Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak on Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act.
As I mentioned when I asked my question to my friend from Gatineau, this bill received first reading on October 18, 2006. It is ironic that the Standing Committee on Official Languages is no longer sitting because the government decided not to appoint a new chair after the committee members lost confidence in the chair.
Bill C-29 is finally called for second reading, and we are certainly not opposed to that. Personally, I asked repeatedly when the bill would be called again so that we could debate it and amend the legislation for ACE Aviation Holdings Inc., Air Canada's parent company.
The committee still exists, but the Conservatives are pouting. Still, they have to realize that there is a process for the Standing Committee on Official Languages, and that that process must be followed. If we believe in democracy, then we must follow the democratic process. The Conservatives are going to have to stop their childish pouting. We no longer had confidence in our chair. The people who are watching must be wondering what I am talking about.
I have been a member of this House since 1997, and I have seen just about everything. This chair decided, in our democratic system, to go against the majority of committee members. Whether this government is in a minority situation or not, it does not have that right. It is antidemocratic to do such things. Not only did he cancel a Tuesday meeting because we wanted to discuss the court challenges program, but he decided to cancel all the meetings on that topic. We felt it was important to stress that one person could not tell everyone what to do. The majority rules, and things have to be done democratically.
The member for Trinity—Spadina wanted to know why the other airlines were not bilingual and asked whether they should be. I believe that they should be bilingual, because I think it would be good for Canada. If a national airline like WestJet flies all over the country, I believe it should provide services in both of Canada's official languages, especially since both official languages are recognized by Parliament, by the government and by the laws of our country.
What is special about this case? Why are we talking about Air Canada or ACE Aviation Holdings Inc? Well, during its first years, Air Canada was owned by the Government of Canada. The company was subject to the Official Languages Act. In the late eighties, the government decided to get rid of its responsibilities regarding Air Canada and to sell the company to the private sector. Since then, the majority of the shareholders are from the private sector. When the government decided to sell Air Canada to private interests, it passed a bill whereby Air Canada must respect official languages, since it had been a crown corporation.
Today Air Canada is telling us that it is hard for it to be competitive when other companies do not need to follow the official languages law. We told Air Canada many times at the parliamentary committee that when it bought the enterprise and became privatized that it knew what it was buying. It knew it was buying a company that had to respect both languages. The government was clear at that time, at the end of the eighties, that any company that bought Air Canada would need to serve people in both languages. I do not expect anglophones from Montreal to get on an Air Canada plane and nobody is able to speak their language because our country has two official languages and it is the law of our country.
I found it sad that when Air Canada went under bankruptcy protection that a judge decided that nobody should interfere in the official languages. I find it sad that a judge decided that the official languages, even though it is the law of our country, could be put aside. It was insulting to hear a court say that the official languages law is not important in our country even if it is the law. That is what really happened when Air Canada went under bankruptcy protection.
When Air Canada was placed under the protection of the Bankruptcy Act and went to the court, the judge said very simply that even the Commissioner of Official Languages could not ask it questions anymore. Air Canada had to be left alone because it was reorganizing. So we take the law and we set it aside. But the court's role is to interpret the law and not to say to set it aside because a company is in trouble. This is not the mandate of the court. This decision was insulting to official language communities.
Personally, I found it insulting. I say it here, in this House, and I will say it outside the House as well as everywhere people can hear me: it was insulting that a court could decide that the Official Languages Act was not important.
The federal government—the Conservatives—is telling us today that the Standing Committee on Official Languages is not important since the committee members do not have confidence in the chair, who has decided not to respect the committee's agenda and that, consequently, the government will not appoint another one. This shows how much the government respects the official languages in our country.
The Conservatives can make up any story they want. They can tell Canadians any story they like. They can tell our people in Acadia any story they want. They can tell their stories in Caraquet, in Shippagan, in Lamèque, in Pigeon Hill, in Miscou, in Pointe-Verte, Petit Rocher or Beresford. They can come tell us their stories, but that is not acceptable. It is unacceptable for the government to do that. The government did not do this to us; it did this to all Canadians.
As I understand it, this is how Parliament works. As elected representatives, we have the right in this House of Commons to debate bills, vote on them and decide whether to pass them or not. Ordinary citizens cannot come to the House of Commons and say that they do not think a certain bill is acceptable, that it is bad and that this or that provision must be changed. In this country's democratic system, we have agreed to have parliamentary committees that can organize meetings and invite citizens to express themselves.
Then we, the parliamentarians, can study the bills and what citizens tell us, then draft amendments to improve those bills. That is democracy, with everyone participating: members of Parliament and citizens. They say that five heads are better than one. As for me, I think that 33 million heads are better than one, especially if that one head is a government that wants to tell us that there will be no meeting if we do not want to listen to a certain person.
Let us get back to the new Bill C-29. The main idea is that Part IV (communications with and service to the public) of the Official Languages Act will apply to Air Canada Jazz, but not Parts V (language of work), VI (participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians) or VII (advancement of English and French), as per the legislative amendment adopted in 2000.
So Air Canada had a change of heart and, instead of buying new planes and offering services across the country, it decided to amalgamate with another company, just like it did with Jazz, Air Nova and Air Alliance before. From now on, they will not comply with Parts V, Part VI or Part VII.
This concerns us, because it is a way of doing through the back door something that cannot be done through the front door. Thus, the fact that Air Canada's services have to be provided in both official languages must be protected, because when it was bought by the private sector, the private sector knew right at the beginning that it had to respect the official languages of our country.
