality, so dear to Canadians.

As recently as the year 2000, language obligations were further enhanced when Air Canada acquired Canadian Airlines International. Along with other modifications, the Air Canada Public Participation Act was amended to place a duty on Air Canada to ensure that its airline subsidiaries, which were the carriers that now make up Air Canada Jazz, provided bilingual service to the public pursuant to the Official Languages Act.

As we know, Air Canada filed for bankruptcy protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act on April 1, 2003. For the next 18 months the company underwent a period of significant restructuring. Air Canada successfully emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2004, but the Air Canada that emerged from restructuring did not look the same as the organization before restructuring. As a result, some of the provisions in the Air Canada Public Participation Act relating to official languages ceased to apply.

For example, as a result of spinning off what had been internal divisions of Air Canada into separate companies, language of work protection and service to the public obligations no longer apply to spun-off post-restructuring entities such as Air Canada Cargo, Air Canada Technical Services and Air Canada Ground Handling Services.

However, obligations under the Air Canada Public Participation Act to adhere to the provisions of the Official Languages Act continue to apply to Air Canada, the mainline carrier.

Air Canada main component is required to keep its head office in Montreal and its maintenance centres in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga. However, due to its reorganization, the size and staff of Air Canada main component have been cut in half.

At present, the law no longer applies to the limited partnerships that are now part of the holding company established in 2004, ACE Aviation Holdings Inc., which is not subject to official languages obligations. Furthermore, ACE Aviation Holdings, which is now the parent company for the entire group of Air Canada companies, is not required to keep its head office in Montreal.

Air Canada main component is no longer required to ensure that Air Canada Jazz, a regional carrier for Air Canada, provides service to the public in both official languages, as it is no longer a subsidiary of the Air Canada carrier, but rather a company in its group.

In May 2005, the former government tabled Bill C-47 which made a certain number of amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act. This bill would have restored most of the linguistic obligations that applied to the Air Canada family of companies prior to restructuring.

As members may recall, all parties in the House broadly supported the amendments proposed in Bill C-47, but that bill died on the order paper, leaving a legislative gap in the scope of the application of the Official Languages Act to a restructured Air Canada.

On June 15, 2006, the Standing Committee on Official Languages tabled a report concerning the application of the Official Languages Act to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. In its report, the committee recommended that the government table a new bill similar in scope and application to Bill C-47, in order to restore the linguistic obligations of the Air Canada group of companies.

On October 16, our government tabled a response to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. I would like to quote part of that response if I may:

The Government believes that the linguistic rights that have been acquired by Air Canada should continue to be preserved.

As a symbol of Canada around the world, the carrier should continue to be bound by the obligation to adhere to linguistic obligations it agreed to when it became a private company in the late 1980s and as subsequently amended.

Today, the government is seeking support for Bill C-29, a bill that responds to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

The proposed bill stipulates that Air Canada Jazz and any future airline affiliated with ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. will be subject to Part IV, that is, to the Official Languages Act provisions governing service to the public.

ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. will be obligated to ensure communications with the public in both official languages and to keep its head office in Montreal. This provision will ensure that obligations similar to those Air Canada was subject to as the parent organization of a group of companies prior to restructuring will also apply to the new parent company of all of the holdings within this structure.

Under the new legislation, former divisions of Air Canada that became limited partnerships, that is, technical services, cargo, and ground handling, and which are federally regulated undertakings, will be subject to the Official Languages Act in its entirety.

I believe that this bill makes it very clear that our government is committed to this country's official languages. It has considered the recommendations put forward by the Standing Committee on Official Languages, and it is restoring the pre-restructuring language rights of Canadians who work for Air Canada or who travel aboard its aircraft.

November 23rd, 2006 / 10:05 a.m.
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Liberal

The Hon. Mauril Bélanger Liberal Mauril Bélanger

I'm far less charitable than others are towards Air Canada. I must admit that when I was a minister I was advised not to lodge any complaints. I accepted that advice, which I now partly regret. I used to carry around a form addressed to the commissioner, on which I simply had to put a check mark to explain the reason for my complaint. On every trip, I could have had two or even three complaints to make, with respect to terminals, in-flight service or anything else. I even seem to recall that on one specific trip I could have filed four separate complaints. Imagine that! I'm going to get back to lodging my complaints now. That will give you an idea of the reality which is that Air Canada ought not to try to shirk its responsibilities.

I am somewhat concerned by the bill we have before us. I am not a regular member of the committee, but I miss it. I sense that Bills C-47 and C-29 are somewhat diluted. I think I detect Air Canada's involvement here and its expertise working behind the scenes to evade responsibility here and there. I fully agree with the fact that Air Canada online is part of this file, as is Aeroplan. I would encourage the committee to put forth amendments if necessary.

Air Canada will always exist. So as the company, at the very core, refuses to pride itself on linguistic duality, it will forever attempt to dodge its responsibilities. The legislation should not be enforced through an order in council. The legislation itself should state precisely what enters into force when. Otherwise, we will be continuing in the same vein. For months and years now this committee has been trying to get Air Canada to understand that as Canada's national airline, it has a moral responsibility.

November 2nd, 2006 / 9:05 a.m.
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Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, colleagues and committee members, for your kind invitation.

With me this morning are Mr. Jacques Pigeon, General Counsel of the Department of Transport, and Ms. Brigita Gravitis-Beck, Director General of Air Policy. If the questions become a little more technical, you'll understand if I ask these people to give you the answer.

Mr. Chairman, once again, thank you very much for your invitation and also for allowing me to be here this morning. I want to take the opportunity to thank you personally, and on behalf of Minister Verner, for your efforts, yours and those of committee members, in the preparation of the standing committee's report on the status of language obligations at Air Canada.

It is indeed my pleasure and privilege to speak to you today on the Government Response to the First Report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages and on the matter of Bill C-29, which seeks to introduce amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

As members of this committee are well aware, Air Canada's corporate restructuring, while it was under bankruptcy protection for an 18-month period between 2003 and 2004, resulted in changes to the scope of application of the Air Canada Public Participation Act vis-à-vis Air Canada and its newly created affiliates. In particular, the application of the Official Languages Act was reduced given a number of significant changes in the corporate structure of the airline company.

