Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate at the last stage of the bill, affording my last opportunity to mention a few things.
I did not get a chance to stand once more to make another comment for the parliamentary secretary. She used the word “historic” in her speech. It would be incumbent upon me to point out that today is a historic day. It is 500 years since the great reformation when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses in the Wittenberg Cathedral. That is a true historic day.
The bill is interesting, and it is an omnibus bill. However, before I go into the nature of omnibus bills, I want to mention a unique part of my riding of Calgary Shepard, and I am very honoured to represent the residents there.
The community of Ogden is on the north side of my riding. It is where my constituency office is located. The head office of one of Canada's major railways is also located there. It is called the Ogden stockyards for a reason. CP moved its headquarters to Ogden, a community that was historically set up and named after CP's vice president at the time, Mr. I.G. Ogden. There is a deep relationship between the railroad, Calgary Shepard, and the area in which the riding finds itself. It hosts a spectacular Legion Remembrance Day celebration, commemorating all those who were employees of the railroad and their family members who served in Word War I and World War II. It serves a lunch to the community afterwards. It is a fantastic thing. It started after it moved to the area, with which it historically has a relationship. CP used to have its headquarters in downtown Calgary at the Gulf Towers, but moved it in 2012.
Another interesting part is that because CP cares so much about its history and has such a deep relationship with the community, early in June it moved the 91-tonne Locomotive 29 from downtown. If people have been to the Calgary Stampede, they would see this locomotive on TV, as the parade route passes by it. It is a 130-year-old locomotive, and was moved to commemorate CP's history.
The bill, because it deals with railroads, airlines, and transportation, is omnibus legislation. The minister said yesterday that 90% of the bill dealt with one facet. However, it would go on to amend so many other pieces of legislation, some of which really do not deal so much with safety as with competition and the relationship between a consumer and producer of a good or service provider. Therefore, when the minister says this, then it is an omnibus bill. It is kind of like introducing an infrastructure bank in a budget implementation bill. That makes the budget implementation bill an omnibus bill. Therefore, the Liberals cannot deny that this is another broken Liberal promise.
Yesterday I called it a trick or treat bill. It is offering something that supposedly will resolve an issue or problem in the marketplace, a user-experience problem, but it is not so much the treat but the trick. It would not resolve the issues the Liberals believe it would.
The general opinion I have heard on the bill, from editorialists and critics on passenger rights and the service provided by different railroads, is that the proposed legislation will not meet the goals set out by the government. It might be a step in the right direction sometimes, but it is one step forward and two steps back.
As I had mentioned in my commentary for the parliamentary secretary, all the reasonable amendments put forward by Conservative members were voted down. The three that were not were subamended by Liberal members. I had put forward very similar ideas. The Liberals had heard a very similar concept from witnesses. They are actually changing it from seven to two days and one year to 180 days. These are highly technical date and number amendments done at committee. It is not the type of work I have seen with other pieces of legislation, such as the Senate private member's bill that dealt with the Magnitsky Act. There was far more back and forth and substantive amendments were made.
I know many members expect this, so I have a Yiddish proverb. “To every answer you can find a new question.” I will lead off the rest of my intervention on this proverb.
The more I hear answers from the government and various members on all sides, the more questions I have about the goals of the bill and where it will go. With every answer, I have even more questions. Therefore, I have some rhetorical questions that I will share with the House.
I read a May Globe and Mail editorial called the bill “a strange beast”. Yesterday, I called it the “demogorgon” from Stranger Things, a show I highly recommend for all members of the House, although not for young children.
The bill works at cross-purposes. Editorialists mentioned that the costs might be reduced on one end but would go up on the other end. Hopefully, competition will increase, which is a goal of this legislation. I do not think it will achieve that. The government hopes more people will be enticed to use airline services and choose to fly instead of drive.
Security fees will go up, which is a disincentive for air passengers. However, cost is only one issue for passengers. There is also the user's experience and accessibility. Access, in general, is a point we should always remember.
The bill talks about a higher max amount for foreign ownership being changed for Canadian airlines. Although it is a step in the right direction, it is only one step.
Higher equity stakes by themselves do not lead to more competition, and that is important to remember. Allowing international investors to own a bigger portion of current companies will not lead necessarily to more competition. It is a goal. What we need is a level playing field to allow an opportunity for new airlines and joint ventures.