This does not change the fact that the government could change its mind and pass a bill saying that all national airlines must serve the whole country—WestJet will operate from the West to the Atlantic provinces— and that the service will be offered across Canada in both official languages. I would not be against that.
I am sure that Air Canada would not say no to this. But in the meantime, Air Canada must acknowledge that the act and regulations were clear from the beginning.
You cannot buy Air Canada and say after 10 years that the company would like to be left alone; that, after 20 years, it would want to run its operations without having to abide by the legislation because it is not fair; that it would want to change the rules.
We know that Air Canada violated the Official Languages Act. How many complaints have been filed? Air Canada will say there were not that many, perhaps only 134 complaints in one year. I remember asking Air Canada whether, out of the 134 complaints, 50% came from English-speaking people and 50% from French-speaking people. I was told that all 134 complaints came from French-speaking people. The only verbal complaints that it had came from the fact that, sometimes, people did not like flight attendants speaking French on the plane. This is a problem, because I think it is a lack of education on the part of Air Canada. We must show people that we have two official languages in our country and that we respect them.
We should not be afraid of our two official languages, but some people are. They think we are asking too much of them and that it is costly to them. Some countries have four official languages. We must be able to provide the service in both languages so as to respect people.
Antonine Maillet put it so well. I often mention it. Antonine Maillet is a New Brunswick writer and she said that we do not want all francophones to speak English and all anglophones to speak French: we just want both communities to be served in both languages. Bilingualism and official languages are also about providing opportunities to people in their community, so that they can express themselves and live in their own language, regardless of where they live.
Two years ago, Acadians celebrated their 400th anniversary. Quebec will celebrate it next year. This shows that Acadians were here before Quebeckers. We had a nice celebration. In our country, the francophonie goes back a long time.
It seems as though communities want to fight each other. That is not right. I find it regrettable from a language point of view, because there are countries where people learn up to six languages. I tell my children that I want them to learn English, not because they will have better opportunities to find a job, but because it is enriching to learn languages. This is what we should tell our children.
We travel all over the world and people speak two, three or four languages. There is nothing better than to be able to learn another language.
Personally, I tell my children to learn English, and this has nothing to do with finding a job. I want them to learn it and be able to speak both languages. I want them to be able to talk to people when they go to Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. I do not want them to need an interpreter. This is how I see things. Is this what my children want to do? That is another story, but I can say that they have already learned to speak English quite well, and I am proud of that.
I am happy that we were able to create that in my family. I pushed for it. We should do it more, be more open to it and look at it like anything else. People go to trade schools. They also go to university to become doctors which requires nine years of study. I am sure in those nine years they could learn another language. It is not that hard. People just need the will to do it.
I do not think we should be scared of it but we do need to respect the two official languages in our country and we should proud of them. I am very proud of New Brunswick but I would like to be proud of the whole country. New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province where people can obtain services in both languages.
At one time people were fighting among themselves but today I see people getting along better and doing things together. I believe that if we promote that we will have a better country in which to live.
I was saying that, at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, we heard complaints about Air Canada. For example, I remember well the former hon. member Benoît Sauvageau, who has passed away. He worked hard in order to have the small complaints card onboard Air Canada and Jazz flights. However, Air Canada representatives said it would cost too much.
Mr. Sauvageau went so far as to have it done himself. All those who attended the Standing Committee on Official Languages will certainly remember that he had the complaints card made himself. He showed that it was not expensive at all. It was done professionally.
During one of our recent meetings of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the vice-president of Air Canada commended Mr. Sauvageau's initiative. The complaints card is now on Air Canada flights to give people who are not satisfied with the service the opportunity to file a complaint.
I want to thank the late Benoît Sauvageau who worked hard for official languages and who helped the cause of official languages.
I remember one time in the Standing Committee on Official Languages when we were questioning Air Canada representatives. All the safety instructions during takeoff were in both official languages. However, the instructions in case of an emergency were all in English. There was a taped recording played upon descent. Imagine getting on a plane and the instructions are on tape. Imagine what the tape will say when the plane is getting ready to land. It got to the point where the name of the passenger sitting near the emergency exits was verified to ensure that the person could speak English because the instructions had to be given in English only. We have made progress since then, but we still have a long way to go.
There is a section of the bill that concerns me. If we look at clause 10.2(4) of the bill, it says:
Only Parts IV, VIII, IX and X of the Official Languages Act apply in respect of
(a) the air service undertaking owned and operated by Jazz Air Limited Partnership, a limited partnership registered on September 13, 2004 under the laws of the Province of Quebec; and
(b) any new undertaking that provides air services.
Clause 10.2(5) of Part 3 states:
With respect to a new undertaking that is acquired after the day on which this section comes into force, the Parts of the Official Languages Act referred to in subsection (4) commence to apply after the expiry of one year, or any longer period that the Minister may fix, after the day on which the new undertaking is acquired.
This part of the bill frightens me because I cannot believe that, if Air Canada purchases another company, anyone can learn another language in just one year. I cannot believe that. This would therefore force the minister to grant two, three or four years, and we will once again be in the same position as when Air Canada bought Canadian International. It will be the same situation.
Thus, Air Canada must know, when it purchases a company, that the staff must be bilingual, because current legislation clearly states that Air Canada must provide services in both official languages.
In closing, I would hope that the government will consider at least some of my suggestions and that, in committee, there will be no filibustering on the part of the government. I hope that the Standing Committee on Official Languages will resume its proceedings and that the necessary amendments can be made, since the minister has said here this evening that he believes in official languages. Only time will tell.