Madam Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure to take part in this debate. I am going to focus on the impact on consumers. Many of my colleagues have discussed several aspects of the bill and referred to the committee work that we spent so much time on, but I want to focus on consumers.
I feel that the bill has left out the interests of consumers, considering that now there is a dominant carrier structure in Canada, whereby consumers have no choice in most of their airline service. It is not like it was a year ago when, if they were not happy with one of the main airlines, they could go to another. Now if they are not happy with the airline, it is just too bad.
I think that consumers need help to reach the parties that can effect change and deal with their protection.
Recommendation No. 42 of the standing committee stated that an ombudsman be appointed by the government to deal strictly with consumer issues. That recommendation was completely ignored in the bill and I believe that was a mistake. That recommendation definitely should be followed and I intend to bring it to committee. In fact, I have already submitted to committee that the recommendation be made part of the bill, that the bill be amended to reflect it.
My focus on consumerism stems from several issues that have happened lately, from several observations I have made and from constituents in my riding who have been affected by changes in the airline since the amalgamation of the two main airlines. Calls have been made to my office, as I am the transport critic. I have spoken with other MPs and travellers who have experienced new problems which they had not experienced before. I myself have experienced a significant increase in problems, delays and things of that nature, in the airline industry. I believe that the appointment of an ombudsman is important.
As the vice-chair of the committee, the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North said in his report on the committee report that the Competition Act and the Canada Transportation Act, through their regulatory agencies, are not accessible to the average Canadian.
There is nothing accessible to the average Canadian without an ombudsman. I strongly support the proposal to have an ombudsman.
I have a short term plan and a long term plan that I would like to talk about today. The long term plan is the amendment to the bill to make the appointment of an ombudsman law and a part of the airline industry. I believe that has to be a part of it, considering that there is no longer any competition to protect consumers.
The short term plan is that I am inviting people to write to my office through e-mail, fax or regular mail to tell me about the problems they are experiencing now, especially if there is an increase in problems. Some of those problems are delays with no explanation, the cancellation of flights, technical difficulties, overbooking, as mentioned by some of my other colleagues here today, abrupt service changes, luggage problems and communication problems.
I invite any consumer in Canada to write to my office. Contact me and we will assemble these complaints and take them to the appropriate party, whether it is airline management, the Transportation Safety Board if it is a safety problem, or the Canadian Transportation Agency if it is a ticketing or scheduling problem. We would be pleased to take them all to the minister's office. We will do whatever is the appropriate thing to ensure that customers' complaints are addressed.
This is a short term, interim service that we will provide until the legislation is complete. I will provide the addresses further on in my remarks if anybody is interested.
The amendment I have proposed is exactly the same amendment which was already passed in committee. It was passed by an all party committee and all parties supported it. The proposal to establish the ombudsman simply states:
Thus, the committee recommends that:—
- The government appoint an independent ombudsperson to monitor the commitments of a dominant carrier, to oversee a public complaints process and report annually to Parliament and to the appropriate committees of Parliament on the state of the airline industry. This person must be selected in accordance with a public and transparent selection process, and must possess expertise in such areas as airline policy, public interest advocacy, and regulatory legislative processes.
That is my long term goal and I believe that would address the problems with consumers in the long term. But again, in the short term I am making my office available to receive complaints on any issue. Again, if it is a company policy issue or a specific problem, we will take it to the airline. I feel confident that they will address it, as they have with me in the past on any issue we have brought to their attention. With respect to safety issues, we will take those to the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, and so on.
If anyone wants to contact my office with a complaint with respect to the airline service they are experiencing now or have recently, they can write a letter to Bill Casey, MP, House of Commons, Ottawa, K1A 0A6. They can e-mail me at email@example.com. They can fax me at 613-943-2295. Or they can check our website at www.pcparty.ca.
Air Canada is not the only company that is involved with aviation. One thing we learned at the committee is that there are dozens of airlines in Canada. They are smaller airlines, but there are dozens of them and they are all aggressive and all entrepreneurial. Really, it is an exciting industry.
