Air Canada and Its Affiliates Act

An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Lawrence Cannon  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of Oct. 18, 2006
(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.
See context

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 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint Boniface says that her government's commitment is firm. I happen to think that the government is firm in its resolve to shut down bilingualism because it said that the subject of bilingual Supreme Court justices was dividing Canadians.

But that is not the issue here. We are talking about Air Canada. Air Canada is responsible for providing service in both official languages. Service does not mean a tape recording. Do they plan to play a tape if a plane falls out of the sky?

Jazz is not subject to the Official Languages Act. In 2006, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was the transport, infrastructure and communities minister at the time, introduced Bill C-29. Then in 2007, the same minister introduced another bill, Bill C-36. It is now 2010.

When will the government be firm and pass a bill to make Air Canada respect the Official Languages Act?

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 11th, 2007 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member for Joliette's comments about Catherine, who works in the lobby for the Bloc Québécois. I would like to say that she really worked professionally with all the political parties. I would like to wish her good luck.

I have a question for the Bloc Québécois. The House Leader of the Bloc Québécois talked about many important bills. I know that the budget is very important to him since he is voting with the Conservatives on it. This is very important for the Bloc members. But my question is about the other bills, such as Bill C-30.

I know that the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie worked very hard on environmental issues. The government could introduce a motion to adjourn the House before June 22. Even though the calendar shows that the House can sit until June 22, it could be done pursuant to Standing Order 56.1. We need to have 25 members here. Since the Bloc Québécois is very disciplined, it will have no problem keeping 25 members in Ottawa. Will the Bloc members work with the other parties to ensure that there will be 25 members in the House of Commons so the Conservatives will not be able to adjourn before June 22?

It is all well and good to extend the number of hours per day, but if we adjourn on Wednesday, it will not do any good. Bill C-30 will be gone, Bill C-59 as well, and Bill C-29 will no longer be there. There is also the bill for workers.

Can we have a guarantee from the Bloc Québécois that they will keep 25 people in the House of Commons to ensure that it will not adjourn?

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 11th, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that the government, in proposing this motion today, has chosen once again to maintain its habitual lack of consultation and reluctance to attempt a collaborative approach to organizing the business of the House.

On more than one occasion, as I think the Chair will remember, I asked directly whether the government intended to make use of Standing Order 27. As other House leaders can confirm, the reply was, “probably not”. I do not think we would be off base in the opposition in expecting that if that were no longer the case, if the government had in fact changed its mind, that it would have decently given us a heads-up that it was going to propose this motion today, at least given us that notice some time earlier than around one o'clock this afternoon.

Frankly, as we saw the government House leader making his travels across the floor of the House, I will not say where he went, the heckling and yelling as he departed the chamber obviously indicates the kind of demeanour of which we have to deal.

I do not see what there is on the order paper at present that this motion will get through the House any more quickly than would have otherwise been the case. I presume, judging by the government House leader's remarks, that the government is principally concerned with Bill C-52, the budget bill.

It has represented to the House and to the public that the government is now extremely concerned the bill will not receive royal assent in time for certain expenditures to be booked in the appropriate fiscal year. Let us be clear. The fiscal year the Conservatives are talking about is 2006-07, and that is the point.

The issue is retroactive fiscal bookings for the last fiscal year, not the future fiscal year, as members would have gathered from the remarks of the government House leader. If there is concern about the lateness of the date, the government really has only itself to blame.

Usually federal budgets are delivered in or about the third week of February, which then permits the introduction of a budget implementation bill by the end of that month. If things are properly managed, this would permit the bill to be in committee before the end of March and to be passed at all stages by the end of May or, at the very latest, the beginning of June.

This year the government chose, for its own partisan reasons, to delay the budget until the third week of March. We did not even see it until then. Then it unilaterally interrupted the budget debate. Then having finished that, belatedly, it interrupted, again, the second reading debate on the budget implementation Bill C-52. That interruption lasted for three full weeks, getting the bill to committee only in the middle of May.

As a consequence, the government then bulldozed the bill through the committee, breaking procedural agreements, denying many interested and informed citizens and groups the right to testify on the bill. Let it be clearly understood that any procedural issue on Bill C-52 is a direct result of government breaking the agreement on the process, which had been fully settled by members of the committee.