The previous government attempted to address this issue with the introduction of Bill C-47. This bill, you'll recall, would have restored language obligations at Air Canada's affiliates to what existed prior to the restructuring. However, this bill only made it as far as the committee stage in the House of Commons, as the bill died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued for the election call in November 2005.

On June 15 of this year, members of this committee issued a report entitled “Application of the Official Languages Act to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. following the restructuring of Air Canada”. I will refrain from going through the report at length, as I am sure you are even more familiar with the contents than I am. However, I will focus on how the recommendations in that report have been addressed by the government's response, which was presented to the House on October 16, 2006, and through Bill C-29.

The committee's first recommendation was for the government to reintroduce a bill repeating the provisions of Bill C-47 and add a number of amendments suggested by Ms. Adam, the former Commissioner of Official Languages, when she appeared before the Standing Committee on Transport on November 22, 2005.

In large part, this is precisely what the government has done. We are strongly committed to protecting and respecting the linguistic rights of Canadians. On October 18, 2006, I introduced legislation that seeks to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act. Bill C-29 will ensure that official languages obligations continue to apply to the restructured Air Canada and are restored at the various affiliates of the airline.

In many respects, this new bill is substantially similar to Bill C-47. Bill C-29 will require that former internal divisions of Air Canada that fall within federal jurisdiction restore official languages obligations to what existed prior to the restructuring. This includes providing service to the public in both official languages and ensuring employees are able to work in the official language of their choice. The proposed amendments also require affiliates of Air Canada that provide air services, such as Jazz, to offer service to the public in both official languages.

I should point out, however, that this bill as tabled in the House does vary slightly from Bill C-47. As was raised in your report, Ms. Adam, then Commissioner of Official Languages when Bill C-47 was before the Standing Committee on Transport in November 2005, and her officials raised several issues regarding that bill. In essence, the Commissioner testified that some aspects of the bill, as is, left room for interpretation that could potentially reduce the linguistic obligations of Air Canada, ACE Aviation Holdings, and its various affiliates.

In order to address that situation, the commissioner proposed that the various entities, which were intended to be captured by the amendments, should be named specifically in the legislation. In other words, the bill should state that ground handling, technical services, cargo, and Air Canada online would all be subject to the full provisions of the Official Languages Act.

This was also stated in recommendation number 3 of this standing committee's report. However, the amendments proposed by the commissioner raised concerns with some of my officials.

In initial discussions with the office of the commissioner leading up to the drafting of Bill C-29, these concerns were brought to their attention.

Recognizing that there was a valid argument to be made in favour of both sides, every effort was made to arrive at a mutually agreeable compromise that would address all respective concerns. As a result of these discussions, subclauses 10.2(2) and 10.2(3) were added to this draft of the legislation.

These new provisions allow the Governor in Council to name those specific affiliates of Air Canada that will be captured by the proposed legislation through an order in council, if needed.

In this way, Mr. Chair and colleagues, the government will be able to designate these affiliates in the corporate structure that will be subject to the official languages provisions of the Air Canada Public Participation Act. This also provides the government with sufficient flexibility to add or remove affiliates, as the circumstances warrant, should the company undergo further significant restructuring.

Based on the most recent information available, an order in council could name and ensure language rights at the following affiliates: Air Canada Cargo, Ground Handling and Technical Services.

Incidentally, Air Canada has made it known through the press that a new restructuring is imminent. That is why this list could be revised when and if the bill comes into force.

At this time, we do not believe that Air Canada Online falls under federal jurisdiction, and it should therefore not be subject to the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

By the same reasoning, the government was not prepared to fully support recommendation four, which requested that the new bill stipulate that Jazz, Air Canada Vacations, and Aeroplan be subject to part IV, language of service, of the Official Languages Act. However, the government will ensure that bilingual service to the public will be imposed on Air Canada Jazz, given its nature as a federally regulated undertaking, although it should be noted that the carrier was subject to these same requirements prior to Air Canada's restructuring.

The activities of Aeroplan and Air Canada Vacations, on the other hand, fall outside the scope of federal jurisdiction and therefore were never subject to the legislation prior to restructuring. As such, the bill does not subject Aeroplan and Air Canada Vacations to the official languages provisions of the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

I understand that Bill C-47 was supported in principle by all parties in the House. It is my hope that Bill C-29, with the minor amendments that have been incorporated as per the commissioner's and this committee's suggestions, will receive similar support.

That concludes my opening remarks, Mr. Chair. I would be pleased to answer any questions from committee members.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2005 / 12:20 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-47. We can see that the opposition and the government agree on this bill. We should pass it at third reading and send it to the Senate as soon as possible in order to have legislation enacted for Air Canada to respect the official languages.

It is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-47, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act, tabled at the beginning of May by the Minister of Transport.

Trans-Canada Airlines was established by Parliament on April 10, 1937 as the national airline to provide essential air transportation, cargo and mail services across Canada. Since 1969 Air Canada has been subject to the Official Languages Act.

During 1988 and 1989 Air Canada was privatized under the authority of the Air Canada Public Participation Act and through the sale of the Government of Canada's share in the air carrier. Upon privatization certain obligations were imposed on Air Canada through the act in recognition of the importance to preserve official language rights for the Canadian public and Air Canada's employees, and because of the history of the federal crown corporation.

In early 2000 Air Canada acquired Canadian Airlines and to protect public interest, Parliament passed legislation that included amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act and imposed an obligation on Air Canada to ensure that its air service subsidiaries, such as Jazz and Zip, would comply with part IV of the Official Languages Act by providing service to the public in both official languages. Since those transactions, the Commissioner of Official Languages has received many complaints about Air Canada and the bilingual services of its subsidiaries.

After the September 11 terrorist attack, Air Canada had many problems and filed for bankruptcy protection on April 1, 2003. After 18 months of restructuring, the company emerged from bankruptcy protection on September 30, 2004.

On September 30, 2004, ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. became the parent company of Air Canada and all of its subsidiaries. In addition to Air Canada, ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. also took control over Aeroplan, Jazz, Destina and Air Canada Vacations.

As a component of its restructuring, a new corporate structure came into effect on October 1, 2004. The new structure is intended to promote improvements in productivity and efficiency, and facilitate future equity investment.

Air Canada has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of a newly created parent company, ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. In addition, several previous internal divisions and former subsidiaries of Air Canada have been spun off into a limited partnership under the direct or indirect control of ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. Right now, ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. is not covered by the official languages obligation or requirements related to the head office location.

