Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-6 concerning the Aeronautics Act.
When this bill was first debated, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport Canada told us that it provides for a legislative framework to further enhance aviation safety and, through safety management systems, to have a system in place that will actually allow a continuous method of keeping Canadians safe. According to him, Australia and the United Kingdom have had great results from this system.
Bill C-6 does indeed deal with integrated management systems and does allow for voluntary reporting programs under which information relating to aviation safety and security can be reported. Bill C-6 is indeed also based on the work done by the previous Liberal government.
However, it will be up to the present government to persuade us, to persuade us and Canadians, that the bill is still a good one.
Before I delve into the provisions of the text, let me make perfectly clear the principle upon which this side of the House's comments are predicated. The average Canadian citizen trusts that when it comes to boarding an airplane in this country, to fly to any destination, our federal government carries out its responsibility to ensure that the flight will be safe.
When parents send their teenage daughter on her first trip away from home, they trust in our federal safety system. When children see their father off on a business trip, they trust in our federal safety system. When a family waits patiently at the airport for a visit from their grandmother, they trust in our federal safety system.
The government has assigned this responsibility to Transport Canada and this bill seeks to amend a large piece of the legislation that safeguards passengers on the planes in our skies.
Bill C-6 amends the Aeronautics Act, which, as we know, establishes the Minister of Transport's responsibility for the development and the regulation of aeronautics in Canada and the supervision of all matters related to aeronautics. In particular, the Aeronautics Act enables the minister to apply the Canadian aviation regulations, which are, in effect, the rules governing aviation in Canada.
Keeping this in mind, I believe all members in the House will understand the caution that we as an opposition will bring to our examination of Bill C-6.
There are four avenues of inquiry that I would like to raise here today. If Bill C-6 is acceptable in premise to this House, then we will soon see it in committee and will be able to apply a stringent analysis of it, beginning, I hope, with these questions.
A large portion of this bill deals with the decision to make “integrated management systems” the basis for a broad range of important regulations, but what exactly are integrated management systems?
Over the past 10 years, companies in the transportation industries have adopted complex plans to achieve certain goals. These are management tools. These plans are systemic, in the sense that they coordinate activities throughout the company to achieve their goals, and they are integrated, in the sense that they bring together the standards set by outside authorities with the processes used by modern transportation enterprises.
Safety management systems are an example of an essential kind of integrated management system. Under a specific safety management system, an airline may, for example, set out how and how often its mechanics have to check an airplane's engines. The plans, the safety management systems, are meant to prevent problems from occurring by taking every reasonable precaution.
By planning how often mechanics are to check the engines and by planning what they should do if there is a question mark of any sort, hopefully there will never be a safety incident. This is the role of a safety management system.
Transport Canada has been working with airlines and safety management systems for several years. Up until now, they have guided a company's actions but have not had the force of law. Instead, Transport Canada has continued to enforce safety regulations, enabled by the existing Aeronautics Act, as the legal standards for safe flying.
If an airline did not comply with the actual aviation regulations, including the paperwork submitted to prove that it was in compliance, it did not matter how good the safety management system was. The airline was simply breaking the law.
Now, with Bill C-6, the government would like to change the obligations of airlines and certain other aviation organizations. The government is saying that Transport Canada should be able to compel these organizations to meet their safety standards, these requirements, and do away with the old prescriptive Transport Canada regulations.
The argument for this evolution is that airlines have many things to do to ensure safety. They have every incentive to be safe and so have already come up with the systems that are most effective.
It is a waste of time and energy, the government argues, for these companies to verify to Transport Canada at every turn that the safety checks are done. Instead, Transport Canada should focus on ensuring that the system agreed to is actually in effect through audits and inspections.
Let us think about this for the average Canadian as if we were taking care of a truck. Right now, Transport Canada tells the company to inspect the brakes every month. It asks for paperwork stating that the inspection was complete. The company's representative declares that the inspection was done and that there was no problem. With Bill C-6, Transport Canada would instead require the company to plan to check the brakes and it would check to see that the plan was being followed, but no paperwork would be submitted on a continual basis attesting that those individual checks were done successfully.
Is this a better way of ensuring safety for travelling Canadians? Does it allow precious safety resources to be better focused on integrating a whole safe system so that incidents do not occur? Or, does it relieve pressure and ultimately lead to gaps that could have tragic consequences?
Despite the enthusiasm of the parliamentary secretary and the minister for Bill C-6, I do not see a clear-cut answer to this yet. We need to know that the safety measures that are to be used are accurate and encourage the safest possible flights. We also need to know that the safety indicators, tracked by different airlines, are comparable, that when we raise the bar, we are comparing apples to apples in establishing our safety standards.