Nevertheless, the bill is now only in its third day of debate at third reading and there is every indication that the third reading and final stage would come to an end in debate in the House by the end of business tomorrow at the latest.

It is important to underscore what these dates are with respect to the budget. Remember that the House resumed in the final week of January. The budget was not presented to the House until March 19, fully eight weeks into the parliamentary sitting. That was followed by a ways and means motion and the introduction of the budget bill, but that was delayed because the government interrupted its own budget debate on the financial principles of the government.

Its budget was late, the budget debate was unilaterally delayed by itself and then it finally got around to introducing the budget bill on March 29, which was debated at second reading for the first time on March 30. It was then debated in a haphazard, sporadic fashion, brought forward to the floor by the government, until April 23, and then it was hoisted altogether. The House did not see it again until May 14, full three weeks later.

Finally, it went to the committee, not as a result of any filibuster by the opposition or any party in the opposition. The delay was entirely the procedural mismanagement of the government. It was there for less than two weeks and one of those weeks was a break week when Parliament was not even sitting.

It finally passed through the committee, rather expeditiously, thanks to the cooperation of the opposition, and it was brought back to be debated at report stage on June 4. For how long? One day, that is all the report stage took. Now it is at third reading where there have been three days of debate, and probably a conclusion could have been arrived at very easily by the end of the day tomorrow.

This is why I made the point at the beginning of my remarks that there really is nothing on this order paper that could not be dealt with in the ordinary course of business without the measure the government House leader has introduced. Obviously it is a tactic to blame the opposition for the delays that lie entirely within the control of the government.

What is it then? If it is not Bill C-52, what is it that causes the government to move the motion today? Despite frequent requests for the government to outline its realistic legislative priorities before the summer, all we have heard repeatedly from the government House leader and from others on the government's side is a flow of partisan rhetoric. Legislation has in fact been moving along through the House and through committees, despite the government's erratic management of its agenda.

In fact, the most controversial bill on the order paper, and this is what gives me perhaps a little hope here, is probably Bill C-30, the clean air act, as it has been revised by members of Parliament. Significantly, only the government has been stalling it up to now. However, now we will have some extra time, some extra hours of sitting every day beginning on Wednesday.

Can we then conclude that the extra time the government is seeking is to facilitate the work of the House in consideration of Bill C-30? I certainly hope so. It is in this fervent hope that I indicate to the House that my party, the official Liberal opposition, will support the minister's motion for the extension of hours.

In the time available, in addition to Bill C-52, which will probably be done tomorrow, and in addition to Bill C-30, which I hope the government has the courage to recall and put before the House once again, the official opposition also looks forward to making progress on Bill C-11, lowering freight rates for farmers, on Bill C-14, dealing with foreign adoptions, on Bill C-23, dealing with criminal procedure, on Bill C-29, dealing with Air Canada and the use of official languages, on Bill C-35, dealing with bail reform, on Bill C-47, dealing with the Olympic, on Bill S-6 and Bill C-51, dealing with land claims and on Bill C-40, the private member's legislation that would provide free postage for mail from Canada to our troops in Afghanistan.

Then there is an item that was referred to in question period today. This is the bill we are anxiously awaiting to see, the one dealing with wage earner protection. I hope the government will follow through on the commitment given in question period, that it will table the bill in amended form so it can be passed at all stages and brought into law before Parliament adjourns for the summer recess.

Let me mention one other matter, which is outstanding and which should be dealt with by the House, or at least dealt with by the government when the House is sitting. This is the examination undertaken a few weeks ago by Mr. Brown in connection with the matters that have been of great concern to Canadians in respect of the RCMP pension fund.

As we understand it, there is a report due from Mr. Brown on June 15. That was the original undertaking given by the Minister of Public Safety. It would be very important for us to know that the examination is on time, that we will hear from Mr. Brown on time, and that the Minister of Public Safety will take the step that he promised to take and make that report public immediately.

Perhaps the government might also consider, in whatever time that remains before the summer recess, reforming its approach to the mood in the House. The mood could be improved if the government would refrain from certain of its more hostile practices. For example: no more gratuitous attack ads, no more broken agreements on how witnesses will be heard, no more manuals about dirty tricks for disrupting parliamentary business, and no more devious games to misuse Standing Orders of the House. A little good old fashioned good faith could change the mood for the better.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 29th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

While this bill certainly has some elements that could prove interesting, we must take into account the current situation.