Bill C-47 stipulates in clause 10.3:

The articles of ACE Aviation Holdings Inc., a body corporate incorporated on June 29, 2004 under the Canada Business Corporations Act, are deemed to contain:

(a) provisions requiring ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. to ensure that any member of the public can communicate in either official language with and obtain available services from its head office, and any of its other offices or facilities where there is a significant demand for communications with and services from that office or facility in both official languages, having regard to the public served; and

(b) provisions specifying that the head office of ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. is to be situated in the Greater Montreal area.

For that matter, the NDP understands why the federal government has introduced this bill to rectify the situation. We generally agree with the spirit of this bill.

Nonetheless, Aeroplan, an Air Canada subsidiary, offers travel bonuses, privileges and rewards for heavy travellers. This subsidiary is exempt from the Official Languages Act since it does not provide “air services, including incidental services” under section 10(10) of the Act. The Commissioner of Official Languages, Dyane Adam, seems to think that Aeroplan is subject to the Official Languages Act. This matter is currently before the courts.

I realize this bill still targets only Air Canada and its subsidiaries. Why not expand the parameters and apply the same rules to all the air carriers in the country and make it a uniform requirement?

Another point I want to raise is the fact that Air Canada is very slow to provide training to its staff when there is demand for bilingual services in a given region. Air Canada argues that it is waiting for special funding from the federal government allocated specifically for such bilingual training. The government and Air Canada have taken a wait and see attitude as to who will react first. In the meantime, travellers are being denied an essential service.

As I said earlier, the Commissioner of Official Languages has been receiving a lot of complaints about Air Canada's bilingual services. In 2001, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages which studied many of these complaints.

For more than 30 years now, successive Commissioners of Official Languages have reported on the shortcomings of Air Canada with respect to its obligations and its lack of cooperation in response to complaints.

Following these complaints, the government has introduced a number of amendments to update the Air Canada Public Participation Act. These amendments will extend to the former internal divisions of Air Canada. Some of those obligations, as well as the requirement to keep Air Canada's head office in Montreal, will apply to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. as the parent company of Air Canada.

The government has received ample notice on this issue. The Commissioner of Official Languages stated in 2003: “For me, it is important that, regardless of the changes that may occur in the coming months involving Air Canada, there be no diminution of the language rights of the travelling Canadian public.”

Also, the former Minister of Transport, David Collenette, stated in April 2003: “We totally and unequivocally support the Official Languages Act and its application to the national transportation system, and in particular to Air Canada.”

Here we are in 2005 and today we are once more talking about Air Canada, a company that is subject to the Official Languages Act and the one that has received the highest number of complaints in Canada.

We have here statistics from the period April 1, 2004 to March 31, 2005, which show Air Canada in first place with regard to complaints. They received 84 complaints, 77 of which are under investigation. Five were well founded and one was unfounded. So there were six complaints on which the investigations have been completed and five out of the six were justified.

I do not think we are talking through our hat. In fact, an article stated that Air Canada had appeared before the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. The Quebec National Assembly is also scheduled today to consider a motion by the Liberal Party urging Ottawa to respect the linguistic balance in air transport in Canada. The Liberal Party of Quebec introduced this motion after l'Association des gens de l'air du Québec had submitted a complaint to the Commissioner of Official Languages accusing Air Canada of contravening the Official Languages Act.

According to the association, which has released a damning document on the airline’s language practices, only 9% of the managers in charge of air transport activities are francophones. The president of the association, Serge Martel, talks of injustice and even claims that the situation has deteriorated over the past 20 years.

Air Canada has a subsidiary called Air Nova, which serves the Quebec regions and of which only 4% of the pilots are francophone. During this period, the number of francophone pilots has remained stagnant at 15% and the number of francophone employees at 17%. You will note that it does not work because Air Canada is not willing to respect the official languages.

I have in front of me the July 2002 edition of En route magazine. Complaints with respect to Air Canada have been filed with the Standing Committee on Official Languages. They have been discussed and studies have also been done.

I recall Robert Milton, the president and CEO of Air Canada. At the Standing Committee on Official Languages, one of my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois suggested that, in the seat pockets aboard that carrier’s aircraft, there be a form which people could fill out if they had a complaint. The representatives of Air Canada were pleased with that suggestion.

On the president's page of the in flight magazine, Mr. Milton says, “Canada official languages, the choice is yours. The pleasure to serve is ours. Air Canada is pleased to offer you service in English and French”.

So we were able to find the complaint form in that little pocket. Then Air Canada began receiving complaints. Since the spring, however, I have found that form only once. I deliberately went from seat to seat, looking in the pockets, but I could not find it. Imagine how many complaints Air Canada would be receiving if these forms were at each seat and people were given the chance to file their complaint in writing.

So I wrote a letter to Air Canada, asking where their complaint forms had gone. Air Canada responded that it was sorry, but that it just so happened that I could not find any forms that day, and said the comments it was now receiving were about the good service it was providing. I would surely like to see all of those comments!

All the same, I could no longer find the little message about official languages in the enRoute magazine. So I filed a complaint. I asked where that message had gone, and I told Air Canada that if it wanted to comply with the Official Languages Act, the message had to be there. Air Canada replied with its apologies. The message has reappeared: it is now in the October 2005 issue.

It says, “Air Canada is pleased to offer your service in English and French”.

However, the “official languages” are no longer mentioned. The title “Official Languages of Canada” has disappeared.

About the official languages, it is gone from En Route. Does that mean it likes to service us in both languages, but it is not ready to follow the Official Languages Act? It goes further.

When Air Canada was privatized in 1988 and became a crown corporation, it knew that there was a law about this. What is more, the government required that services be offered in both official languages.

When you buy, you buy the whole package. Now, Air Canada says it can no longer be competitive. In a way, it is true that when the government merged Air Canada and Canadian, it could have established a program that might have helped it along in the area of the official languages. This was suggested in the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

It is true that Bill C-47 should go further and that all national carriers, going from one end of the country to the other, ought to be subject to the Official Languages Act.

I am not sure it is correct to say that, so far as competition is concerned, when a carrier complies with the Official Languages Act and provides services in both languages, more people or customers will make use of its services. If an air ticket from Bathurst to Ottawa costs $1,400 and the same ticket costs $500 at CanJet, it is my impression that, given the $900 difference, the official languages will not be a consideration that day. Now we are served one glass of pop and a cookie, and we can’t even talk to the attendant any more. And indeed, there is nothing to ask for. There are no more meals served. There is nothing now. Not even much communication.

