Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague from Montarville for his outstanding speech. I was very touched by his testimony and the letter he read. When the government does not get the message, it is important to do something and find other ways to get the message across, and this was a good one.
I am going to focus on one particular aspect of the economic update, namely transportation, my critic portfolio. We know that the COVID‑19 pandemic has really had a negative impact on the transportation industry, specifically air transportation, which is experiencing a serious crisis.
We had high expectations for the economic update, and we were really hoping for something major, since we had been promised for months that there would be help for air transportation. On reading the economic update, however, specifically the section on the air sector on page 32, we learned that the government was simply going to continue negotiating with the airlines to establish a financial assistance process. I was floored.
Air sector workers have been struggling since March. They are out of work, with no income. The government has been saying for months that it will find a way to help them by talking to the companies and by taking action, but it turns out those were nothing but empty promises. This economic update is from November 30. It was bad enough in November, but today is January 26. It is almost March and nothing has happened. All these workers will have been out of work for a year, yet there is still no assistance for air transportation.
It gets worse. Many people had purchased plane tickets but never received refunds. The government did absolutely nothing to defend them or protect them. However, page 32 of that economic statement says that “the government will ensure Canadians are refunded for cancelled flights.” That is good news, but it had already been announced way back on November 8.
On that date, the then transport minister released a statement in which he promised that, before the government spent even one penny of taxpayer money on airlines, it would ensure that Canadians got their refunds. Nevertheless, today, January 26, 2021, travellers have still not been refunded. As a result, yesterday, a court delivered an initial ruling and ordered an airline to refund a couple from Rimouski, Quebec.
It is unfortunate that the current government is not doing anything about this critical situation and that people are suffering because of it. It is particularly disappointing because the government is supposed to govern and make decisions when the situation warrants it. We, on this side of the House, are putting pressure on the government, pushing it to take action. We tabled a petition signed by 33,000 people calling on the government to comply and require refunds for travellers. We introduced Bill C-249 to reiterate that travellers have the right to be refunded.
A new Minister of Transport was recently appointed, perhaps to cover up for his predecessor's incompetence, and he immediately said that he would continue to seek a solution so that travellers get refunded. We are pleased with his initial reaction, but a solution already exists. All the government has to do is pass Bill C‑249 and order airlines to refund travellers. The government has never really told the airlines that. Instead, it prefers to repeat that it is looking for a solution and working on the issue. This is not complicated. When a service is not provided, the consumer needs to be refunded. That is the law, and it just makes sense. If I order a pizza and it never gets delivered, that is too bad, but I will get a refund. That is how it should be.
I am flabbergasted at the government's complete lack of action on urgent issues affecting people's daily lives. I spoke about tickets and about unemployed workers who are struggling, but there is also the fact that the government's actions with regard to air transportation have been rather inconsistent.
The government is telling people not to travel and has been repeating that for the past few days and weeks, but it is not actually doing anything to stop people from travelling.
On January 2, the day after New Year's Day, people who had spent Christmas without their families and without gathering with loved ones, as they would have liked to do, found out that people who had decided to take non-essential trips south or elsewhere around the globe qualified for $1,000 in compensation from the government. This is unbelievable, and it is frustrating, too.
It took a while for the government to wake up and realize that maybe it needed to do something. It finally decided to take action, but it said its measures would only start in January, so they would not apply to people who had travelled before January. It is wrong to reward people who did not follow public health guidelines.
The same applies to border control. There is still no ban on non-essential travel, even though this has been a problem for several months now. It is nearly February, and this is still a problem. There is still no monitoring of people in quarantine. The only measure is automated calls where people press a number to indicate they are complying with the quarantine. It is frankly absurd. Even people who chose to travel have criticized the situation, saying it is ridiculous. That is the kind of job the federal government is doing.
In the meantime, customs officers are not very busy at the border, so they could help with monitoring people in quarantine.
The Government of Quebec is asking for help in getting the authorization and additional powers to do what the federal government is not doing, namely monitoring quarantine enforcement at the border.
A month after Christmas, the government still has not made a decision on a sector in crisis. That is unacceptable to me.
The economic update also addresses the issue of regional air transportation. It is nice that the government realizes that there is a problem. Again, the problem has been going on for months. In March, Air Canada announced, brutally and without warning, that it was cutting 30 regional routes. The regions' first reaction was to say good riddance. They were fed up with seeing the airline disrepect the competition, cancel flights without notice and slash prices only to jack them back up. The regions decided to find another solution. In Quebec, they decided to establish a group to look at the problem with the Union des municipalités du Québec, the Fédération québécoise des municipalités, tourism associations and the Government of Quebec and come up with solutions.
Do you know what happened? They asked the Minister of Transport to come and meet with them, to talk to them and listen to what they had to say. However, the Minister of Transport did not even bother to meet with them. In the middle of the crisis, 30 regional routes have been cut and certain regions of Quebec are now without service, but the Minister of Transport is so familiar with the problem that he does not need to listen to them. He does not need to hear from mayors, businesses, or the tourism industry. He does not even need to hear from the Quebec government.
In fact, that is what the Minister of Revenue and member for Gaspésie—Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine said when we toured her riding over the summer. I heard her on the radio saying that we see the trees, but the minister saw the forest. He is so familiar with it that he does not even need to talk to people. That is serious.
This frustration of not being able to talk to the minister is something that I heard from the airline industry. The airports were not able to talk to the minister, the airlines were not able to talk to the minister, and the pilots were not able to talk to the minister. No one was able to talk to the minister, and the minister did nothing. At some point, people got fed up. It is frustrating. I think that this is part of the reason for the change of minister.
We hope that the new minister will make some changes and that the government will get a move on, because this is a bad situation. A government that does absolutely nothing and makes no decisions is a very bad thing.
Worse still, here is one of the first things that happened in the regional air transportation sector after the crisis. Nav Canada was having trouble making ends meet, so it decided to jack up its fees by 30%. When Nav Canada asked the minister for help, the minister told it to figure things out and charge airlines that were already struggling 30% more for its services. In turn, airlines raised ticket prices, so fewer people travelled by plane. It is all nonsensical. To top it off, there is no more regional transportation.
The same thing happened with airports. The government made a big deal about rent relief for airports, but that was only for large airports. What people do not know is that rent relief is based on fees. If there is no money coming in, there is no rent to pay. The same goes for the airport assistance program. Much was made of investment assistance, but that does not help pay the bills. If they do not have any money, how are they supposed to invest?
That is what I wanted to say about the government's treatment of the air sector in its economic update. It is very disappointing indeed.