Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to allow the hon. Minister of Finance the opportunity to speak. As you know, the Bloc Québécois would have liked to see this budget statement given before this House, but of course, the NDP refused. I therefore had the pleasure of giving the Minister of Finance a few minutes to put on his show.
Once again, I would like to return to the safety management system. It is very important that our citizens clearly understand the changes preferred by the Bloc Québécois regarding this bill, particularly in the interest of their safety. Civil aviation must reassure its clientele, and this was the Bloc Québécois' guiding principle when we voted against Bill C-6 at second reading and as we worked in committee, trying to advance the bill and convince the government that it was off track.
Still we succeeded thanks to the testimony of various stakeholders who did a good job of making the government understand the situation. It finally agreed that civil aviation companies could not be allowed to have a security management system that would replace Transport Canada inspections. The Bloc Québécois wanted to ensure that the entire inspection service was kept, including the inspectors, check pilots, and all the people who can show up occasionally at companies without warning to ensure that they are complying with high security standards. This inspection service had been the great strength of the civil aviation security system in Canada and Quebec.
That was how we did it. Similarly, we were able to make our various partners understand that a vote against this bill on second reading could become a vote in favour of it so long as some important changes were made. I am quite happy with the results. In a minority government, it is the opposition parties that have a majority in committee and we managed together to re-work this bill so that the security management system would be supported and supervised by a good inspection system similar to what we used to have and to what the witnesses told us.
As I said before, the International Civil Aviation Organization representative came to tell us that when a country decides to go to a security management system, it should keep an inspection service to supervise it. That is what this bill does: the minister and Transport Canada are required to inspect the large airlines that have their own security management systems. The management system is just added to the entire security service. It does not replace Transport Canada’s inspection service but is added to the security already provided. This will enable employees to report security problems within the company to their employer without having to fear disciplinary action, thanks to an entire system established under this bill.
We obviously needed to ensure that employees who reveal information about security lapses are protected. We did not want to go so far as an informer system but chose rather a system that would help improve the company and improve its security. This whole system is supervised, and we were obliged, of course, to ensure that the Canada Labour Code took precedence over anything in the legislation. This took time, but the government and my colleagues in the opposition understood very well why we were doing it.
We needed to make sure that if employees had employability problems as a result of making statements within the framework of this system, their employment would be protected. As far as the Canada Labour Code is concerned, it was important to us that it take priority over this bill because this affected the interests of employees in the entire civil aviation system.
Obviously this safety management system starts with those who work on maintenance on the ground or those who take care of any type of maintenance of the plane, including pilots and cabin crew. All these people who work in the civil aviation industry and in a company are now part of this safety management system, which currently applies to the eight major airlines and will also apply to smaller companies.
As far as the smaller companies are concerned, Transport Canada came up with what is called a designated agency, whereby the smaller companies that take adventure tourists by jet or by helicopter to tourist destinations in northern Quebec or other parts of Canada, can be supervised by a designated agency.
Until the larger companies manage to establish a truly effective safety management system, properly inspected by Transport Canada, then it will be rather difficult hand off to designated agencies the companies that are beacons to every part of the industry, the smallest public air carriers, where there are fewer travellers than on the major airlines.
As long as there was no balance in the larger companies, we felt it was too soon to entrust this to other agencies, to create designated agencies to take care of the smaller companies that would have to follow the same safety standards as the larger companies. That is what we wanted to be sure of.
However, before delegating to intermediaries the monitoring of all these activities at smaller public airlines, we wanted to ensure that the system was well in place at major companies. This is why there will be a waiting period before the designated organization is established. Indeed, this organization may become operative three years after the bill receives royal assent. Therefore, designated organizations are maintained. Indeed, such organizations can be established under this legislation.
During those three years, Transport Canada will be able to properly select these organizations, so that we, and of course the public, can be quite familiar with the organizations that will monitor smaller companies. We must be in a position to ensure that they are properly inspected and monitored. It is possible that companies that build aircraft or other things be appointed as designated organizations. This is rather difficult, because these companies have clients.