Nonetheless, the basic covenants of our country must be respected. There are two official languages here in this country, and they have to be respected. That respect is lacking.

Take the Thibodeau case. He took the plane from Montreal to Ottawa and was sitting near the window. He asked the flight attendant for “une cannette de Seven-Up”. The attendant said, “I don't speak French”. He said again that he wanted “une cannette de Seven-Up”. . The word cannette sounds a lot like the word “can”. Insofar as Seven-Up is concerned, so far as I can see Seven means seven and Up means up. It sounds a lot like English. An argument broke out about this during the flight, and when the plane landed in Ottawa, the police were waiting for Mr. Thibodeau. He was arrested.

He took his case to the federal courts. When he won, Air Canada appealed the ruling in favour of its customer, Mr. Thibodeau. He argued but did not fight with the attendant. His wife was sitting on the aisle and he was by the window. He just argued for his rights. In addition, three-quarters of what he said was in English. The police arrested him when he got off the plane in Ottawa. This was a flight from Montreal to Ottawa, not a flight to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia or British Columbia. It was here. This shows Air Canada's lack of respect for our country's two official languages.

It is time for this Parliament to pass Bill C-47 as quickly as possible. It is time for the Canadian government to tell Air Canada, “Enough is enough. You are going to stop breaking the law. You are going to comply with the Official Languages Act, both ways”. An anglophone from Vancouver who is flying to Montreal has the right to be served in his mother tongue just as does a francophone flying from New Brunswick or Quebec to Vancouver.

For the record, let us look at what is happening in British Columbia. There are more francophones there than ever. French has become an important language in British Columbia. It is the same in Alberta. As a result of our country's economy, people are leaving Quebec and New Brunswick and going to Alberta to work. Francophones are moving, as they say, from sea to sea.

All we ask is that Air Canada stop some of its actions that are in violation of the Official Languages Act. The Liberal government has a responsibility to ensure that the act is upheld. Bill C-47 must be passed as quickly as possible to tell Air Canada once and for all that it must respect both the official languages of our country .

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2005 / 12:05 p.m.
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Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the response but I think the member is using hyperbolic language when he says that Air Canada has never respected the law. It is not true. Does it have its violations? Yes, it does and those have been made very public. Does the Conservative Party support people breaking the law? Of course we do not. I think it goes without saying that no member in the House supports people breaking the law.

If the member really believes in this, then I look forward to his party standing up at the transport committee or the official languages committee, which we have recommended the bill be referred to, and offer up some amendments in order to make the bill tougher.

Bill C-47 is the government's own legislation that deals with official bilingualism with regard to Air Canada or the air industry in any regard whatsoever. If the member believes in amending it, in making penalties tougher, in expanding its purview, in making the requirements more stringent and in all the things that he is saying, I would encourage him, his party and his transport critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, to show up at the transport committee, instead of just coming into the House and making his points, as he did, which are certainly with principle and with clarity, and actually walk their talk.

I encourage the member opposite and his party to put forward some concrete amendments. They should take pen and paper, write some amendments down and bring them to the transport committee. We will discuss them and if he sees a purpose for this legislation, we, as Conservatives who believe in official bilingualism and who believe in this legislation, are certainly prepared to entertain that and to make it happen.

I want to make mention of one thing though. The member said, I think with some disdain, that the previous Conservative government privatized Air Canada and since then we have had all kinds of problems. The truth is that Air Canada's privatization has been a massive success for this country. More people are flying today than ever before and they are doing it with more choice, more opportunity, more freedom, more frequency and at lower prices than ever before. Air liberalization has worked for Canada. It was our idea and we are proud of it, and we are continuing to build on it.

As a Conservative government we will expand our open skies and give Canadians even more choice.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2005 / noon
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Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, when my colleague make a blanket statement that Air Canada is not abiding by the Official Languages Act, I do not think that statement in its totality is quite true.

Air Canada receives the most complaints about not complying with the Official Languages Act ,certainly in his home province of New Brunswick and in parts of Quebec, principally because 65% of all flights in this country are Air Canada flights. Whenever we hear a plane flying overhead, no matter where we are in this country, odds are that two out of three of those flights are Air Canada. Because of the volume of all air traffic in this country that is constituted by Air Canada traffic, of course it will have the most complaints, more than any other carrier, but that does not mean it is not abiding by the Official Languages Act.

Abiding by the Official Languages Act right now is costing Air Canada anywhere between $10 million to $12 million a year in terms of compliance. I have heard the complaints raised by members of the Bloc and by the member and, most important, the complaints raised by the Canadian people through the Official Languages Commissioner about Air Canada not abiding by the Official Languages Act.

However I do not think the problem is with Air Canada. I think the problem is that the Liberal government is not enforcing the regulations that it set out. This happens over and over again in all sorts of areas that we see in aviation policy and so on.

It goes too far to say that Air Canada is not abiding by the Official Languages Act. It may make mistakes and may not be doing its due diligence in certain circumstances but should it be held accountable to the standards imposed on it by law? That is certainly the case.

If he believes, as I do, that Canada is a country where two official languages co-exist, and that the House of Commons and the government ought to respect those two languages, the question that ought to be asked is this: why is there a standard for official languages for Air Canada when there is none for CanJet, for example? CanJet works out of Montreal and is not subjected to the standard on official languages. The same goes for WestJet, which operates daily in Quebec and in his province of New Brunswick. These airlines are not required to provide services in French. Only Air Canada is.

If we really believe in the official language policies of this country, we should be holding everyone to the same standard. The Conservative Party believes in the official bilingualism reality of this country and we support the Official Languages Act. We support Bill C-47 but we also support a government that applies regulations equally across the air industry and that is not what we are seeing from the government.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2005 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I have listened with much interest to the speech by our colleague from Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam. I would like to ask him a question. First, he says quite clearly that his party will be supporting Bill C-47. Now, that bill stipulates:

This enactment extends the application of the Official Languages Act to certain affiliates of Air Canada and deems the articles of ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. to include provisions respecting the location of its head office and the right of persons to communicate with that corporation in both official languages.