I seem to recall that not all that long ago, barely a few months ago, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages to discuss Air Canada's situation and its obligation to provide services in both official languages. This includes Air Canada as well as its subsidiaries and affiliates.

However, to my great surprise and to the surprise of my Liberal Party colleagues, many factors appeared to be overlooked by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and therefore by the Conservative government, factors that are essential to ensuring that official languages policy is respected by Air Canada and its subsidiaries.

We were surprised to hear the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities tell us that Bill C-29 would not be sent to the Standing Committee on Official Languages but to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The only thing not mentioned in the title of Bill C-29 is official languages.

As we know, the connection between Air Canada and official languages is important. This is not a transportation issue, even though Air Canada is in the business of transportation. We must look at the overall situation. If Parliament is to ensure that Air Canada and its subsidiaries comply with the Official Languages Act, the Standing Committee on Official Languages must be able to hear witnesses, examine evidence, give recommendations and make the required changes and amendments in order for this bill to be acceptable and in order to continue to defend the official languages throughout Canada.

The Conservative government is doing the exact opposite. We need only look back a few weeks to when the former chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages decided to cancel a committee meeting with just two minutes' notice. That was already an indication of what we would be facing.

Today it seems that the Standing Committee on Official Languages will not even be able to study the bill. It is a shame that the government is not giving this committee the opportunity to debate the bill and make the necessary amendments. It is true that the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities can do some work. I am convinced that the members of this committee can do a good job. However, this is not just about transportation, it is also about official languages. Matters pertaining to official languages must be dealt with by the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

In the next few days we will see if the government backtracks and reinstates the committee. The government may be tired of losing face with regard to official languages and official language communities outside Quebec. That may be the case.

I can hear people opposite who do not agree with me, but that is still the reality of the situation. The Conservative government has lost face on the official languages issue. Since I am still hearing them, I have to conclude that what I am saying does not suit them. Nevertheless, it is the truth. Official language communities are saying that the government should be ashamed of itself for not having replaced the chair of the committee so that we can continue our work.

What I am saying is important because the government is applying the same logic in trying to prevent the Standing Committee on Official Languages from studying Bill C-29. That element should never be shunted aside.

Let me be clear: the Conservative government says a lot of nice things. It talks a good game, but when the time comes to take action, it gets a failing grade. This government is good for nothing when it comes to official languages.

Members of the government can go ahead and laugh at what I have to say, but I can tell you that official language minority communities do not think this is funny. They do not think that the way they are being treated is funny. Official language minority communities have never been treated as badly as they are being treated now. Who is responsible for treating them so badly? The Conservative government, the government that is now in power. Thank goodness it is a minority government. If it were a majority government, one would have to wonder what would be left of official language minority community rights. Probably not all that much.

When we say that Air Canada must offer services in both languages, we are not just saying that for fun. In the not-too-distant past, Air Canada belonged to the federal government. Then it was privatized and Air Canada became a private company. Even so, it was not exempted from its obligations and had to keep offering bilingual services to the Canadian public. Not just part of the Canadian public. Not just anglophones. This was to ensure that francophones would also receive adequate service.

When Air Canada merged with Canadian International, I remember that, at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, some people from the company were rather unhappy, because of me. I even received some mail from people who were very upset about some of my comments. I will repeat them here today.

When Air Canada decided to merge with Canadian International, certain conditions had to be met. For instance, the new entity had to comply with the rules of the Official Languages Act and had to provide services to all Canadians in both official languages. People made up excuses, saying that they were in the process of restructuring, that they were nearly bankrupt, that they were having problems and that we should not be forcing them to provide services in both official languages.

I told them those were the rules of the game at that time and that they had not changed. It was a deal or no deal situation, as it were. Since the company decided to merge with Canadian International, it also had to accept the deal, which meant that the new entity had to provide services in both official languages. Yet it is still hard, even today, to get service in both languages. Many people have made comments about this, not just me.

In his 2006-07 report, the Commissioner of Official Languages said that most of the complaints received regarding service to the public had to do with Air Canada and its inability to provide services to its customers in both official languages. The Commissioner of Official Languages said this, but let us be clear. This refers only to those who filed a complaint, but there are many people across the country who are very discouraged by the service they receive. Ultimately, however, they wonder what good it does to file a complaint, because the service never gets any better.