Air Canada has the vast majority of business now and any time I have brought a problem to the attention of Air Canada it has been addressed very quickly, and I appreciate that. In fact when I called the offices of Air Canada yesterday to tell them that I would be proposing this interim ombudsman office just to get us through until the legislation is passed, to my surprise their reaction was that it was a great idea. They were very positive and they agreed to work with us. If there are problems, with that company at least, they have agreed to address them and work with us to solve the problems.
Some of the typical issues that we get in our office concern the increased delays in flights. That is only part of the problem. The other part is that the consumers who are victims of the increased delays are given information which is wrong, delayed or incremental. They say that the flight is delayed 15 minutes, and then after 15 minutes it is delayed another half hour, and then it is delayed another half hour. Instead of saying at the beginning that the flight will be delayed two hours, or whatever, and give the consumer a choice of whether to go home or take a different mode of transportation, they seem to keep consumers at the airport by giving these incremental news briefs and information in little pieces, which I do not think is correct. That should be addressed and it should be changed.
There are inconsistent explanations as to why planes are delayed. In one case I was given three different explanations. I was told it was an equipment problem, then I was told there was a crew shortage and then I was told there was a storm. I do not know what the truth was, but I was given three different explanations. I believe that consumers are entitled to an explanation if their travel is delayed or interrupted. If the airline knows what the problem is, it owes it to consumers to tell them exactly what is the problem.
On Monday I was at the Montreal airport and I met a constituent of mine. When I asked him what he was doing there, he told me that his flight had been cancelled. When I asked him why it had been cancelled, he told me that he had no idea because they would not tell him. He told me there was hardly anybody on the plane and he thought they had cancelled it because there were not enough people. As there was another plane at 5 o'clock and there would not be many people on that flight, they just cancelled my constituent's flight and made him wait four hours. I believe that consumer is entitled to an explanation. I would like to have an answer too, and we will be seeking an explanation.
Another thing happened to me this week. After flying into Montreal, I went down to get my luggage. Before I even got to the luggage carousel, I was paged to go to the luggage counter where I was told that my luggage had not arrived, that it was not on the plane. I could not go to Ottawa because I did not have any clothes, other than the jeans and the sweater I had on, so I went home. I was told to call the Moncton airport the next day to find out the status of my luggage.
The next morning I tried to call information for the phone number of the Moncton airport and I was told that it was an unlisted number. I did not know what to do so I called the 1-800 number. I could not get through that number so I called my local travel agent. My travel agent said that there was a special number for luggage and she gave me the number. I called that number and had to go through the code business. I got a neat recording which said “We are sorry, but this call will take longer than we anticipated, but do not hang up because you will lose your place in the line”. That was all right. I waited for awhile and got another recording to that effect. I then got a recording saying “If you hang up and go to the Internet you can check on your luggage there, but do not hang up because you will lose your place in line”. The point I am making is that I waited 25 minutes before I was able to speak to a person.
The person finally came on the line and I explained that I had lost my luggage in Montreal and that it was supposed to go to Moncton. He said “No, I do not think you have lost your luggage because it is not on the computer”. Anyway, this went on and on and on. The system and the service just was not good enough.
I challenge the president of Air Canada, Mr. Milton, to apply his standards to his own company and to pretend that he is a consumer of Air Canada. Would he go on hold for 25 minutes to find out where his luggage is? Would he accept that level of service? I do not think he would. I would challenge Mr. Milton to review and fix that problem on the luggage communication system. People are already upset when they lose their luggage and they do not need that system to make it worse.
Last night a lady called me and told me that she had spent two days trying to get through to the frequent flyer program. She said that she was on hold for more than an hour on one occasion and still did not get through. The only way she said that she finally got through was by trying at 7 o'clock. on Sunday morning.
Again I ask the senior management of all airlines: “If you were trying to get a product or to check on the service of your car, would you accept a one hour wait on the phone, or even 25 minutes?” I do not think so.