In my view, this is the important part of the bill. For some time, Air Canada was owned by the Canadian taxpayers. In 1988, when the Conservative Party of Brian Mulroney was in power, Air Canada was privatized.

As I listened to his speech, I noticed that he had done a lot of research. That was interesting. He spoke to us about Air Canada and almost all the airports in the world. He is indeed very familiar with this issue.

However, in all of the research that he passed on to us, I heard no complaint about Air Canada’s failure to respect the official languages. A published report mentions the ten institutions—including departments and other institutions—that are most often cited, that is, those that receive the most complaints. The company that heads the list is Air Canada. It is curious that his speech made no mention of the complaints about Air Canada and its failure to comply with the Official Languages Act, and its continuing failure to comply. Yet it is a Canadian company which is obliged to operate under the Official Languages Act.

I agree with my colleague when he says that the Conservative Party respects the official languages and will be supporting Bill C-47.

In his speech he spoke of how badly the government is behaving in this regard. Naturally I am not taking the government’s side on this subject. He also said that the government wants to interfere with Air Canada. Yet he said nothing about how Air Canada has not respected and continues not to respect the official languages. That is why it is so important to be in favour of Bill C-47. For it is Air Canada that most contravenes the provisions of the Official Languages Act in Canada. It is the company that receives the most complaints, and does so continually.

So I would like to hear his opinion on this.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2005 / 11:35 a.m.
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Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I am happy to speak on behalf of the official opposition in support of Bill C-47, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

Basically Bill C-47 is an administrative response to the restructuring of Air Canada that took place last year. In that restructuring, Air Canada, a former crown corporation, became a subsidiary of ACE Aviation Holdings Inc.

Bill C-47 requires that the provisions of the Air Canada Public Participation Act in respect of the Official Languages Act and the location of Air Canada's head office in Montreal be applied also to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc.

Air Canada has never given any indication that it intends to abandon Montreal and a few months ago, the company signed a long-term lease in that city.

Air Canada, furthermore, views its language proficiency as a competitive advantage. Like Air Transat, Air Canada is a private sector airline with its head office in Montreal, its hub in Toronto and employees who strive to speak both of our official languages correctly.

Air Canada is committed to using both of Canada's official languages. It is also committed to remaining in Montreal.

The Conservative Party caucus is in favour of this bill because its spirit flows directly from subsection 91(i) of the Conservative Party of Canada Policy Declaration, which reads as follows:

A Conservative Government will support the Official Languages Act ensuring that English and French have equality of status and equal rights and privileges—

If English and French truly have equality of status and equal rights and privileges, these obligations must apply to the leading national air carrier, especially since it is the only one to offer service to many international destinations.

Finally, Bill C-47 is largely a housekeeping bill, its spirit flows from the Conservative Party of Canada Policy Declaration, and Air Canada is not opposed to it.

We will accordingly support Bill C-47.

This having been said, I wonder whether Air Canada's government relations department continues its enthusiastic support of the Liberal government.

Senator David Angus, a former Air Canada board member, has informed me that legislation such as the present bill would subject Air Canada to a much higher level of official languages compliance than what is required of Air Transat. He informed me that the difference between Air Transat's version of bilingualism and Air Canada's compliance with the Official Languages Act costs Air Canada some $11 million a year. Clearly, this issue falls within the expertise of the official languages committee, not the transport committee. It would be my recommendation that Bill C-47 be referred to that committee instead of the transport committee.

At the same time, given that virtually every current and former member of Air Canada's government relations team--let me repeat that every current and former member of Air Canada's government relations team--virtually every single one of them has worked either for a Liberal MP or for the Liberal Party during the last election. I can only assume that Robert Milton and Montie Brewer and Air Canada's senior management support Bill C-47.

As transport critic for the official opposition and a very frequent Air Canada passenger, I have official and unofficial contact with Air Canada at many different levels and I can say that its support of the Liberal government is truly bizarre.

Even as recently as October 31, Liberal Senator Percy Downe called on the Senate to examine current government imposed operating requirements on Air Canada. In particular, he is concerned that Air Canada serves Charlottetown from Montreal instead of Toronto. He told the press:

My inquiry will examine the current, government-imposed operating requirements on Air Canada and the responsibility and opportunity for the Government of Canada to impose additional conditions on Air Canada so all Canadians can enjoy reasonably comparable levels of air service at reasonably comparable levels of cost, no matter where they live.

His statement ignores the fact that Air Canada's Charlottetown service now flies from Montreal in accordance with the transport minister's advice that airlines concerned about high rent at Pearson airport move flights to Montreal. He also ignores the fact that WestJet now offers Toronto-Charlottetown non-stop service with much bigger planes than Air Canada offers.

Nonetheless, the Liberal senator argues, “It is entirely within the power of the federal government to impose service and operating conditions on Air Canada”. In fact, such is the Liberal Party's fascination with regulating Air Canada that in the past three years the airline has been mentioned by name in four separate government initiated bills, Bill C-38, Bill C-26, Bill C-44 and Bill C-47. The company has been mentioned by name in the House some 360 times since the 2000 election.

Based on statements made in the House by Liberal and NDP MPs, they want to tell Air Canada what planes to buy, where to maintain them, where to fly them, what ticket prices to charge, how to advertise and how to manage their businesses. Perhaps MPs with these concerns should go ahead and buy Air Canada stock. Personally, given that Air Canada is a private company, I believe that these decisions are best made by Air Canada management. As a result, I believe that Air Canada probably wants as little government attention as possible.

For example, in June 2003 after Air Canada's first Montreal-Beirut flight had taken off, the government cancelled Air Canada's permission to fly the route. Air Canada had promoted the route for several months and informed the government that the national airlines of France, Germany, Holland, Italy and the U.K. were all serving Beirut. Nonetheless, at the last minute the Liberal government cancelled the route, citing security concerns.

A similar situation happened this past July. The federal government had given Air Canada permission to operate Toronto-Calgary-Shanghai freighter service. At the time Air Canada did not have a suitable aircraft so it leased one from California based World Airways. Here it was following the lead of Canada's military, which leases Russian cargo planes to fly our troops and supplies overseas.