We are not just talking about person to person service, because sometimes flight attendants will provide service in French, but there are also machines on board that give instructions in French and English. And then there is the written word. The other day I was travelling with Air Canada and I saw things that should not even be possible in this day and age. Everyone would be frustrated to see some of the written language on airplanes.

When we look at the situation, we see that some people are not happy about the fact that Air Canada employees are unable to offer bilingual service. Nonetheless, it is not up to the Conservative government to decide that Air Canada will not offer bilingual services. It is up to us, Parliament, to do so. We have said that Air Canada is required to provide bilingual services.

What do we now see in Bill C-29? The government does not want to consider the present or the future. We cannot discharge Air Canada from its obligation—which also applies to its affiliates—to respect the official languages.

If we do not take action today, it will be too late in the future to try to repair the damage.

The Conservative government is trying to repair damage in several areas. For months, the only thing it has been able to do is repair the damage it has caused. It can blame others, but it should take a look at itself before criticizing members from other parties. It keeps repairing the damage that it has caused. It is not the Liberals who are to blame. It is the Liberals who are waking them up. It is the Liberals who are defending the public so that it is well served, whether in terms of official languages or in terms of student initiatives, etc. That is a fact.

It is thanks to the work of the Liberals that the Conservatives can wake up. As I was saying earlier, it is a good thing this is not a majority government. Indeed, we would be able to wake them up, but they would be able to carry on their little dictatorship. We are here to ensure that the Canadian public has the services it deserves.

It is astounding that this government refuses to acknowledge that a company could purchase existing entities and not be subject to the Official Languages Act. Can you imagine Air Canada being snatched up by a foreign company? The Conservatives would celebrate because they love it when foreign companies buy Canadian companies. They love it when foreign companies take over Canadian businesses and lay off employees. It is just astounding. We can only imagine what it would be like if the official languages policy were also to disappear from Air Canada. The Conservative government does not even want to make the decisions needed to deal with these situations, even though they are so important that they cannot be disregarded.

These are issues that the Conservatives should be examining. They should also look themselves in the mirror and tell themselves that, if they truly want to protect official languages, they should stand up in the House and say that there is nothing to worry about because Air Canada companies, present and future Air Canada subsidiaries, will be required to provide services in both official languages no matter their organizational structure.

Mr. Speaker, try to find a travel agency in your neighbourhood. You used to be able to find one almost everywhere. You could easily find one, whether you lived in a city or village, and buy an Air Canada ticket. Today, their numbers are dwindling. There will be even fewer if this continues. We also have Air Canada Vacations and Aeroplan. Why is it that if you want to make reservations or obtain certain services, Air Canada Vacations is not required to provide service in both official languages? Why does Bill C-29 not address this? Why is Bill C-29 not moving in that direction? Why does the Conservative government not want to have the bill cover this? It is not magic, it is not complicated. If the Conservatives do not wish to include official language provisions in the bill, it is probably because they do not believe in official languages.

Aeroplan is a loyalty program. It enables clients to do more business with the company. In return, the company offers gifts or points exchangeable for more trips or gifts. This also affects online reservations. If we take Aeroplan as an example and if we want to exchange our points for a vacation service, but Aeroplan is not obligated to respect official languages, how will people be respected? How will official language communities be respected? This does not make sense. We cannot say that part of the company will do it and the rest will not. The entire company must do it, all of its current parts, and all of its future ones. Why is it so hard for Conservatives to understand that we are obligated to respect official languages? Why is it so difficult for Conservatives to ensure that official languages will be respected in the future?

I do not want my children, and I hope, my grandchildren and descendants to have to fight like we have had to against the Conservatives in order to be respected with regard to official languages. This is a reality that the Conservatives want to hear nothing about. If the government allowed a free vote on the official languages bill, I would like to see the reaction of members from the other side of the House and to see how many Conservative members would vote against official languages, because many of them do not believe in them.

The Conservative Party does not believe in the entire official languages issue and is not looking to ensure official languages are respected in communities outside Quebec. This is not something new; history is repeating itself. The current Prime Minister or the members of his party have made comments in the past. They should not think that because they are now prime minister or in government that history will be forgotten.

What did they say? Whether they said it a month ago, a year ago or 10 years ago, if they said it, it is too bad, but it is because they believed it. If they believed it, they said it and it continues. They are just trying to win votes. It is really unfortunate. We can tell the Conservative members and the Conservative government that official language communities across the country no longer believe in the Conservative government and no longer believe what the Conservatives are saying.