We want to ensure that these people, because they deal with clients, tighten up safety standards somewhat. We want to ensure that an effective inspection and management system is in place, so that the people, the organizations or the companies that become designated organizations are well aware that they will be monitored by Transport Canada. This is why inspectors will be conducting on-site verifications and inspections at any time, at both larger and smaller carriers, so that everyone who may some day travel on a public airline will be truly protected, and so that their safety will never be compromised.
This is the objective that has always been behind the Bloc's statements in the House. This is why, as I said, we voted against Bill C-6, which is now Bill C-7, at second reading. That bill was incomplete, and it did not guarantee that the inspection system in Canada would be preserved. Instead, it suggested that the safety management system would replace Transport Canada's whole inspection system, which has been in place for the past 30 years.
This bill incorporates the same inspection service. We have been assured that the same number of inspectors will be maintained and perhaps even increased, if necessary. Moreover, the security management system within an operation will allow all employees, regardless of category, whether they work on the ground, in maintenance, in passenger service, as pilots or in other occupations, to file a complaint or disclose a breach of security, which would then enable Transport Canada to investigate any safety management system.
There would be Transport Canada specialists to verify the safety management system and there would also be inspectors to go into a company at any time to examine the quality and condition of aircraft, to determine whether pilots have the required skills, and so forth. All of that, of course, is intended to protect the safety and security of Quebeckers as well as that of Canadians.
On that point, we will never back down.
Apart from the safety management system, we agree with the objectives of this bill as presented: to maintain current monitoring and inspection measures; to qualify designated organizations by establishing a period of three years before they are authorized to exercise their responsibilities. During that period, Transport Canada will take the time to train, coach and supervise those organizations, and later, inspect them. Finally, this legislation will be harmonized with the Canada Labour Code.
If we are moving toward a system where employees have the privilege and the power to point out breaches of security within their operation, it is essential that those employees are protected. To do that, this bill must be harmonized with the Canada Labour Code. We want whistle blowers to be protected. In that way, people who file complaints or disclose breaches of security will be protected and there will be access to an audit and inspection report, through access to information procedures.
On the subject of access to information, the Conservative government still has the bad habit of making such reports as inaccessible as possible. That is not acceptable as part of a bill that provides for 95% of what we are asking for. Obviously, some documents will be made available to the public, but they will protect the great majority of documents from access to information.
Transport Canada and the federal government tell us that it is also necessary to protect the individuals who make those disclosures. Their names and other information must be hidden. We were ready to do that and even to give direction to the information commissioner. We are aware that this could cause problems for national security. Some information must not be disclosed.
However, for the rest, if we know that some employees have made disclosures after an accident, within a company where a safety management system has been established, we would want the entire file to be available to the public. We now understand that will not happen. Only a summary of the disclosure will be available to the public.
We have made some gains but some day there will have to be a real battle over this bill. Time will tell what kind of documents are provided through access to information.
We can understand that it is necessary to protect the names of the people who disclose information. We also understand that those must be voluntary disclosures. Accordingly, companies must encourage their employees to make voluntary disclosures. We can also understand that if the documents are made public, some companies would want to prevent employees from doing so.
We think that once the whole system is up and running, we will have to revisit the access to information issue. If ever an incident or a disaster were to occur, the people of Canada and the whole world would want to know about the company's safety record. That way, we would know whether such accidents happen often and whether companies are doing everything they can to prevent them.
All we are saying is that Transport Canada's report will be made public. The report will summarize briefly—or at length—audits of the company.
That means that we will never see the statements signed by employees. We will just have to accept Transport Canada's periodic audit reports. When Transport Canada audits a company, it has to keep an audit report that details certain criteria, requests and complaints submitted by the companies, but that does not name names. It will be pretty vague. In time, we will see how well this works.
Refusing to make these documents public is the Conservatives' modus operandi, as we have seen over the past few months.
We, the Bloc Québécois, are rather satisfied with the rest of Bill C-7. It differs significantly from what the Liberals introduced in Bill C-62 when they formed a minority government. It even differs significantly from what the Conservatives first introduced.
They copied and pasted what the Liberals did without consulting industry and without ensuring that appropriate safeguards would remain in place. Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois was there to help our colleagues understand that once again, safety was about to be eroded. We protected the interests of Quebeckers and those of Canadians, and we are proud of that.