A couple of days before the first flight was to depart, Ajay K. Virmani, whose company Starjet flew the Prime Minister during the last election, complained. He said that Air Canada would compete unfairly against him on the Toronto-Calgary portion of that flight. The Minister of Transport ignored the fact that Air Canada is allowed to fly any size plane it wants on any route within Canada and agreed instead with the Prime Minister's friend. Air Canada was forced to cancel the Calgary stop on its flight to Shanghai as a result.

The cancellation of the Calgary stop on the Toronto-Shanghai service had negative financial consequences for Air Canada in the same way that the company was hurt by the previous decision to cancel the Montreal-Beirut service at the last minute.

However, when the Liberals do not directly target Air Canada, their ill-conceived policies can cost the airline significant amounts of money. For example, Air Canada's major hub is Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport. Air Canada and its affiliate Jazz operate up to 660 daily flights and departures at Pearson airport, serving more than 100 destinations, representing approximately 35% of Air Canada's total operations.

From Pearson, Air Canada flies non-stop to three other continents, Asia, Europe and South America. In this respect, Air Canada's operations at Pearson compete directly against United's hub at Chicago O'Hare, Delta's hub at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and those of Northwest Airlines at the Detroit Metro Airport.

When it comes to Air Canada's Toronto operations, the current Minister of Transport is Air Canada's arch-enemy. He is well aware that federal airport rents and charges together with federal agencies that use free space at Pearson have helped to make Pearson airport the most expensive airport in the world. However, he does not care. He thinks that airlines that are concerned about high rents and taxes at Pearson should fly instead to Montreal.

The transport minister wants us to believe that he has Air Canada's best interests at heart. However, on May 9 when he introduced a package to cut airport rents nationwide, he offered average savings of 52% to Canada's larger airports while only offering 6% to Pearson. This unfairness was underlined by the fact that while other airports faced an immediate rent reduction, Toronto's rent actually increased this year due to a requirement to repay the deferred costs of the SARS crisis of 2003.

Compounding the problem is the fact that when Delta sells a Peruvian customer a Lima-Frankfurt ticket, the routing goes via Delta's hub in Atlanta, which has one of the lowest landing fees of any major U.S. airport. If Air Canada sells the same passenger a Lima-Frankfurt ticket, the routing passes through the world's most expensive airport, Toronto Pearson.

Both Toronto Pearson and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson are large well-run airports. However, this year Pearson will pay a staggering $144 million to Ottawa as a result of the transport minister's airport rent, airport taxes policy. On the other hand, Atlanta receives airport support of up to $47 million a year in grants from the U.S. government. The difference has a huge impact on landing fees, taxes and passenger traffic.

As Air Canada and Delta compete for the business of the Lima-Frankfurt traveller, both airlines have similar aircraft and similar costs. However, because of the difference in airport taxes, Air Canada either has to charge more to cover Toronto's high landing fees or make less profit in order to match Delta's price.

By continuing to ignore this situation, the Minister of Transport is delivering a slap in the face to Air Canada's 12,000 Toronto based employees and telling them, “You have to work harder for less so that Air Canada can pay my taxes and compete with foreign carriers”. Unfortunately, although the minister has been made aware of this problem several times, he has chosen to turn a deaf ear.

At transport committee on October 27, one week ago today, in response to yet another call for rent relief at Pearson airport, the minister said, “I have never met a normal person who has talked to me about airport rent unless they have a vested interest”.

I can tell this House that my office is aware of the following vested interests who have called for urgent rent relief in order to let Air Canada compete on a level playing field with its international competitors. They include: the Air Transport Association of Canada; the International Air Transport Association; the Association of Airline Representatives in Canada; the Canadian Airports Council; the Canadian Courier & Messenger Association; the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies; the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association; the Greater Toronto Hotel Association; and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

However, seven significant non-vested interests have joined the call for rent relief as well. They include: the City of Toronto, including council and Liberal Mayor David Miller; the City of Toronto Economic Development Committee; the City of Brampton, Mayor Fennell; the Province of Ontario, including Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty; the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport; the Canadian Chamber of Commerce; the Toronto Board of Trade; the Brampton Board of Trade.

It appears there is no way at all to wake up the transport minister or to convince him to move forward to cut Toronto's rent. I want Canadians to understand that no one should be able to claim to be our national transportation minister while undermining the ability of a major Canadian international airline to compete against foreign carriers.

Let me be clear to this House and to all Canadians, a Conservative government would quickly deal with the tremendous unfairness and the oppressive rents that the federal Liberals are charging Air Canada's Toronto hub.

If Bill C-47 is the transport minister's idea of legislation to assist Air Canada, let me paint a very different picture.

A Conservative government would negotiate an open skies agreement with the United States with a view to promoting increased economic opportunities for Canadian air carriers. One way to do this would be for Canada and the U.S. to grant modified sixth freedom rights to each other's countries.

Modified sixth freedom is a way of describing the situation where a Vancouver passenger buys a Vancouver-Minneapolis round trip ticket on Northwest and a round trip Minneapolis-Montreal ticket also on Northwest and combines both tickets to fly Vancouver-Minneapolis-Montreal round trip.

The granting of sixth freedom rights is attractive because they do not require airlines to offer a single new flight, but offers them increasing flexibility to sell seats on any flights that they offer. For Air Canada, modified sixth freedoms would offer increased revenue opportunities in particular at its Toronto hub.

Like many major Canadian airports, Pearson has Canadian customs facilities as well as U.S. preclearance facilities. Typically, U.S. bound Canadians preclear U.S. customs before departure in Canada, but clear Canadian customs after they return to Canada. Often Canadian and American customs and immigration facilities are actually located side by side in the same airport. This operating reality means it would be theoretically possible for an airline passenger arriving in Toronto from Los Angeles to stay in the U.S. precleared in transit zone and board a connecting flight to New York on Air Canada without ever having to step foot on Canadian soil legally.

Given that Air Canada offers non-stop daily flights to 41 U.S. cities from Toronto, as compared to the 60 U.S. cities served by US Airways from Pittsburgh, granting Air Canada modified sixth freedom rights would allow it to make Toronto a mid-size U.S. hub almost immediately and with virtually no additional cost.

Given that the revenue calculations of Air Canada's 41 Toronto U.S. routes are based on transborder and U.S. international traffic, the income from exploiting its potential modified sixth freedom rights would go straight to the bottom line.

Further, given Toronto's geographic location and the impressive number of U.S. destinations that Air Canada serves from it, the potential economic benefit to Air Canada of modified sixth freedoms is quite significant.