I am happy because sometimes reality reappears. The Conservatives helped francophones outside Quebec and all official language communities realize that the Conservatives were not able to keep their word and that they were not in a position to truly defend and respect official language minority communities.

As I said earlier, we must look towards the future. The future must be certain, not uncertain. A future that is certain would mean that the government must wake up and make the amendments deemed necessary. First of all, they should refer Bill C-29 to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. If they also want to present it to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, that would not be a problem. However, they must at least show enough respect for official language minority communities to let the Standing Committee on Official Languages have the opportunity to examine the situation, and make the necessary recommendations and amendments.

I am pleased that the other members of my party are supporting me in this file, because this is the reality. We do not see any Conservative members applauding this matter, because the Conservatives do not believe in it. They absolutely do not believe in services in both official languages.

It is sometimes interesting to see how things unfold. On February 21, 2002, members of the former Canadian Alliance, who were also members of the committee at that time, presented a minority report. They felt that the official languages issue should be removed from the Air Canada Public Participation Act. We are currently experiencing the first step. The Conservatives come along and limit the implication of official languages in the Air Canada Public Participation Act. I am convinced that they are dreaming of the day when the official languages obligation regarding Air Canada public participation will just disappear.

This makes no sense when we look at a situation like this, but we must look at the reality. Some say that this makes no sense, but nothing has made any sense for the past 16 months, ever since we have been dealing with this Conservative government, which has no common sense when it comes to official languages.

The Conservatives are going to come along and try to buy people with—

The House resumed from May 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2007 / 6:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking to the minister, who is responsible for official languages.

Earlier, we heard her very disappointing answer regarding the way that the Standing Committee on Official Languages was put on standby—let us hope that it will not be for too long. We have serious doubts when we hear the minister.

The minister says that she is giving $30 million to the francophone communities outside Quebec. She should know that, in 1996, the Franco-Saskatchewaners were asking for $22 million for themselves alone, simply to be able to operate for a year. The principle of redress has yet to be implemented at the federal level, even if studies by Roger Bernard, from the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française, were referring to it more than 15 years ago. It is completely lamentable to hear that kind of explanation of how the government highlights the official languages. Bill C-29 is another example. Following the recommendation of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the bill must be sent to the Standing Committee on Official Languages to be looked at.

How will she do it, with all that rhetoric that shows her inconsistency in regard to the recommendations made by knowledgeable people?

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2007 / 6:20 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the minister for her speech on Bill C-29.

I would like to know, if possible, why a government that supports official languages and prides itself on bringing Bill C-29, which is in fact the continuation of Bill C-47, back to the House has taken so much time to do so—from October to this week—and has also refused to designate a chair for the official languages committee. Is it because it was not important?

How many times have I reminded the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons of the importance of Bill C-29?

Maybe she could also clarify what the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell meant when he said that I misled the House about the Standing Committee on Official Languages. He seemed to say that we are the ones who cancelled the hearing. Where was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages two minutes before the hearing started, when the clerk said that the committee hearing was cancelled?

That evening, on the five o'clock news with Don Newman, we learned that the committee had been shut down for being too partisan. The member has no respect for the members of the committee. Can you imagine? How has the simple examination of the court challenges program become a partisan issue? Where does the minister, who is a francophone, stand as far as the francophones of the country are concerned? I would also like to hear her comments about Air Canada and the other companies it may buy.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2007 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, first of all, what is important today is Bill C-29, which ensures that Air Canada respects the official languages. Just because the company changes, that does not mean Air Canada does not have to assume its responsibilities any more.

But let us go back to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. This is where we have to be very clear. Why is the government saying that it had nothing to do with the decision made by the chair? Why is it supporting this decision then? This means that it agreed—agreed with the fact that the chair was preventing the committee from sitting.

The chairman said that it was due to partisanship. If anybody showed any partisanship, it was the chair himself. The abolition of the court challenges program was challenged across the country, everywhere we went. The Conservative MPs know it because they came with us on this trip, except for the chairman who was not there. They knew it. There were the ones who showed partisanship. They cancelled the Standing Committee on Official Languages meeting because they did not want to hear what the witnesses had to say. It is quite simple. This is what they wanted. They did not want to hear the truth. The Conservative government is hurting our people; it is hurting the whole francophone community.

