Merci. Bienvenue à tout le monde.
Unfortunately, that's the extent of my French, but I want to thank you for the invitation to present to this committee today, especially seeing that I was the one who started all the fuss. Hopefully we'll come out with a good resolution.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to present to you and the committee concerning the Air Passengers' Bill of Rights. As you mentioned, my name is Woodrow French. I'm the mayor of the little town of Conception Bay South, which is just outside of St. John's in Newfoundland and Labrador. I would also like you to note that in my real life I'm a safety consultant, so I do occupational health and safety. My concern for safety is right up there.
I'd just like to say that I was a little disappointed in the amount of notice I got that I was appearing at the committee today. It's fortunate that I'm here on Federation of Canadian Municipalities business. I was on an aircraft yesterday afternoon at 5:30 to come up here, so I spent my morning preparing my notes. Hopefully I'll be able to get all my points in.
My quest for a bill of rights started in December of 2007, when I observed families and seniors distressed while waiting for air travel at St. John's International Airport at 1 a.m. on a cold wintry night. The terminal was full of people, and there were two airline employees working the counter, no announcements made, and no extra staff to give information. People told me they would not be able to get a flight until the following week at the earliest. Others had tickets and were told there were no seats available for them.
The people who were there were young families with small kids, and at one o'clock in the morning the kids were wired and running around. The families were there, completely distressed, not knowing what to do. I guess the saddest thing was to notice the seniors who were there in the airport, some of whom had come a long way from small communities, had shown up at the airport, had no hotel, didn't know whether to leave the airport or stay there, and there was absolutely nobody there to help them. A lot of them were told no one knew when they were going to get out.
As a member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and a mayor, I felt I had a platform to be able to bring the concerns of the flying public to a provincial and national level. To assist me, I got the backing of the members of municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Atlantic mayors caucus, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It's not a local issue. It's not localized to Newfoundland and Labrador. This is an issue that affects Canadians regardless of where they live in Canada, be it northern Quebec, southern Ontario, or British Columbia; it doesn't matter.
I went to the media and I contacted members of the House of Assembly as well as my members of Parliament. Once the story got out provincially and nationally, the horror stories of air travel throughout Canada started to pour in. Lobbying by the groups I have mentioned struck a national chord, and ordinary Canadians told their stories of problems they had with airlines, both Canadian and foreign.
I guess probably one of the saddest examples I can quote is one that happened here in Ottawa, our nation's capital. My fellow Canadians were kept on a Cubana Airlines aircraft for six hours, with no food, no water, toilets that were overflowing. I think it is horrible to have this occur in the nation's capital, with nobody at the airport with enough guts to say, “Bring that aircraft into the terminal and let these people off.” I think that's what really started to get this thing going.
They spoke of overbooking, being bumped from flights, lost luggage, being held hostage on airport tarmacs by not being allowed to deplane, and rude treatment by the airlines. They went to their members of Parliament, whom they elected, for help in correcting the problems they were encountering while travelling on airlines in Canada and to other countries. I myself have travelled in Canada's north and have encountered situations where flights were cancelled without warning. Even staff in the isolated community were not given any information as to if and when the aircraft would arrive. All they could tell you was, “Go back to your boarding house and wait, and when you get a call, get down here as fast as you possibly can.”
I've been advocating for an airline passengers' bill of rights since 2007. I'm looking for legislation similar to the legislation currently in place in the European Union.
After all the negative publicity, MP Gerry Byrne, who I'm pleased to see here today, contacted me and asked if I would mind if he introduced a resolution asking fellow members of Parliament to support a bill of rights. I was ecstatic that I was making headway on the issue.
The resolution was passed, and Transport Canada proposed “Flight Rights Canada”, a useless, toothless piece of garbage that only further infuriated the travelling public. It was just unbelievable that they would come out with this if they meant what they said about flight rights Canada being the end-all and be-all of what was required. After that, we got more complaints with regard to bumping and overselling of flights, and on and on it went.
Following this, I was contacted by MP Jim Maloway, who informed me that he was going to introduce a private member's bill in the House of Commons calling on the government to legislate a bill of rights. It would ensure that air travellers in Canada would be treated with courtesy and respect and would be adequately compensated for disruptions in their travel plans caused by decisions made by the airlines. The bill was passed unanimously and now sits with you in this committee for action.
Members of the committee, Canadians are not asking for anything other than to be treated fairly by air carriers. We're not asking pilots to put passengers and aircraft in jeopardy. That would be unconscionable. All we're asking is to be treated fairly and to be adequately compensated. To do this is just a really good business practice. We pay our hard-earned dollars for tickets, sometimes well in advance of our flight dates, not knowing whether the services will be delivered to us as we contracted them. I think of those Canadians who have gone to the airport with their families to go on a holiday only to be told that the aircraft was oversold and they aren't going. To me, that's not acceptable.
In the EU, Canadian airlines that do business there are familiar with this legislation. For those airlines that cry out that they'll be hurt and will be put out of business and so on, not one Canadian airline has gone out of business; I've contacted people in the EU, and they've told me that the only airlines that have ever gone out of business were airlines that were on shaky ground even before the legislation came in.
If I buy a ticket in London and I want to come to Canada, I am protected by the EU bill of rights. If I'm not treated fairly by a Canadian airline, then the Canadian airline must compensate me for that. I've heard airlines in Canada and the association come out and say that it's going to put undue stress on them. Well, they haven't been stressed yet, and they're still flying to Europe. I haven't heard any of them come out and say that they aren't going to fly there anymore because of the legislation.
I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the articles in yesterday's media wherein it was reported that senior bureaucrats and the Minister of Transport were lobbying the airlines to oppose any efforts that would see this legislation pass. To me this indicates that these senior officials not only have no respect for their minister but have no respect for the wishes of the Canadian public.
A quote by Mr. Fitzgerald said that European rights focus on denied boarding, cancelled flights, and delays “in an industry known for regularly overbooking passengers, cancelling undersold flight and making refunds difficult”.
Isn't this what we're talking about in Canada? It's the same thing.
Obviously, Transport Canada officials are too close to the industry they regulate. This doesn't give me, or any other Canadian, a warm cuddly feeling that these people are going to come in and make anything voluntary stick. Nobody is going to be held accountable. If I and my business don't deliver services that I contract to deliver, then I'm chastised for that and I'm held to account for it.
The airlines have stated their opposition to the legislation, and have said, you know, maybe French has a point when he talks about this airline passengers' bill of rights. Boy, maybe he has something that we really didn't think about. So we're going to come out now and--