First of all, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your response and I do want to make it clear to the member that we would not have denied unanimous consent, because obviously making our statements in the House is important to all members. If there is a glitch with the clock, that should be corrected, but maybe next time we will do it through unanimous consent.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-7. As we know, this bill was in the last session of Parliament and was then known as Bill C-6.
I want to say right off that NDP members were very instrumental and worked as a very tight group in the last days of that session to fight the bill and try to keep it from going through the House. It was at third reading then. I am sure that my colleagues will remember that we rose in those last few days and kept the debate going.
In the House today, I have heard a number of members raise questions about that. What is the NDP doing? Why is it trying to hold up the bill? Some members are saying that it is a great bill and it had a great hearing in committee, that all those witnesses were heard and the bill has been fixed if there were problems. As we know, the government is obviously supporting the bill.
The Liberals, who first initiated the bill when they were in government, of course are supporting the bill, just as they now support a number of things from the Conservative government, including the Speech from the Throne and the so-called mini-budget. It is no surprise to us that they are supporting the aeronautics bill. The members of the BQ also have been supporting the bill.
However, I do want to put on the record that the reason we wished to hold it up in June, the reason we fought it, is that we think the bill is flawed. We think the bill has not had the scrutiny it deserves. We have had repeated concerns brought to us, particularly by the labour movement, people who work in this industry and who have a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge. They work on the ground, just like the member for Parkdale—High Park said when she spoke about her knowledge of this industry.
I can tell members of the House that we take this very seriously. In our humble opinion, and we are one party in the House, we believe we have a responsibility: if we do not think a bill is good enough, if we think a bill is not right, we should not just roll over and let it go through.
That is why in June we debated the bill and tried to hold it up. In fact, we did hold it up. It would have gone through. Then, as we know, the Prime Minister prorogued the House. It is ironic. We are told by the government that these bills are so critical and they are being held up by the opposition, and, in the case of this bill, by the NDP. Yet it was the government itself and the Prime Minister himself that prorogued the House and in effect killed all of the bills that were before the House of Commons.
That was the tactic the government employed to buy some time, to see out the byelections or the Ontario election, whatever the reasons were. We obviously were not privy to what government members had in their minds, but the government itself decided to prorogue the House, delay the return of Parliament and in effect kill the bill in its former version, which was Bill C-6.
As we know, the bill has now been brought back. It is still at third reading. We in the NDP successfully put forward an amendment, or what is called a hoist motion, to have the bill sent back to the committee. I want to assure members of the House that we did so on the basis of our concerns. We did that on the basis that we really do believe the bill should go back to the committee.
It may well be that other members are satisfied. It may well be that other members think this is a fine bill and that is the end of the story. We do not. We think there are significant concerns that should be addressed. From our point of view, we are doing our job as parliamentarians to debate the legislation, to defend the public interest, to represent the public interest and to represent the interest of public safety, particularly as it relates to airline safety.
On the record, I do want to mention the tremendous work of our former transport critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. He almost single-handedly raised the issues around the bill and alerted people out in the broader community so they could come before the committee. He has gone through the bill with a fine-tooth comb, looking at the changes that are about to take place.
This is where we have a very strong difference with other members in the House. We think the changes proposed in Bill C-7,, the aeronautics bill, are not in the public interest. They will not improve and strengthen safety provisions in the airline industry.
We are extremely concerned that, overall, this is the beginning of a slippery slope. In fact, one might argue that the slippery slope began a long time ago with previous Liberal governments. They began with this massive environment of privatization and deregulation.
We know it is something that the big airline industry has long coveted. We are now in that environment where deregulation and privatization are the victim of the day. However, when it comes to safety, I truly believe that Canadians, whether they live in large urban centres and mostly access airline travel through large airports such as Pearson, Vancouver or Montreal or wherever it might be, or live in smaller communities and rely on regional airports that maybe do not have the same kind of equipment and technology that is available in the larger centres, absolutely rely on us as parliamentarians to go through this kind of legislation. If there is a shadow of a doubt that it does not meet a strong and high standard around safety and protecting the public and the people who work in that industry, I think they expect us to not allow this legislation to pass.
We are attempting to bring those concerns forward. As the member for Parkdale—High Park said, what is the government for? What do we do in this place?
We do many things. We all have issues that we represent in our riding. However, overall we have a responsibility to represent that broader public interest against all kinds of pressures, from big corporations, from offshore interests, from people who have an agenda, the CEOs who have an agenda to only look at the bottom line. Our job is to make those balances and to overall represent the public interest.
I want to speak a bit about the specific concerns I have about Bill C-7. I know they are shared by my colleagues in the New Democratic Party. They revolve around really three key questions, one of which is the new safety management system, the SMS as it is being called. The second involves the immunity for prosecutions from airlines that violate safety rules under certain conditions. The third is the heightened secrecy and the fact that there will be less access to information on the safety performance of airlines under this bill than we had previously.
It raises the question as to why. Why would the bill take us in that direction? I am not sure I know the answer to that, other than I know it is a really bad direction and we should not allow it to happen.