I hope that we can hear the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages explain to us later, maybe, how she is helping us in that regard. She should be ashamed of herself for not standing up to the Prime Minister and telling him that what he is doing to our francophone communities is not acceptable. I am looking forward to hear what the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages will say.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2007 / 5:40 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

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.

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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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I understand that my colleague said that the bill should be referred to the Standing Committee on Official Languages, if it ever meets again. I know that Conservatives have not been too keen on a Standing Committee on Official Languages ever since the Official Languages Act came into existence. It is the only act that mentions a standing committee to which the Commissioner of Official Languages must report.

We all know what has been going on in the House of Commons for the past two weeks since the government refused to appoint a chair to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. It is preventing the committee from doing its work. Perhaps that is why the government does not want to refer Bill C-29 concerning Air Canada to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Perhaps the government does not really believe in official languages. I would like to hear what the member has to say about that.

I would also like her to discuss another point. It is true that the bill was introduced in the House of Commons by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. However, in this particular case, the subject of the bill deals exclusively with the official languages issue, respect for official languages, and service in our country's two official languages.

Does my colleague agree that the best committee to study this bill is the Standing Committee on Official Languages? That committee is capable of ensuring that the bill is studied thoroughly, and, because the Commissioner of Official Languages reports to that committee, it is the right committee to study this bill, which is really important to both francophone and anglophone members of the public. The notion of official languages means receiving services in both languages across the country, which includes anglophones in Montreal and Quebec City. Francophones and anglophones all over this country must have access to services in their own language.

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 / 4:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Liberal Party as the critic for la Francophonie and Official Languages to take part in the debate at second reading of Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

This bill should have been adopted a long time ago. I find it ironic that the intent of the bill is to make sure that Canadians and others that travel with Air Canada are served in the official language of their choice, when we have seen, in the past few weeks, a shameful, deliberate attempt by the Conservative government to misinform Canadians and to undermine the work of the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, just as the committee was about to hear from language advocacy groups regarding these very services that are guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is one of the strengths of Canadian democracy, fostered by Liberal governments since Confederation.

Our national airline must reflect our linguistic duality. It must be the symbol of the pluralistic society in which we live and an integral part of our best business practices.

Mr. Speaker, before going any further, I would like to mention that the Liberals support the principle set in Bill C-29. A lot of work remains to be done before this bill becomes law. Therefore, we on this side of the House wish to inform the Conservative-Alliance-Reform government that we will do everything we can to have the bill amended, so as to include the recommendations made by Dyane Adam in her last report as official languages commissioner, in which she recommended that the Official Languages Act apply to all new corporate entities belonging to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc., and to any other corporation bought in the future by Air Canada.

I remind this House that, between April 1, 2006 and March 31, 2007, Air Canada has been the target of the largest number of complaints among the 10 most frequently reprimanded institutions by the commissioner, and among those mentioned by commissioner Fraser in his first report to Parliament.

Out of the 162 complaints filed with the commissioner, 126 were allowed. The commissioner specifically referred to the Thibodeau case, where the Federal Court accepted the commissioner's arguments to the effect that “Air Canada’s subsidiaries had an obligation of result and not an obligation of means towards the travelling public and the complainant”.

In other words, the fact that Air Canada is an exclusively private corporation that has belonged to ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. since 1988 does not exempt it, or its affiliates, from its obligations under the Official Languages Act. Air Canada has always been subjected to the Official Languages Act, and it must serve its clients in both official languages. This is also in line with the corporation's project to extend its activities around the world. Organizations such as Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, Passport Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada follow up on the commissioner's report on Canada's linguistic duality abroad, and Air Canada must do the same, as one of Canada's symbols.

Canada's image abroad and its prestige as a country lie in our linguistic duality. The Prime Minister comes from a province where 31% of the population speaks French.

Even if the Prime Minister admits that his parents probably sent him to a basic immersion course more for the sake of peace than to allow him to learn and contribute to the making of a new federal theology—quoting the Prime Minister—it is that same immersion course that allows him today to address the people, here in Ottawa and nationally, first in French, then in English, even if, 40 years later, the Conservative Prime Minister believes that the “religion of bilingualism is the god that failed”-- I did not know that bilingualism was a religion—and even if the Conservatives and former members of the Alliance and the Reform, and their leader apparently do not believe that there is a good economic, social and cultural reason for mastering and protecting the French language.

