Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member for Charlevoix and a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, I believe we have a lot of work to do and a huge mandate to fulfil as a result of airline mergers and the restructuring of air transportation services in Canada.
We have been going through turbulence for some time now. The Minister of Transport has tried to maintain Canadian Airlines and Air Canada. Unfortunately, in January, Canadian Airlines told the Minister of Transport it was in great financial difficulty, on the brink of bankruptcy. Of course, it will not go bankrupt as long as Canadian Airlines' suppliers do not take action.
Reporters will probably write, as they have done before, that members of the Bloc Quebecois attend their committee meetings regularly and are well prepared. They are in Ottawa to defend Quebec's interests and to improve Canada.
As long as Quebec sends tax money to Ottawa, as a member of the Bloc Quebecois, as the hon. member for Charlevoix and as deputy critic for transport, I will fulfil my responsibilities.
The Bloc Quebecois has decided today, given the urgency of this debate, to inform the public by making use of an opposition day. The Bloc Quebecois had been asking that the Standing Committee on Transport be convened since July. For various reasons, including members' holidays, the adjournment of the House, the throne speech, we were told the committee could not sit.
Oddly enough, the committee did meet, with members of the New Democratic Party, of the Reform Party, of the Bloc Quebecois and of the Conservative Party. The only people who did not show up were the Liberals. Yet, for two days, the ad hoc committee heard from witnesses who came from all over Canada to raise members' awareness about the importance of restructuring air transportation services in Canada.
Considering the seriousness of all those people, the Bloc Quebecois introduced a motion today. That motion reads as follows:
That this House reaffirms its desire to maintain the provisions of section 6.1( a ) of the Air Canada Public Participation Act limiting ownership of the capital stock of Air Canada by any person or group to 10% of the voting shares.
Of course, the Bloc Quebecois explained its position which is that the role of a responsible government is to act like a referee whose primary concern is protection of the public interest. Changing the act would favour one party over the other and that is called cheating. If the government changes the act to suit Onex or AMR, that would send the signal that private companies do not have to comply with the law but that the government has to adapt the law to suit its friends.
The 10% rule applies to Petro Canada, banks and several other public interest corporations. Changing that rule would be contrary to public interest. The 10% rule was put in place to prevent a single group from gaining control of Air Canada, one of the two national air carriers. The government wants to change the rule to allow a group to gain control of the only remaining carrier. That would be putting the future of the air carrier in the hands of only one group. By refusing to state its position, the government is feeding the uncertainty that currently exists in the airline industry.
Of course the committee has a clear mandate, witnesses to hear, hearings to hold. I hope this time the Minister of Transport is going to listen to the committee's recommendations. We know what happened when it was time to restructure the shipping industry. Every political party had an input and made recommendations to the minister. I am convinced unfortunately that he had already made up his mind on how the shipping industry was going to be restructured, even before the committee sat down to write its report.
As I said earlier in my speech, we are going through very turbulent times and Canadians are very concerned. When a plane is going through turbulence or a storm, people on board are worried and feel powerless.
Our constituents, who are watching us, who sent us here to represent them, are concerned about the future of air transportation, especially in the regions. Under the bid of Onex or AMR, the merger of Air Canada and Canadian could result in the loss of 5,000 to 10,000 jobs. According to the president of Air Canada, Air Canada's offer to merge with Canadian could mean the loss of around 2,500 jobs. If the government does nothing, Canadian will likely go under and all its workers will lose their jobs.
What we in the Bloc Quebecois want is to maintain as many jobs as possible while ensuring the highest quality of service in the airline industry.
Later this week in committee I will ask the Minister of Transport the following question “Should there be a merger, what do you think the future of air transportation in the regions will be?” As you know, air transportation is of paramount importance in the regions. And yet, over the last few years, air service in the regions has been diminishing. Quality of service is in jeopardy, and flight frequency is left up to individual carriers.
For those who have no choice, plane tickets are very expensive. In a riding like Charlevoix, on the north shore, air transportation is the fastest way to get around, because we have no rail transportation and we have only one access road. Therefore, the only way to travel fast is by plane, and carriers know it only too well.
Travellers who have no choice use a particular type of service, for professional reasons. They are, for example, business people who need to travel within a very short timeframe or people from the regions who need to go to Quebec City or to Montreal to have access to certain health care services.
The merger of Air Canada and Canadian International Airlines is of great concern to us, especially the Onex proposal, because I think there is some kind of complicity between the Department of Transport, Canadian International Airlines and the future company.
With regard to the future of regional air service, we all know that airports are already losing money. If the number of flights to regional airports is reduced, we will no longer have what we have now, that is a red and white Air Alliance plane arriving at 8.55 a.m. and a blue and white Canadian Airlines plane arriving at 9.10 a.m. Some will say that the blue and white plane was half full and the other one was half empty, depending on which company they want to support.
We know that the number of flights is what makes an airport profitable. This means that a merger would reduce the profitability of airports by at least 50%. And when I think about what happened when the Department of Transport made Nav Canada responsible for airport management in order to reduce airport deficits, if the past is any indication of what we can expect in the future, then I am extremely worried.
We all know that Nav Canada cut services at airports by reducing the number of air traffic controllers, by closing control towers, by cutting airport firefighting services, all at the expense of passenger safety.
I see that my time is up. I could have gone on for at least another 40 minutes, but I will have the opportunity to come back to this later on.