Research was done last May by Professor Richard Janda and students Shy Kurtz and David Dubrovsky of McGill University Institute of Air and Space Law. They argue that for the top 15 U.S. domestic pairs, a routing via Toronto would be competitive with a routing via most U.S. domestic hubs. In other words, as a U.S. hub, Toronto would be competitive with Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh.

All that is required for this to happen and to move forward is a forward thinking negotiation and a dramatic reduction in airport rents that the Liberal government currently charges at Pearson airport. The Liberals prefer to see Pearson airport instead as a major cash cow to be exploited, while they take Toronto voters for granted. The Conservatives see Pearson as an engine for economic growth to be nurtured and built upon.

Bill C-47 would require Air Canada to offer bilingual service on all of its flights around the world. Air Canada management willingly embraces this initiative and sees its ability to serve customers in various languages as a competitive advantage, yet another way to lure international travellers to fly Air Canada. This is a positive thing. We have no problem with this as Conservatives. We embrace official bilingualism.

The global airline industry is intensely competitive. The impact of government policy on the major airports that airlines use as hubs cannot be understated. The fact that Amsterdam is served by flights from countries in South America that are not also served from Toronto is symbolic of the problem. Dutch government backed Schiphol airport in Amsterdam has some of the lowest fees in the world, while Toronto has the world's most expensive. This reality and aggressive marketing allowed KLM to profitably serve from Amsterdam destinations which are not flyable from Toronto due to government costs.

Through visionary thinking the Dutch government has positioned Amsterdam's Schiphol airport as a truly global gateway and a major engine for economic growth for its country. For example, the greater Toronto area has three times the population of greater Amsterdam, yet Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is significantly bigger than Pearson and handles nearly 50% more passengers. Amsterdam's airport has flights to 251 destinations, over 100 of which are outside of Europe. Pearson on the other hand has flights to 110 destinations, only 42 of which are outside of Canada and the United States.

I understand that the size of an airport and the number of flights it receives are dependent on a number of factors, such as geography, history and the economic development of the area. Nonetheless, forward thinking Dutch aviation policy has allowed Amsterdam to grow into the world's ninth busiest airport. This is particularly impressive when we realize how close it is to London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, and Frankfurt, all of which are among the world's top eight busiest airports.

I would like to suggest that part of the reason Amsterdam's airport is so successful is that the Dutch government has been at the forefront of negotiating open skies agreements with other countries. In addition, the Dutch government sees Amsterdam airport as a major driver of that country's economy and that is reflected in various government policies which support the development of the airport.

This House will soon pass Bill C-47, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act. The Minister of Transport will be happy to see Air Canada providing bilingual service wherever in the world he flies.

In the meantime, this same minister must do everything he can to further the economic opportunities for Air Canada and the other Canadian airlines by enacting the measures proposed in this House. From Air Canada's perspective, the minister may well want to address this issue, but his progress to date has been less than impressive.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2005 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to speak today on behalf of the Minister of Transport and the government.

I am interested in this issue because, of course, I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Transport since my arrival in the House. I am also interested in it because many Air Canada employees live in my riding. There are easily three families, at least one member of whom works for this airline, in my little neighbourhood.

Obviously, Bill C-47 seeks to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act. These amendments will update the legislation to respond to Air Canada's new corporate structure, and will contribute to the February 2, 2004, Speech from the Throne commitment to nurture Canada's linguistic duality.

The Government of Canada was reassured to see Air Canada successfully emerge from bankruptcy protection on September 30, 2004. Over a period of 18 months, Air Canada, with the dedication and cooperation of its unions, suppliers and other key stakeholders, made significant progress in finding a private sector solution to restructure its operations and reduce the cost gap vis-à-vis low-cost carriers.

The Government of Canada recognizes that significant changes have taken place in the airline industry over the past few years. In view of changes in the marketplace, and in timely response to issues faced by Air Canada during its restructuring, the Government of Canada has moved ahead on many fronts to support both a successful Air Canada going forward, and a competitive Canadian air industry in a global market.

In the face of this new competitive environment, we have given serious consideration to the continued need for past measures.

Today, I wish to recall for the House the history behind the Air Canada Public Participation Act, and the continued relevance and importance of this legislation. Specifically, I will speak to the continued importance of the protection of official languages to the social fabric of Canada.

Second, I will recount the history of Air Canada, Canada's national airline, and its continued commitment to the provision of service to Canadians in both official languages.

Lastly, I will speak to specific aspects of the proposed bill before us.

The emblem of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages depicts Canada's linguistic duality as a fabric woven of many threads. Those of us who speak English and those of us who speak French, ourselves made up of many different elements, have joined together to weave a social fabric called Canada.

Canada's linguistic duality has been a defining feature of our nation since Confederation. In recognition of this shared national heritage, in 1969, the Government of Canada adopted the Official Languages Act, which provided formal mechanisms to ensure the protection of both English and French language rights, nationally.

Canada's commitment to the formal recognition of both English and French was reaffirmed in 1982, with the entrenchment of the right to linguistic equality in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I would also note that, in recognition of the desire of consumers for service in the official language of their choice, Canadian air carriers are choosing to provide services to the public in both French and English.

As we know, Air Canada was established by Parliament in April 1937 as the national airline to provide essential air transportation, cargo and mail services across Canada. As a crown corporation, Air Canada has been subject to the Official Languages Act since that legislation came into effect in 1969.

In 1988, under the Conservative government of the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, then Prime Minister of Canada, Air Canada was privatized under the authority of the Air Canada Public Participation Act, which authorized the sale of the Government of Canada's shareholdings in the air carrier.

At that time, the Conservative government imposed official language obligations on Air Canada through the Air Canada Public Participation Act in recognition of the importance of preserving language rights for the travelling public and Air Canada employees, and as a result of the carrier's history as a federal crown corporation.

Responding to Canadians in 2000, the Government of Canada amended the act when Air Canada acquired Canadian Airlines to include an obligation on Air Canada to ensure that its subsidiaries provided air services to the public in both official languages.

Today, due to Air Canada's restructuring and its new corporate structure as of October 1, 2004, without government action Canadians and Air Canada employees will face a situation where the Air Canada Public Participation Act applies to a reduced Air Canada in terms of both operations and number of employees.