I have much more to say about joint ventures because the bill gets that balance wrong. It puts the onus on the wrong person. More government involvement in the private sector in business is not the correct way to structure the economy in general.
As well, new entrants will look at taxation and a solid, stable business environment. That is something the fall economic statement does not envision for the future of Canada. GDP is going down every year. There is a gap between the first budget the Liberals tabled in the House and the following budgets, such that GDP growth goes up one year and the next year it goes down drastically. Today is Halloween, so I find these GDP growth numbers spooky.
A few provisions in the bill directly affect how joint ventures will be agreed to. It gives the minister of transport a role in approving applications for airline joint ventures, where two independent companies arrive at a negotiated agreement to provide a service to customers in Canada. Injecting the Minister of Transport into such a process is the wrong way to go. We already have the Competition Bureau to ensure there will be an increase in competition. We should not be involving more ministers of the crown in business decisions. There should be less government involvement in the business sector and the private economy.
The Government of Canada's answer has been that this will be good for business. This brings back the Yiddish proverb that it begs more questions. If the solution is that more government involvement will create more competition and thus be good for customers, then why politicize the process by putting a minister of the crown in the position where he or she has to decide whether a joint venture goes forward? Why inject the minister into a business decision?
The exact reverse is being done in the energy infrastructure approval process where everything is being delegated down to the National Energy Board. We can see the results of this. There is a complete paralysis in companies going ahead with the approval and construction of new projects. A lot of companies are concerned about going forward with new projects being considered in their shops and offices. They have not yet gone to the regulator to propose them. They are concerned that they will be unable to meet the new rules the NEB keeps creating, or that the costs of meeting them will be high.
This does not improve the business environment. Rather, it is worsen it. It would be much better to level the field, reduce political involvement, and ensure business certainty is provided. I do not think injecting the minister into joint venture provisions and allowing him or her to have a say over whether a joint venture can go ahead is the right way.
Most of the amendments were put forward after the committee had heard from witnesses, but I really want to dispel the notion that this bill, as it stands, is a product of bipartisanship or collaboration between the parties. Although I am sure there is collaboration at committee in terms of the discussions back and forth and that everything is cordial and collegial, there still have to be substantive differences between the opposition and the government, and there were on this issue. The opposition parties provided substantive amendments that could have been considered more seriously by the government caucus members for approval. Then we could say the bill was truly due to a collegial bipartisan effort and that the product is good.
What do passengers care about? That is the goal of the bill. Members were asking themselves what passengers and producers care about when dealing with railroads, but especially asked this question with respect to air passengers, because more and more Canadians are travelling by air. Cost, access, and user experience I think are the three most important things. Cost comes down to the dollar amount. There is opportunity to shop on different websites and I think everyone considers how many points they will get. We know that Canadians love their points, whether from Mastercard, Visa, Aeroplan, or Air Miles. Whatever they are, people in this country like to collect points, and it goes into the total cost.
Access comprises the ease of the travel, the convenience, and the airport services. Who can travel and how are other considerations. I choose an airline based on my ability to sit with my kids. I have three young kids and I want to make sure that I do not have to rush to the airport early to get them assigned seats. I want to make sure that they will all be sitting with me, so other passengers and I have an easier time travelling. I actually pick an airline based on the one that will give me the easiest time dealing with my three kids to make sure they can get through their experience.
As for the total user experience, Bill C-49 focuses only on user experience. This is not just my point. Massimo Bergamini, president of the National Airlines Council of Canada, says that the bill focuses too much on air carriers and fails to recognize that the air traveller experience, as I mentioned, does not just start at the check-in phase and then end at baggage pickup. It is the total experience one has. That is far more difficult to get right in one piece of legislation and the bill before the House does not quite achieve that point, because it does not consider the end costs or the access component of it.
We should not sacrifice customer expectations. That point was raised by others, and I agree with it. We are always purchasing difference services and products, and critics of the bill have said that the passenger bill of rights is a band-aid solution. To the point of the Yiddish proverb, the government caucus says this will resolve customer expectation and service-delivery issues, but it begs the question of why we are doing this if critics are saying this is only a band-aid solution. What then is the best remedy? The best remedy is always more competition in the free market, which leads to more consumer choice. The solution is not more government, yet this bill would create more government. By setting out expectations, the government would be able to deliver on more fairness and would be able to police the airlines more effectively. On the railway side, the government would also be more involved in setting prices and telling the railroads how to deal with their customers.