It is ironic that for our Prime Minister, who speaks before Canadian civil servants, during ceremonies pertaining to the monument in Vimy, France, at the dinner for Canadian parliamentarians held by the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, in Ottawa, before the leaders of APEC or at the last NATO summit, the French language has no value.

It is only because of his parents who believed in a bilingual Canada that our Prime Minister is served so well by bilingualism today. Bilingualism has the value of an economic, social and cultural symbol.

Therefore, I am requesting, at this early stage in the debate and contrary to what the Minister of Transport has just informed us, that the bill be sent for study to the Standing Committee on Official Languages where it can be amended.

We know that the proceedings of this committee were completely stopped because the Conservative government refused to designate a new chairman when the preceding one was forced to resign. In this manner, the government continues to impede an important aspect of parliamentary debate.

However, if those and other amendments are not integrated into the bill, let this be sufficient notice, as the critic for my party, that I will recommend to my colleagues in the official opposition to vote against this bill when it returns to the House for report stage and third reading.

I would like to add an argument to the fact that this bill should go to the Standing Committee on Official Languages considering that we are discussing official languages and their role in a company that stands for the symbol of Canada.

The myth of the two solitudes no longer exists in Canada. Although very few people probably realize that long before the coming into force of official bilingualism some 40 years ago, as early as 1877, French enjoyed official status in the Northwest Territories. In fact, the first throne speech delivered at the time by Lieutenant Governor Joseph Royal was delivered in French and English.

Despite a relentless fight over the years to abolish linguistic duality in Canada, we have seen our identity strengthened not only in Quebec, but also in Ontario, New Brunswick, British Columbia and in all the small communities in those provinces. Yes, this comes at a cost to Canadian taxpayers. To us, the former Liberal government, these costs are more than worth it. In 2003, we allocated $751 million to the action plan for official languages. By the time the Conservatives came into power, we had spent $123 million. So far nothing leads us to believe that this government intends to renew this commitment beyond 2008. The Commissioner of Official Languages has called on the government to make a commitment and adopt a strategic plan not just to preserve the principles of our linguistic duality, but to exceed them. Where are the Conservative government's plans?

Pierre Elliot Trudeau dedicated his life to defending the right to learn and the right to use both official languages, not only at home, but also at work, in public services, in communications with public services and in the hiring methods of Canadian companies, both private and public.

An article in the Globe and Mail on May 22, 2006, quoted parents whose children are getting their education in French in Regina as saying that people who speak both of Canada's official languages have opportunities that are not available to the majority of unilingual Canadians. If the opportunity is there, why not give our children everything in our power we can?

In Vancouver, parents have gone to great lengths to register their children in a French immersion program because, in the world in which our children are living today, this ever-growing global village, society demands it. The Prime Minister's parents recognized this and gave him this opportunity because it existed.

In February 2002, the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages produced before Parliament a report entitled “Good intentions are not enough!”, and attached a dissenting report from Alliance members sitting on the committee. Some of these people are now members, I believe, of the government party. They said at the time that maintaining Air Canada's bilingual corporation status would slow down its competitiveness.

Witnesses do not agree with this at all. Three union representatives of Air Canada's employees, among whom was Mr. Serge Beaulieu, president of the Montreal regional board of the Air Canada Pilots Association, and Mr. Edmond Udvarhelyi, the union representative of local 4001 of CUPE, said before the committee in October 2001 that out of 3,500 pilots at Air Canada, fewer than 300, that is a little less than 8%, were French speaking. Before it merged with Canadian Airlines International, the percentage was 16%. The company's recruiting policy constantly disregards its obligations. Moreover, Air Canada never made any effort to advertise its job offers in minority language newspapers, using the pretext that there were no qualified French-speaking pilots. However, an average of 25 potential pilots graduate each year from the three-year training program of the Quebec centre of aerospace training of the Chicoutimi CEGEP in Quebec. According to witnesses, this program is equivalent to those offered in Ontario and Alberta. This means that, even though the pool of candidates was expanding, Air Canada continued to ignore minority language media.

According to the report that was made public at the time by the standing committee, commissioner Fortier filed 11 complaints in 1990 before the federal court relating to Air Canada's unwillingness to advertise in French newspapers in the Winnipeg and Moncton regions. Afterwards, the company reached an agreement whereby it would advertise in French newspapers.

