Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in this House at report stage to speak on Bill C-20 respecting, as mentioned previously, the commercialization of civil air navigation services.
The purpose of this bill is to privatize air navigation services across the country through the establishment of Nav Canada, also called NAVCAN. This is a name worth repeating a few times so that the public will get used to it, because it may well become infamous for the problems it will create.
This corporation will be responsible for supervising air navigation services throughout Canada. As someone already pointed out, this kind of organization is being established as part of an overall Transport Canada strategy to modernize transportation services across the country.
Under this strategy, the government has already privatized CN, recently commercialized some services provided by the Canadian Coast Guard and is currently contemplating the possibility of commercializing the operation of the St. Lawrence seaway.
Canada is selling off its ports, airports, railway lines, railway cars and even bridges. This is like some kind of huge liquidation sale. The sale of bridges, and the Quebec bridge in particular, will obviously give rise to untold difficulties, since whoever buys the bridge in Quebec City will not have to take on the obligations the government had regarding the bridge. In fact, the government has gone into business.
Today, it is civil air navigation services that are being commercialized. The federal government tells us that we must agree in principle with improved efficiency and lower prices. The federal government's real motivation in creating Nav Canada is quite obvious. Its main concern is really to make air navigation services cost-effective-or so it says-at the expense of safety and regional development.
The former Minister of Transport himself has admitted that the government can no longer afford the cost of maintaining adequate air navigation services. We must therefore ask ourselves if the new corporation will be able to do any better. Several of the stakeholders who spoke on this issue expressed their concern about the possible costs of the new system and their impact on charges paid by users of air navigation services.
Only large carriers will have a representative on the board of directors of the new corporation known as Nav Canada. Regional air transportation associations and companies will not be represented.
We know that, for a long time, in Quebec as well as in other provinces, the government has been asked to decentralize its operations so that local residents, who are familiar with local conditions, can have a say in something affecting their community. Again, in this bill we see an excessive centralization that will result in large carriers being the only ones to be heard.
Thus, regional air transportation associations and companies will not be represented. Large carriers are being given an advantage over small ones, especially as far as passenger fees are concerned. This aspect must be followed very closely, and we will do so as this bill progresses.
My colleagues and I are worried about the impacts of Bill C-20 in this regard. That is why we are proposing to add to the preamble a note indicating that Nav Canada must agree to maintain equal opportunities for small and large carriers in setting all charges.
This way, we will ensure small carriers a certain degree of fairness in this regard, and we know how important this is. Usually, large companies always end up deciding on everything, and everybody abides by their decisions. Nav Canada is meant to be a non-profit corporation with a mandate to manage public interests, and as my hon. colleague was saying a moment ago, we can draw a comparison with Montreal, where private companies will determine the future of Montreal airports without involving anybody else, without holding any public hearings, without making any studies available. The government is about to do something similar with this bill and the establishment of Nav Canada.
This creates a risk for users and the general public, since Nav Canada will hold a monopoly over air navigation services in Canada. The corporation will impose user fees and will have absolute control over the tariff structure. We want to make sure that Nav Canada's financial interests do not take precedence over the public interest. This is why the Bloc Quebecois motion seeks to include, in the preamble of the bill, a recognition that the safety of passengers, personnel, air carriers and the public has priority over all other considerations in the decisions taken by Nav Canada.
The first motion in the first group aims to have the government and Nav Canada recognize that public safety and interest take precedence over Nav Canada's financial interests. We have to ensure that someone is still accountable for safety standards, which must always remain the top priority. The government would be ill-advised to oppose the motion, since the minister sponsoring the bill said, in a speech, that Transport Canada's top priority is to maintain and, whenever possible, to improve the safety and security of Canadians.
The government can really not vote against a motion confirming such priority in the bill, since the minister himself alluded to it. I do hope government members will support the statements made by one of their ministers, even though what we saw and heard in recent weeks might lead us to think otherwise. Indeed, as recently as yesterday, the government did not even support a declaration made not too long ago by its Prime Minister, in some kind of autobiography, not posthumous of course.
The third motion in the first group seeks to add to the preamble a mention that Nav Canada recognizes that "Canada is a country where air services to northern and remote regions is essential". The purpose of this motion is to establish a basis for interpretation. Again, I do not see how government members could oppose the motion. We want to make sure that regional services will effectively be provided, particularly in remote regions.
This parameter will serve as a basis for interpretation by stressing that one of Nav Canada's fundamental objectives is to provide services to the regions. The idea is to make sure that large carriers do not impose their rules on smaller ones, without regard for regional markets and needs. Co-operation and understanding are essential between all carriers, large and small.
As you can see, the first group of motions includes three motions that would fit into the preamble in order to recognize the legitimate rights and responsibilities that Nav Canada should always respect.
What these motions propose is, roughly, that the government and the new corporation recognize that the safety of passengers is one of the most important concerns and must take have paramountcy over all other considerations, including the financial interests of large carriers and the new corporation. I would like to mention, not as a vision of doom nor as something that could happen-because I hope it will never happen-the plane crash that happened recently in the United States, in the Florida Everglades.
The possibility was clearly raised on television, at least according to some comments I heard, that the accident could be related to the financial problems suffered by the airline, which would appear to have great difficulty in performing the technical checks needed to ensure the full safety of its passengers. This is currently under investigation in the United States.
I mention this case to ensure that we do everything to prevent such an occurrence here. As we know, this country's two largest air carriers have financial problems. And we do not want them to take advantage of the establishment of this new corporation to bail themselves out by increasing rates, for example, which would immediately impact negatively on small regional carriers. We do not want to find ourselves once again in the situation where the
little guy is made to pay for the big guy. This seems to have become the rule nowadays.
We only have to think of what the Auditor General of Canada just told us. Large family trusts have no problem because, through nebulous rulings made behind closed doors, and often in matters that could be judicially examined, they can transfer billions of dollars out of Canada without paying taxes. When you are big, there is no problem doing that. We are even setting precedents that will allow all the others to do the same afterwards.
Last week, the Financial Post quoted Revenue Canada documents to the effect that over $60 billion in assets were taken out of Canada in 1991 without any tax being paid. It is obvious that big shots in Canada have no trouble whatsoever making their sweet little deals. Included in those big shots were most Canadian banks who advertise on television and tell us how much they care about the public's interest. What we would not like to see happen with this bill is big companies ending up with an advantage over the small ones.
In conclusion, there is no reason why the government should oppose these motions, especially those in the first group, since they are a mere confirmation of principles the government itself has applied repeatedly. All we want is to see these principles clearly entrenched in the bill and included in the preamble.