Bill C-6 contains the provision on voluntary reporting of information relating to aviation safety and security, a provision that gives rise to another concern.
The bill authorizes the minister to establish a program under which individuals working in the transportation industry may report to his department any information relating to aviation safety that they consider to be relevant, in the strictest confidentiality. The goal here is for people who are responsible for mistakes to have every reason to admit them as soon as possible so that they can remedied before any damage is done.
I fully support the creation of an environment in which employees and others will do everything possible to ensure safety. In fact, from the important work done by our government in the area of intelligent regulation, I have observed over the years that we must be more flexible in the instruments we choose to achieve the desired result. The desired result in this case is clear: safe aircraft—period.
The government has a spectrum of possible tools at its disposal to achieve this clear goal of safety. They range, on the one hand, from specific command and control style regulations, with Transport Canada saying, “Thou shalt abide by this rule”, to, on the other hand, purely voluntary measures. My concern is that voluntary reporting of critical safety information may not be sufficient in a situation where people's lives and people's livelihoods are at risk.
Undoubtedly, we need a mix of rules and regulations that provide for the best opportunity to prevent air disasters. We have a good track record. Let us be careful about what changes we are ready to make here.
My third area of concern is the powers of the minister generally. There are several pieces of legislation before us this fall, during a minority government no less, that intend to increase the powers of the Minister of Transport.
Bill C-3 would give the minister the direct power to authorize the construction of international bridges and tunnels without parliamentary oversight. Bill C-6 would open the door for the minister to devolve his powers and responsibilities for aeronautical safety to other organizations. Bill C-11 would allow the minister to review mergers and acquisitions in all federal transportation sectors, hardly the hallmark of a Conservative government. Bill C-20, if we ever see it come to the fore, proposes to let the minister oversee and constrain the operations of airport authorities in new and restrictive ways.
When taken as a whole, these measures indicate clearly that the government is moving forward on all fronts to give the Minister of Transport new powers.
It is fear of this very tendency, what was described as a power grab, that prompted a loud outcry from the members of the Conservative Party when they were in opposition. I note that they have been strangely silent for several months now, however, when it comes to expanding government powers. This is particularly true in the case of the backbenchers on the government side.
I would note that I am not opposed to the principle of greater powers when that is necessary, but I would like to remind the minister and the government side of what they said and the expectations they created on the part of the Canadian public. They still have the onus of demonstrating the urgent need to expand the minister’s powers, not only in Bill C-6, but also in four other transport bills.
Finally, let me turn to my fourth subject and my fourth area of concern, the proposed creation of the Canadian Forces airworthiness investigative authority. The new CFAIA, as it is called, would take on the responsibilities of the Transportation Safety Board for aeronautical incidents, including accidents that involve Canadian Forces aircraft.
The information surrounding these events would now fall under the clear jurisdiction of the Minister of National Defence, as we have just heard from his parliamentary secretary. This is, in and of itself, a sensible development. However, the concerns expressed to me by various groups, which I wish to express to the government, regard incidents that involve both military and civilian aircraft.
The new CFAIA would be given the authority to investigate these incidents and accidents in Bill C-6. However, Canadians want to be assured that they will still have access to full and complete information in the unfortunate circumstance that an accident affects them or their loved ones. In fact, they would like access to full and complete information whether or not the accident directly affects them because transparency is of the utmost importance in a democratic society such as ours.
The new subsection 17(2) of the Aeronautics Act would read that investigation observers from outside the forces are “Subject to any conditions that the Airworthiness Investigative Authority imposes...”. It is incumbent upon the government to now clarify what measures are being taken to guarantee that the facts of any future incident will not be covered up using the proposed provisions of the Aeronautics Act.
I know that the government is committed in words to transparency, but Canadians need to see that the government is equally committed to act in a transparent manner.
I am pleased to see that under Liberal leadership, the government did extensive consultations with industry, labour and other stakeholders, and that there appears to be widespread support for some of the provisions in this bill, but as a responsible opposition, we are not yet convinced that the bill as written meets the appropriate societal tests.
There is no doubt in my mind that we must be constantly vigilant to ensure that the federal government, which is constitutionally seized with and responsible for aeronautical safety, and the private aircraft operators and companies who compete today in a low margin, highly competitive international marketplace, have struck the appropriate balance of rule and regulation to provide for safety in the greater public interest.
The families who depart and arrive in airports throughout Canada, every minute and every hour of every day, deserve no less than our full attention to Bill C-6.
We will support the bill at second reading and I look forward to the opportunity in committee to hear witnesses explain, in much greater detail, what will actually happen on the ground should Bill C-6 earn our ultimate approval.