Madam Speaker, I have accepted to take part in the third reading debate of Bill C-20 because it is a bill that I am most interested in. One of the reasons is that it creates Nav Canada, a non-profit corporation, which will allow the government to apply $1,5 billion to deficit reduction. It is also because the Bloc Quebecois thinks it is a good idea to privatize air navigation and to have competent people to provide these services.
However, we have some concerns about this bill. The most important one, I think, is the fact that we do not see in this bill a clear political will to give priority to passenger and crew member safety as well as to the safe transportation of goods. In my opinion, this is a rather important issue. Personally, even though I travel almost every weekend from Ottawa to my riding and back in small aircrafts, I have not yet gotten over my fear. So when I see that the government is creating such an organization without including explicitly in its mandate the requirement to ensure passenger safety, there is cause for concern. One of the things we can expect from a society is to protect the people.
The official opposition also has a problem with the appointment of the 15 members of the board of directors. My colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean, with his experience, has underlined in his speech the importance of small air carriers and of the Association québécoise des transporteurs aériens, whose interests will not necessarily be taken into account by this board of directors.
It is hard to think that the 15 members of this board, the majority of which will represent large carriers, will really care about small carriers. In establishing rates, who will they be thinking about? Normally, they will make decisions that are to their advantage and nobody will be there to defend the interests of small carriers.
For instance, if the small carriers had been given equal footing, it would have been possible for the Association québécoise de transport aérien to be represented, so that the 15 people would have included someone with the mandate to see that the French language was well represented on the board and properly defended across Canada.
The French language received a great deal of attention earlier. Several of my colleagues mentioned it in their speeches, and some of our colleagues across the way or beside us are surprised that we are raising the issue. Of course, the bill states clearly that Nav Canada will be subject to the Official Languages Act. But, Madam Speaker, you yourself are in a good position to know, coming from an officially bilingual province, that we do not always take the trouble, on a daily basis, to defend our rights and see that they are respected. There is a tendency, with the French language being the minority language in every group, to forget that French even exists and to begin speaking English and conducting all our affairs in English.
It is not because Nav Canada releases all its proceedings, reports and press releases in both languages that it is a truly bilingual organization that really cares about respecting the language of the minority. In the current context-and since the past has a tendency to repeat itself-it seems pretty hard to believe that the French language is very safe with Nav Canada.
Every year since that law came into effect 25 years ago, the Commissioner of Official Languages, who is always biased in favour of the English language, still manages to write several pages or paragraphs of his reports on the flaws in the implementation of that law with respect to French. He has done so every year for 25 years.
Since there is no guarantee in that regard, you can understand why, although we in the Bloc Quebecois basically agree with the creation of Nav Canada, we are opposed to this bill, which does not give us all the guarantees in that regard.
We could go on discussing this problem for a very long time, but if we listen to some of the members in this House-for example, I read again with interest the comments made by the parliamentary secretary-I understand that Transport Canada will remain responsible for setting the safety regulations and standards applying to this new corporation and for monitoring operations to ensure compliance.
The Bloc Quebecois wanted this bill to specify that safety had priority over all commercial decisions made by Nav Canada, but all the amendments proposed by the Bloc were rejected. One of our amendments had been accepted by the committee, but it disappeared as if by magic when we got to the vote at the committee report stage.
Speaking of committee work, one may wonder why the House bothered to create these committees. Perhaps to give the illusion that this is a democracy. These committees can ask people to testify, hear witnesses and travel across the country. These committees can travel and meet people across the country or they can get people to testify at a hearing here in Ottawa, but when the government makes a decision, no one can change its mind because, with its large majority, all it has to do is vote against all the amendments proposed by the opposition, even if many of them were designed to improve the situation. They were not designed to undermine the bill. On the contrary, we wanted to make sure certain important elements would be included in the bill, but they were not.