Then, when it acquired its subsidiary carriers, Air Canada's responsibility for advertising was automatically transferred to the subsidiaries, which are not subject to section 30 of the act, requiring communication with members of the public in both official languages.

At page 68 of Commissioner Fraser's report, we read that investigations into over 100 complaints revealed that many airport authorities did not consider themselves obligated to communicate with the general public in both official languages. What measures does the Conservative government intend to take to ensure equal status to both official languages in providing public services? Recently, the commissioner commented on “the lack of clear rules or policies”.

If Air Canada really wants to be more competitive internationally, any new subsidiaries, of which it hold 50% or less of the shares, have to—I repeat, have to—meet the linguistic obligations under Canadian law.

As reluctant as government members are to admit it, surely some good had to come out of the past 40 years. For example, a survey conducted by Decima Research in September 2006 and mentioned in the commissioner's report shows that seven out of ten Canadians say they personally favour bilingualism for the entire country; among young Canadians aged 18 to 34, support for bilingualism has reached 80%; nine out of ten 10 Canadians feel that bilingualism is a factor for success internationally.

Bilingualism is more than just a thread in the social fabric of this country; it absolutely defines us as a country. Children of immigrants, whether they speak a third language at home or not, have embraced our linguistic duality not only because of the fantastic economic opportunities it provides, but also because of the cultural sensitivity they develop through learning about and experiencing the realities that immersion in a new environment entails.

When language becomes incarnated in a reality, it helps to harmonize society. These are positive measures that businesses representing our interests at home and abroad ought to take.

I am very aware of the fact that there are provincial jurisdictions to be respected. However, in our agreements with the provinces, we must provide for measures to make French and English instruction in primary schools mandatory. French must become a mandatory subject like reading, writing and mathematics. It is the only way for bilingualism to become an integral part of the structure of our society. In Europe, these subjects are mandatory right from the primary level.

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure how much time I have left, but I would like to speak about our trade differences with respect to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. During the last series of talks and previous consultations initiated by other federal governments with the public, it came to light that there are many countries in the world where the first language is neither French or English. I am thinking of certain Asian, Latin American or African countries. For most of these countries, French or English is a second language spoken at home, school or in the workplace. This should encourage companies such as Air Canada to provide services in both languages and thus appeal to a growing market.

A study by J. Carr states that money and language share the same characteristics: he suggests that money enables more than negotiations, and a common language makes transactions and lower costs possible. In the end, everyone wins owing to a better understanding.

I will close by stating that the Conservative government is wrong to state that our linguistic duality has no economic value. The opposite is true. Our ability to communicate in both official languages contributes to a better understanding of the other, gives us an opening onto the world and makes it easier to do business in all countries.

Air Canada Public Participation ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2007 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say how pleased I am to see Bill C-29 being submitted to the House. It has long been awaited. How many times in the last few months have we asked for this bill to be introduced in the House? I do not know if it has anything to do with the controversy around official languages, but the bill seems to be finally welcome for the Conservative government. Nevertheless, I would like to thank the minister for finally introducing it in the House, even if I am worried. We will be able to study the bill in committee.

My first question to the minister is the following. Does he agree that we should refer this bill to the Standing Committee on Official Languages? This is a good committee. The minister himself said that the Standing Committee on Official Languages made a very good recommendation—along with the Commissioner of Official Languages. I know that, at this time, the Conservatives do not want to appoint a chairman for the committee to resume its proceedings, perhaps because the committee works too well. Perhaps the Conservative government does not want to invest too much effort in our country's official languages. I do not know, but things must be said. I am trying to say it as politely as possible. However, I am worried.

Let us take part 3, titled “Affiliates”. The proposed subsection 10.2(4) 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.

Then, there is the proposed subsection 10.2(5):

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.

That part worries me because, should Air Canada acquire something, it should respect the official languages of our country. That should be the case right from the start and we should not have to wait for four or five years. If we believe in the Official Languages Act, if we believe that it should be respected, I cannot see why we should give Air Canada the opportunity to say that after buying a new company, it should be exempted from it for several years to give it time to train employees. That provision creates a problem. I find it unacceptable if we want to give services in English and French in our great country where there are supposedly two official languages, despite the fact that we lost the official languages committee.