Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Simcoe—Grey.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House regarding the Air Canada labour dispute. I would also like to take this opportunity to describe in more detail the role of Air Canada and the airline sector in our economy. The air transportation industry and the economy are intertwined because there is a direct relationship between the demand for airline services and economic and socio-economic activity in general.
Consequently, this sector is an excellent gauge of the economic situation. We know that the economy was seriously impacted by the global financial crisis three years ago. Activity slowed down and airlines reacted. Costs were cut as much as possible, but the carriers still had to cover them.
As indicated by the strength of the Canadian dollar, Canada was protected from the worst repercussions of the recession by its relatively solid financial system and fiscal stimulus measures. However, three years after the global recession, the economic recovery remains fragile. The International Air Transport Association, IATA, reported last year that the Canadian and North American airline industries had posted modest profits, primarily because of their efforts to contain costs.
This industry and the economy are intertwined and, to date, their future is somewhat uncertain. This same association stated on September 20, 2011, that the profitability of international carriers, including North American carriers, should diminish, which quite logically could compromise the short-term financial health of these same airlines.
As we have seen in the last several weeks, economic indicators, stock markets and international financial markets remain fragile and continue to falter.
In the short term it is expected that the pricing and revenue environment in the airline industry will remain uncertain due to the fact that airlines have to deal with travellers who have less money to spend and who increasingly expect regular seat sales. This will result for the industry in profit margins that will remain modest at best.
I would like to share with the House some figures that speak volumes, that speak to the importance of the transportation sector and the air sector to our economy. In its 2010 annual report entitled “Transportation in Canada 2010”, Transport Canada indicated that the airline industry employed 91,146 people across the country. The transportation sector employed 912,400 people. Air Canada employed 23,200 people in 2010, providing 25% of the industry's jobs.
In 2010, the airline industry's contribution to GDP was $5,796,000 in 2002 dollars, or 0.5% of Canada's GDP. A work stoppage at Air Canada would be problematic for Canadians because, on average, over 100,000 people travel with Air Canada or one of its regional partners every day.
Air Canada offers connections between 155 city pairs and up to 313 city pairs if one takes into account its regional partner carriers such as Jazz, Air Georgian, Exploits Valley Air Services, Sky Regional and Central Mountain Air. Service interruption at Air Canada would thus have implications across the country.
Air Canada also operates a large number of international flights to 42 countries on five continents, including destinations that are key economic partners for Canada.
According to Air Canada's 2010 annual report, as a major economic player in Canada, Air Canada injects significant sums of money into the economy through its operating expenses. Every year, the company spends close to $1.9 billion on employee wages, salaries and benefits, $961 million on airport and navigation fees, and almost $677 million on aircraft maintenance. Our airline industry, especially our carriers, are defined by the unique characteristics of the Canadian market: multiple hubs, long distances between scattered populations, harsh winters that encourage people to vacation in the south, the importance of an air transportation network in the north, the seasonal nature of travel, climate and proximity to one of the world's largest markets, the United States.
Canada's unique context should be an important consideration. The economic climate of the past three years was a tough ordeal for the industry and for Canada's strategic air services framework. Even though the recession is technically over, we are still feeling its effects. Recently, the Minister of Finance stated that the economy remains fragile, which means that we must remain vigilant and prudent.
During the recession the airlines proceeded with caution and limited or reduced excess capacity in order not to flood the market with air services, which could have initiated price wars and ultimately contributed to a further destabilization of the industry.
It is important to understand when considering the specific variables that the airline industry is subject to seasonal fluctuations. For example, in Canada most of the revenue of air carriers, and by default those of their partners, is realized during the spring and summer. Revenue earned during these seasons largely offsets the high costs that characterize the airline industry. Fuel is a key factor in this industry and it is one of the largest and most volatile operating expenses.
The reality of the airline industry involves high costs and small profit margins, even at the best of times. However, when these services are reduced, interrupted or cut, the partners that work with carriers, communities and consumers feel the impact.
A drawn out labour dispute at Air Canada would be bad news for the company, its business partners, its employees, Canadians who travel with the airline and, by extension, our economy. At a time when consumer confidence in the airline industry is being rebuilt little by little, a prolonged work stoppage at Air Canada could have a significant impact on the company's return to profitability. The same consumers could also find themselves trapped at airports across the country and abroad trying to make alternate travel arrangements in place of their Air Canada flights. Flight cancellations would be expensive for both the company and for passengers who would have to make alternate travel arrangements that could be very costly.
In conclusion, the government is taking a responsible and measured approach by making the necessary arrangements to ensure that the country's largest air carrier continues its operations, while encouraging the parties to continue their negotiations in order to reach an agreement that is fair to both parties as soon as possible. That is why I support any government initiative to block a work stoppage at Air Canada.