Once again, the government is turning a deaf ear to everything we propose. It seems important also to look at another bad habit this government has. It will become obvious with another bill coming up for debate in this House, but let me just say that the government has this funny little way, every time it brings in a bill, of providing for exemptions in the legislation. This time, National Defence is exempted from the charges.
Given the number of DND aircraft that will fly in Canadian airspace and use our airports and the air navigation services they provide, by deciding to exempt the Department of National Defence from the application of this bill, the government itself is depriving Nav Canada of an important source of revenue. At the same time, the government is asking Nav Canada, this not for profit corporation, to balance its budget, while depriving it from the start of an important source of revenue. I wonder why the government is doing this.
Required to act, it does away with a function by transferring it to a private sector corporation and tells this corporation it shall be a not for profit corporation, which in itself is excellent. For once, the government is not privatizing for the benefit of some friends of the government, but rather putting local stakeholders in charge of operating the air navigation system, which is already giving it half a chance of succeeding.
However, the government is telling the new corporation it has to cough up $1.5 billion to start up. While the government may offer interesting terms and conditions, as a client, it will be exempt. The Canadian government's reasoning is really hard to follow, because one has to wonder how it will manage to make up for these massive revenues it will be forfeiting.
In a different but related vein, the Bloc Quebecois suggested many amendments to the government right from the start. We requested changes regarding the corporation's board of directors. We asked that efforts be made to ensure safety and security. But each and every time, the government denied our requests. The result is that problems will surface for small carriers in the various regions of the country, including companies that fly tourists. These small carriers will find themselves in difficult situations.
We seem to be the only ones interested in carrying on the debate but, believe me, we are not trying to kill time. We know we have a very important agenda involving other issues. However, we are using the few minutes at our disposal to tell the public, and to convince our fellow members, that the bill presents a danger, since it is not specified in Nav Can's mandate-the agency that will manage air navigation services in Canada-that the safety of passengers, airline personnel and the public must have priority.
Be that as it may, I want to point out one aspect of the bill which may be somewhat unfair. New companies or newcomers relying on Nav Canada must not be adversely affected. Priority must also be given to regional development. I am thinking of a region like mine.
The airport is currently managed by the federal government, but it will be transferred to the private sector.
Negotiations are ongoing which should help resolve this issue in the near future. However, since Nav Canada will be responsible for the control tower and another private corporation will be responsible for managing the Mont-Joli airport, if, for example, the board of directors of that corporation decides that it needs new equipment in the control tower to promote airport expansion and regional development, that decision will have to be approved by Nav Canada.
Since Nav Canada's first concern will be to balance its budget, it is likely that both corporations will have conflicting objectives. Therefore, Nav Canada could say, for example, that unfortunately it cannot approve the acquisition of such equipment because the volume is not sufficient. That would have a direct negative impact on the development of our region.
We will find ourselves in situations like that, where it will be difficult to make a decision because we will likely have a problem with regard to the number of passengers.
My colleague who spoke before me mentioned that it happened to him to be the only passenger on a plane. Unfortunately, we know that, in the regions, Canadian carriers compete in a rather stupid way. For example, instead of having two flights in the morning at different times, they have two flights that leave within five minutes of each other just to try to compete. Very often, one of these flights leaves with very few passengers on board. I have travelled very often between Ottawa and Rimouski on flights that were half-full or half-empty, whichever you prefer.
When the situation gets this bad, it means that things have to change if we want to have air transport in the regions once again. We need it but we have lost it, mainly because of the fares we have to pay to support trans-Atlantic flights. Studies have shown that, unfortunately, regional fares are very high to compensate for lower fares on trans-Atlantic flights.
It is also known that all flights departing from or arriving in Ottawa are more expensive than others since the main purchaser of plane tickets is the Canadian government. Even when all carriers lower their fares, they make sure that these reductions do not apply to flights between Ottawa and the regions so that they can make as much money as they can.
We will find ourselves in a somewhat difficult situation in terms of development. Unfortunately, we will have to see this new corporation in action but, as you already know, we will not support this bill.