I ask the senior management of the airlines that have 1-800 numbers to review them. I propose that they put in a standard. If a customer has to wait for five minutes he or she should be told that the call will be so many minutes, whether it is 25 minutes or an hour or whatever, or it should just ring busy. However, do not play tricks on people and get them on the line, hold them there and lead them to believe they and their problems will be dealt with shortly when they will not.
My approach is not adversarial on this issue. I think it is important for the airline management to know what is going on. In the turmoil surrounding the transition, with all the plane changes, the union negotiations, the scheduling and everything else, I believe consumers are getting left by the wayside in this whole issue. My goal is not to be adversarial with the airlines. My goal is to help them realize and understand what their consumers are going through. I hope that if people register their complaints with me I can then seek assistance and relief for these problems from the senior management of the airlines. I am confident that I can to that.
Air Canada was recently recognized as the best airline in the world. That was because they have superior service. It is important to me that Air Canada maintain that standard as the best airline in the world because Air Canada is in many respects our ambassador all over the world. It is the most tangible symbol of Canada that is ever seen in many countries.
Having the best airline in the world reflects well on our country. My goal is to help Air Canada and all other airlines to maintain the very highest standards of customer service and safety. If I get good responses from my invitation to receive complaints and if they are addressed properly, the airlines will be able to maintain those high standards. My goal is to help them maintain their reputation.
My experience with Air Canada and all other airlines is that when I go to them with a problem they act extremely quickly at management level, but consumers do not have that access. They do not have access to anything other than a 1-800 number, which is extremely frustrating. I believe in the long term the ombudsman would serve to make sure that the airlines are aware of what their customers and consumers are going through. In the short term, I would like to provide that service myself until the legislation is passed.
My proposal is to act as an interim ombudsman through my office until the legislation is passed. It not only refers to Air Canada, but also to airlines such as WestJet, First Air, et cetera. No matter what airline consumers are using, if they have a problem I, and I am sure the minister and the company itself, want to hear about it. We guarantee that if we get a complaint we will see that it goes to the proper authority and the proper company, whether it is the company itself, the Transportation Safety Board, the Canadian Transportation Agency or the minister's office. We will monitor the complaints and make sure they are addressed.
I offer anyone who has a problem or complaint with the aviation industry to write to me, Bill Casey, MP, House of Commons, Ottawa, K1A 0A6, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax me at 613-943-2295, or check our website at www.pcparty.ca and all that information will be there. We invite everybody to send us their remarks and we will share them with the appropriate body.
For the long term the ombudsman must be there. If Mr. Milton, the president of Air Canada, for instance, has a car problem and is not satisfied with the service he gets at the dealership, he can go to another dealership. However, if Canadian consumers, who use most of the airline's service, are not happy there is no place to go and there are no options. I think it is important to have an ombudsman who will make sure that Air Canada is aware of consumer complaints and that they are dealt with in an appropriate fashion. In the interim, we would be pleased to provide that service.
I encourage people to communicate with us. If we have a good response, if there is a substantial problem or a consistent series of complaints, then it will help us to get this amendment through for the ombudsman to be added to Bill C-26. A poor response will of course indicate that there is no need for it, and I can live with that as well.
I believe there is a problem and that consumers are frustrated with overbooking, cancelled flights and delayed flights. There is a big problem in communications with the major airlines. If those complaints are filed with us then we can do something about them. I am sure that the all-party committee, which has already supported the amendment I am proposing today, will again support it in the House.
In closing, I want to say that if anybody wants to contact me my address is email@example.com for e-mail. My fax number is 613-943-2295. Check our website at www.pcparty.ca.
I look forward to this bill going to committee. It has been an enlightening experience for all of us on the committee. It was a tremendous experience to go through the debate about the airline merger. We met some incredible people in the industry. We were all impressed with the industry officials. I look forward to this coming back to committee and dealing with all the amendments from all the parties. I am sure that we can come up with a good bill that will protect consumers, the industry, the airports and the minister.