Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to rise and replace my colleague from Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre.
My colleague and I are both in agreement to support Bill C-5, an act to establish the Canadian tourism commission.
As many members will already know, the Canadian tourism commission was actually founded in 1992 after an extensive consultation with various stakeholders in the tourism industry across Canada. At that time, when the former government was trying to get the commission up and running quickly, government and industry agreed that the CTC should be created as a special operating agency instead of a crown corporation.
Special operating agency basically means that it has all of the responsibility and none of the authority. The CTC was responsible for running the program but it was the deputy minister of tourism who was responsible for the administration. Because of the speech with which the CTC was originally created, it missed a whole bunch of key points and operations were often held back because of the bureaucratic nightmare that was created.
There were some marketing operations that had to sit around for months because they were going through the bureaucratic sign-off process which required 13 signatures. By the time they got to their signatures circumstances had almost always changed.
One could spot the potential for problems a mile away. Government contract issuance processes were just too slow to keep up with the rapid changes that occur in the tourism industry. Business does not have to be allowed to move much more quickly whether it is in the private or public realm.
My colleagues and I in the NDP support the move from a special operating agency to a crown corporation provided that the government provide the tourism board the support it will require to fulfil its objectives.
The development and accomplishments of the Canadian tourism commission is a unique and promising model of a private-public partnership. The tourism industry currently provides over two-thirds of the funding for the commission's operations.
Labour relations will move from the Public Service Employment Act to the Canada Labour Code, and while existing bargaining units will be merged, there will be a one year transition in eligibility for public service competitions and grievance procedures.
The tourism industry supports the change, the provinces support the change and the staff support the change. I believe that today in the House we should be able to co-operate and put Bill C-5 through the House as quickly as possible. One only wishes every government policy with respect to tourism was as beneficial for the industry as this one.
I take this opportunity to remind the House of the sudden and hurtful changes which our two airlines made with respect to their commissions for international ticket sales. This change alone threatens some 7,500 jobs in small communities across the country.
Basically the two airlines got together to set the new commission structure and informed the travel agents. I repeat, the two airlines got together to set the new pricing structure. Then, when the travel agents' association wanted to meet with the airlines to discuss the rate structure, it was threatened with anti-competition charges under the Competition Act by the very same airline. In other words, the Competition Act could be used by the airlines to bully small businesses, but where oh where is that act now that the big airlines are in trouble? Talk about a Liberal double standard.
Another point that I feel I must make in this debate on tourism comes more in the form of a warning. The preamble to Bill C-5 sets out the vitality of the tourism industry to the social and cultural identity of Canada. While I do not wish to necessarily disagree with this statement, it must be somewhat qualified. It is not tourism that is going to safeguard our identity. Instead, it is our distinct social and cultural identity as Canadians that will safeguard the continued interest for tourists in Canada.
Tourism can never be more than and certainly never less than an integral part of our economy. A well-balanced and vibrant economy of scale cannot be built upon tourism alone. I make this point because it is extremely important for us in Cape Breton to remember this at a time when our federal government is telling us that tourism will be our saviour.
Tourism also rides economic roller coasters, the big economic ones and the smaller seasonal variations. It is important to note that while we acknowledge the increased dollar figures generated in Cape Breton, from $211 million to $230 million this year which will make tourism one of the important factors in rebuilding our shattered economy, it is by no means the only or the whole answer.
As some of my hon. colleagues may already know, we, the NDP caucus members from Nova Scotia, have been working with tourism operators across the maritime provinces. We are facing a situation of a monopolistic food supplier if the Sobey's-Oshawa group merger goes ahead. This merger could potentially spell disaster for the restaurants, bed and breakfast establishments and hotels that are price-takers from their food suppliers. If the merger goes ahead there will be virtually no competition in that sector. I think I could elicit support from just about any part of the House that a situation where no controls or competition is in place could spell disaster for the people who depend on these suppliers.
Nearly 77,000 people are directly or indirectly employed by tourism operators in Nova Scotia. The fact that the government has taken no initiative toward protecting the interests of small businesses that will potentially be hurt by the merger is yet another example of the federal Liberals abandoning the interests of working people.
While I feel I must support the passage of Bill C-5, I do not do this without some reservations with regard to the Liberal government's policies toward tourism and tourist operators. I do not feel that the Liberal government supports tourist operators, especially those who are small business owners and employees.