It is part of this bigger picture of deregulation. It is part of a bigger picture that the Conservative government has adopted; that it is better to have no rules, that it is better to allow self-regulation by industry, and there may be some instances where that is warranted. By and large that is not a good direction to take, particularly with the airline industry.
I will speak on the first point, the new safety management systems. This is at the heart of the bill we are debating today. We believe it will affect the safety of the travelling public and crew members.
New Democrats are very concerned that the SMS system is supposed to be a management system that has been developed to allow air operators to improve safety levels by building on existing safety regulators. We know Transport Canada, both in committee and elsewhere, has insisted that this new safety management system is not a deregulation, but we think it is. There we begin our entrance onto the slippery slope.
We believe it is part of a deregulation and a significant change for two reasons. First, there will be a new role for the regulator that will increase the level of delegation previously performed by Transport Canada and that role will be delegated to the airlines.
Many members of the NDP have spoken on this issue over the last few days. We are very concerned because it was a function that was carried out by a government department, Transport Canada. Even though there might have been issues and concerns over various situations that arose, overall one has some level of faith in a government agency performing the function of a safety management system.
To now shift it to the airlines and make them, in effect, self-regulating in terms of safety rules and self-monitoring is something we should be very concerned about. We need to ask the question as to where this will lead. If we allow this to happen in this industry, in what other industries or instances will it also happen? This is the direction the previous government was taking and now it appears the Conservative government is also taking that direction.
Related to the question of the safety management system is a transfer of the determination of appropriate risk levels from Transport Canada to the airlines. The NDP would argue that this is again shifting the rules and responsibility from a public government agency, which is accountable to the House of Commons and the people of Canada, to the airlines. The public interest becomes a little less clear . We have to question whether that shift in the safety management system will mean that there is a greater interest in terms of what the interests are of the private shareholders. Those are very serious questions.
I was not in the committee, and I will be the first to say that. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster was. After speaking with him, I know that there were very detailed discussions. Witnesses came forward and expressed their concerns about this function of the safety management system.
I realize there are members in the House who are satisfied with what they heard from the department and what they see in the bill, but the NDP is not. On that ground alone, the safety management system, we are not satisfied that the public interest test has been met.
We are very skeptical about this movement of responsibility from the government to the airlines. We are also very concerned about what the consequences of that might be in the long term for the travelling public, as well as for people working in the airline industry who are all of a sudden in an environment that becomes a self-regulating situation.
It is more preferable to have an outside body that clearly establishes rules, regulations and benchmarks in terms of what the risk and safety levels are for people who work in that industry and who may feel the pressure from their employers to cut a little corner here, cut a little something there. There are those pressures in the workplace, so having the clear mandate of Transport Canada to lay out that level is very important for the workers in the industry. They have something on which they can call. That is our first concern.
The second concern, as I mentioned, has to do with what we understand to be the immunity from prosecution for airlines that violates safety rules under certain conditions. Again, this is something about which the public should be very worried. We need to be very clear that under this proposal, Transport Canada has not granted whistleblower protection to employees who may report that their air operator is not following the law.
I find this very ironic. The government brought in Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act. It was its first bill after its election to a minority Parliament, and the NDP supported it. The act was meant to be about setting out broad parameters and very specific provisions and regulations to ensure there was accountability, that there was whistleblower protection, that people could be protected in their workplace.
Therefore, it seems to me rather ironic that now under Bill C-7 we have a number of provisions that will provide immunity from prosecution. It does not have whistleblower protection, so that really creates a very uncertain environment for people who may be in the know. They may have information they think is important. They may feel they have an individual obligation to report violations or situations that are not safe. Yet they will not be protected.
We think this is another serious issue and flaw in the bill. This is another reason for it be sent back to committee.
The third issue has to do with the fact that there will be less access to information on the safety performance of airlines.
From time to time, we read about serious incidents that take place in air travel. It is something that alarms people.
Like other members of the House, I travel a lot. I mostly travel between Vancouver and Ottawa, and I do not particularly like using air travel. I do it however because I am from Vancouver and it is the way I get to work and get home. We have this faith that the pilots, the flight attendants and the ground crews know what they are doing, and I do. I have a lot of confidence in those people.
In fact, I was on a flight the other day, leaving from Pearson to go to Vancouver. We were zooming down the runway and about to take off. Just before takeoff, the pilot slammed on the brakes and it became clear we would not be taking off. Everyone was wondering what was happening. Over the public announcement system, the pilot said that there was something wrong. He did not know what it was so he aborted the takeoff. The 300 people on the plane were hugely relieved he had made that decision.
We went back to the gate. We sat around for an hour, which nobody really minded, because they were checking out safety provisions. In the end, the aircraft was grounded. We all had to scramble around for other flights. However, I was glad because I sure as heck did not want to fly in a plane that might be unsafe.
People worry about this. They rely on those professionals to make the right decisions, even at the last minute, even at the last second.
With this bill, we believe there will be less security on those issues. There will be less access to information to find out what is going on. For example, there are seven sections of the Aeronautics Act that will be added to schedule II of the Access to Information Act to ensure that there is no access to information. Why is that? Why would there be this shift?
I do have other issues to raise but those are some of the concerns that I put forward from my party and the reason we believe the bill should be sent back to committee and given a thorough review.