The passenger bill of rights has a section called “Ministerial Directions”, and says, “The Minister may issue directions to the Agency to make a regulation under paragraph (1)(g) respecting any of the carrier’s other obligations towards passengers.” This is after listing a whole series of obligations. In the bill, “obligations” is a very general term. It says, “The Agency shall comply with these directions.” If, in the future, the minister decides that airlines have a new obligation they need to meet, whatever it could be, whether providing a certain type of meal, a certain type of seat, or a certain type of service beyond those enumerated, then the minister can give that direction.
Again, in a free market, we can shop around. That would be the best way to go forward. We have already seen this is in the tech sector. There are apps on our iPads and phones and when an app does not deliver what we expect, we delete it. We get rid of it and move on. Whatever costs we have sunk into it, we ignore them. Hopefully, it was free, though it is not always free, and then we move on.
The same thing applies to smart phones. There is broad competition phones between all of the different smart phone providers and software types offered. People pick and choose which ones they want based on the services offered, the functionality, cost, and ease of use of the phones, and sometimes the ease of transferring to another device when it comes time for an upgrade.
The same concept should apply to airlines and the services they provide, particularly if people are not satisfied with them. It is not necessarily just a matter of choosing between airlines, but also about choosing other modes of transportation. Depending which part of the country someone lives in, people will have different modes of transportation to choose from. If someone lives in the Windsor, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa corridor, they will have more choices. I have taken advantage of that and taken Via Rail in the past. As a westerner, it is quite an experience because we do not have those types of service levels. The distances are far greater. I could have flown but chose not to. I wanted to experience Canada, as well as the travel time it would take using passenger rail.
I have travelled throughout Europe using passenger rail as well. It is very convenient. Again, their governments are sometimes involved in setting prices, but mostly in dealing with disputes. There is far more competition in Europe. Encouraging competition and new entrants is more than just about the equity stakes allowed. It is a matter of the regulatory environment, fees, and taxes that new entrants will face. At the end of the day, it is about the ease of doing business.
I remember my time working at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, where people would not come to us complaining about taxes or to verify a specific regulation, although that would happen, but more about the total package. For example, there was the issue of how complicated it was for them as business owners to comply with regulations. That applies to the owners of small-, medium-, and large-sized businesses. If the large businesses are publicly traded companies, the owners will be looking at the quarterly bottom line, and their executive team will be looking at how easy it is to comply with different rules and whether they have the people to do it. Can they meet the expectations of both their customers and the government, and can they deal with their competitors?
I know that the equity stake issue has been used. Vancouver's Jetlines have said they want a higher equity amount in their specific case to capitalize their company. This is because airlines face cash flow crunches and need large volumes of passengers to make ends meet, and profitable routes are quite limited. To have a new entrant come in, companies need to be well capitalized to be able to compete. Therefore, in their particular case, it would be beneficial to them.
As I mentioned before, I think about this Yiddish proverb, and every answer we hear from the government caucus and members leads to more questions. More generally, why do we continue to worry about foreign ownership in airlines? I want to draw a parallel. We are not as worried about the devices we use that are not manufactured in Canada, with operating systems not made in Canada, or that sometimes have data that is not even stored in Canada. I do not hear vast amounts of complaining about that, because people generally like the services they receive from their smart phone providers and the different software they use on the phones, whether it be operating or business software, or other recreational features they use. We are not as concerned about where those components come from, where they are ultimately made, but at the end of the day we care about the user experience and the cost. Foreign ownership in that respect is not as important.
However, with airlines, we could achieve far more if we provided much looser foreign ownership rules. In the legislation itself, the government goes into a lot of detail trying to change it. It has been said that airlines are not at the commanding heights of the economy. I know the government changed some of the definitions of what being Canadian means.
I have been signalled to wrap it up, so I have one last point. The problem thus far is that the answers I get from government caucus members lead me to have more and more questions. The bill is incomplete. Its goals for air passengers will not be met. Amendments offered by my colleagues at committee would have vastly improved this proposed piece of legislation.
I will continue to oppose this bill. I hope that every answer I give during questions and comments leads to even more questions, just as I used the Yiddish proverb to illustrate.