While the Air Canada Public Participation Act continues to apply to Air Canada mainline, the principal air carrier, its obligations and those of the Official Languages Act no longer apply to the operations that have been moved out from under Air Canada and are now affiliates of Air Canada.

This includes Jazz Air Limited Partnership—the regional air carrier serving many designated francophone communities throughout Canada. Jazz was formerly a subsidiary of Air Canada, and, as such, Air Canada was obligated to ensure that Jazz provided service to the public in both official languages. Today, Jazz Air Limited Partnership is a limited partnership controlled by ACE Aviation Holdings Incorporated, the newly created parent company of Air Canada. Under this new corporate structure, Jazz has no official language obligations.

Furthermore, ACE Aviation Holdings Incorporated, the parent company that controls directly and indirectly all the entities within the new corporate structure of Air Canada, is not covered by language obligations or a requirement related to its head office location.

On several occasions, Air Canada has publicly stated that it is committed to providing service to the public in both official languages regardless of the law, as it is in its best interests to serve the public in the language of its choice. The Government of Canada acknowledges and applauds Air Canada's commitment to Canadians. Through this bill, the Government of Canada will ensure that Air Canada fulfills this commitment.

While Air Canada is the only air carrier in Canada subject to the Official Languages Act, I would like to point out that other Canadian air carriers recognize the importance of serving the public in both official languages. As other carriers recognize the business advantage of offering bilingual services, the cost differential between Air Canada and other Canadian air carriers for the provision of these services is diminishing.

Notwithstanding the fine example that Air Canada has and will continue to set in provision of service to Canadians in both official languages in the Canadian air industry, Air Canada has not provided the Government of Canada with the same assurance that it will continue to uphold the official obligations of language of work. It is also unclear whether the commitment by Air Canada is intended to cover entities in the new corporate structure other than Air Canada.

On October 5, 2004, in his address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister stated that we as Canadians must be vigilant to prevent the erosion of our linguistic duality. The Government of Canada believes that monitoring and enforcement of Air Canada's commitment to official languages is necessary. Through this bill we are following through on the Prime Minister's commitment to Canadians of that vigilance.

On October 19, 2004, the Commissioner of Official Languages tabled her fifth annual report which recommended:

Transport Canada propose the adoption of the necessary legal amendments to preserve and protect the language rights of the public and Air Canada's employees, regardless of the modifications that are made to the structure and organization of the air transportation industry.

Through this bill Transport Canada is responding to that recommendation.

As hon. members may recall, the implications of Air Canada's restructuring became an issue during the federal election campaign. At that time, in response to Canadians, the Prime Minister made a public commitment that there would be no erosion in the application of the Air Canada Public Participation Act, and specifically the official languages obligations.

This issue has been raised on several occasions since then, and the Minister of Transport has publicly reiterated the Government of Canada's commitment to introduce legislation to ensure the status quo—no more, no less—on Air Canada. Today, through this bill, the Government of Canada is following through on this important commitment.

I would now like to share with the House the specific aspects of this bill that will achieve our objectives to ensure the continued protection of the official languages and maintain the status quo under the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

In order to preserve the status quo, this bill will ensure that full official language obligations would continue to be applied to Air Canada and would be retained for the former internal divisions of Air Canada that have been spun off and that are federally regulated undertakings.

In addition, Jazz Air Limited Partnership would be made subject to part IV—service to the public—of the Official Languages Act. As I have already noted, prior to restructuring, Air Canada was required to ensure that its subsidiaries providing air services offered services in both official languages.

However, as Jazz is now an affiliate of Air Canada, and not a subsidiary, the former obligation will now be placed directly on Jazz. Jazz will also be subject to parts VIII, IX and X—the enforcement mechanisms and policies—of the Official Languages Act. This ensures continued compliance with official languages obligations, a responsibility for which Air Canada was directly answerable previously.

The bill would require ACE Aviation Holdings Incorporated, the holding company, to provide communications to the public in both official languages and to keep its head office in Montreal. This would ensure that obligations consistent with those applied to Air Canada, as head body of the corporation, are extended to the new parent company owning and controlling, either directly or indirectly, all of the affiliates within the new structure.

As well, in order to maintain the status quo, any future airline subsidiaries established in Canada by ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. or Air Canada would be required to provide service to the public in both official languages. To ensure that these proposed amendments do not extend beyond the status quo, the following qualifications are included within the provision.

First, the language obligations would only apply to affiliates of Air Canada that ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. controls. Once control is lost through an outright sale or through the sale of a controlling interest, these obligations would cease. In addition, language requirements would not be extended to a future airline affiliate that provides air services exclusively outside of Canada. This ensures that Canada's air liberalization agenda does not adversely affect the ability of Air Canada to compete in foreign markets.

In conclusion, the adoption of the bill will respond to the Government of Canada's commitment to Canadians for the continued protection of Canada's linguistic duality and will update the legislation to respond to Air Canada's new corporate structure.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2005 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Don Valley West Ontario

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberalfor the Minister of Transport

moved that Bill C-47, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

October 27th, 2005 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member, unfortunately, takes the opportunity every Thursday to ask the same question, knowing the answer will be exactly the same because it is factual.

The opposition days will begin the week of November 14, and I indicated that some weeks ago to the opposition House leaders. At that point, I thought the matter had been dealt with and that we would focus on the agenda, which is important to Canadians.

We will continue with the second reading of Bill C-67, which is the surpluses bill. Should this be completed, we would then return to the second reading debate of Bill C-66, the energy legislation. We do not sit on Friday. On Monday we will commence the second reading debate of Bill C-68, respecting the Pacific Gateway. We will give priority to these bills over the next week.

On Tuesday evening there will be a take note debate on cross-border Internet drugs.

If debates on the major bills that I have referred to are completed by late next week, we will then turn to report stage of Bill S-38, respecting the spirits trade, second reading of Bill C-47, the Air Canada bill, Bill C-50, respecting cruelty to animals, second reading of Bill C-44, the transport legislation, second reading of Bill C-61, the marine bill, reference before second reading of Bill C-46, the correctional services bill, report stage of Bill C-54, the first nations resources bill and other bills that will perhaps come back from committee that we would like to get into the House for further debate.

In order to bring about that take note debate on Tuesday, I move:

That a debate pursuant to Standing Order 53.1 take place on Tuesday, November 1 on the subject of cross-border Internet drugs.