House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was competition.


Job CreationPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take into account regional unemployment rates when establishing or expanding government offices and agencies so that regions with high rates of unemployment are considered for any new job creation.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on my motion. It should come as no surprise to members of the House that the motion should come from me, given that I represent one of the areas which has had chronically high rates of unemployment for a long time.

We are not alone in that. One of the privileges and I suppose one of the benefits of being a member of parliament is that there is a lot to learn. What I have learned over the last three years is that the chronic rates of unemployment which affect Cape Breton are not exclusive to Cape Breton. There are areas in New Brunswick, including certainly the region represented by the member for Acadie—Bathurst, which have chronically high unemployment.

For the member who is seconding the motion, the gracious member for Yukon, unemployment is no stranger to her riding, as well as regions in the north of the country, northern Manitoba, parts of northern Saskatchewan, and parts of British Columbia. In fact no region of the country is free from chronic high rates of unemployment. As we have said repeatedly in the House, the disparity between the have regions of the country and the have not regions of the country is growing immensely.

One of the ways, and it is a humble suggestion from me, I think the government could address this issue is by incorporating the motion into its decision making process. The motion essentially says that if the government is expanding a government department, if it is creating a new government department, if it is expanding an agency or creating a new agency, part of the criteria as to where that agency or department would be located would be to look at unemployment rates in areas of the country which have chronically high unemployment rates.

It is appropriate that we address the motion on a Monday. Most of us have come to the House this morning from our ridings. I know for me, when I leave the airport in Sydney, Cape Breton, arrive in Ottawa and travel downtown, and then conversely when I go home, it is a bittersweet experience because I see the tremendous wealth in Ottawa, generated and created to a large extent because of the public service in the city in that it is the government capital.

There was a time when it had to be that way. There was a time when in order for departments to run efficiently, in order for there to be a fair exchange of communication, there had to be government departments congregated in one area, and that area was naturally the capital city.

Let me tell the House a little story about what came to light for me. It was given to me in a dialogue with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and indeed with his deputy regional director. There is in my riding a radio station necessary for ship to shore communication operated by the coast guard. There was a plan afoot to move that and centralize it in Halifax. Understandably the people in my riding, the people who work in that area, were not pleased to think about having to leave their homes and locate somewhere else.

When I met with the regional deputy director he told me that if they wanted to they could navigate the ships that come in and out of the gulf and the Bras d'Or lakes from an office in Ottawa. I put the reverse to him and said that if they could do that with the technology, surely they could navigate the ships that come in and out of Halifax harbour and other harbours from this location. He began to laugh, so I asked him if I were wrong, if the technology were one way. He had a sober second thought. Maybe he is planning to work for the Senate or to be appointed, I do not know, but after sober second thought he told me I was right, that there was no reason.

We know that the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in one of its reports two years ago, maybe not that long ago, recommended that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans be located on either one of our coasts because there are no fish in the Rideau Canal. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans had made some errors in calculation. It was felt by the standing committee that it would be appropriate for those public servants to be located in the fishing communities to hear from the fishermen directly.

Which coast would be chosen? My suggestion would be, and the motion reads, that one of the criteria would be that the government would look at the areas of high unemployment. I say quite frankly, to have a huge department like that locate in western Newfoundland would be beneficial. I will not even be parochial here, as much as I would like to have it in my own riding. Suppose the department were to locate in Port aux Basques? Suppose it were to locate in Argentia in a community that right now is seeing its resource bases dry up? These would be welcome well paying jobs that would provide some stability in that community.

Conversely, there may be some ridings along the northern coast of British Columbia, and I am not as familiar with them, that would be suitable for the department's location. Would it matter in terms of communication? We have the technology now. That is what we are constantly told by the Minister of Industry. The new technological age allows us to sit at our computers anywhere in the country and effectively do our jobs and run our departments. If the private sector can do that, if it can be done from Ottawa to the regions of the country, then I do not see why it cannot be done from the regions to the centre.

There is another point that I would raise. Some time ago in the 1980s there was some decentralization, which is what it was called then, where the Department of Citizenship and Immigration located in my home town. It is a good thing it did, because as the government divests itself of the Cape Breton Development Corporation, as the government withdraws from other industries and as we face real economic challenges, one of the bright spots is the employees of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration who are keeping the downtown core alive to a great extent. They are the people who can afford to buy lunches, buy clothes and whatnot to keep small entrepreneurs in business. If these small entrepreneurs were supplying goods to various departments they could benefit.

I had an exchange earlier in my term with the Minister of National Defence. We do have a small base in Sydney. When it came time to refurbish it, two of the local small business entrepreneurs went to the department to try to sell furniture. They were rebuffed. The furniture came from somewhere else. There was no spinoff in the local economy from that, shamefully, but had there been a fairly substantial government department or agency there is no question that it would benefit the communities.

If we do want to question that, we need only look at the cities in the country where the civil service and government expenditures laid the foundation for an economy. I am happy for the people of Ottawa, but in this city today we hear constantly of large high tech corporations locating here. They are doing so in part because there is a stable financial base here.

The same is true in Halifax in the province I come from and of Moncton or Fredericton, New Brunswick. The civil service has provided a stable economic base for investment. Frankly, the wealth being generated in some of those capital cities today by the private sector certainly would allow the public sector to move out without tremendous disruption, especially if it is a new agency or government department.

Another example is the recent announcement by the Minister of Canadian Heritage of $48 million for a national war museum. I have nothing against a national war museum but I do not know why it has to be in Ottawa. I do not know that there is any particular reason that expenditure of money has to be spent here. It provides construction and tourism jobs. It attracts tourists to a particular area. Why not look at an area of the country that proudly served by sending its soldiers, sailors and airmen over? It could be in any particular part of the country as no region has a monopoly on courage. We could look at an area with high unemployment, which made a significant contribution to the war effort, and locate that museum there. It would serve as a focal point for tourism, would provide construction jobs and what have you.

Instead, it will be yet another expenditure in this city. Just as it is completed, I suppose the the multimillion dollar renovations to the Parliament Buildings will take place. I do not know how far they will go but there are plans to create boulevards in this city, all of which are government expenditures. Since I have come to this city, I have seen the road outside my office paved three times. People in my riding would give anything for one-tenth of the paving budget alone that is spent on government buildings here in Ottawa.

If we look at how the expansion of the national capital region to Hull enhanced the economy in that particular area, it certainly shows that it can work.

I also point out that we in Cape Breton have been criticized because of the Devco expenditures. People have said that the government spends millions of dollars on the coal industry. I ask members to think about the following fact and what it would mean in their own ridings. In the city of Halifax there is something like $60 million deposited into bank accounts every two weeks by way of civil servants' pay. The civil servants do important work and heaven knows we agree with the work they do. However, if I had one-quarter of those pay cheques being deposited in my riding, it would go some lengths to offset the loss of jobs we are going to suffer when the federal government pulls out of the industry.

It is interesting to note that Canada's newest territory, Nunavut, recognized the importance of doing this kind of work. Nunavut stands out for having recognized the failure of the federal government on this front and has set out recommendations in a detailed plan outlining the priorities for the new territorial government. It is entitled the Bathurst Mandate. One of the things the new government recognizes is that if people are going to feel connected to their government, if they are going to feel that they pay taxes and should receive some benefit for that not just in services but in economic development, then one way to do that is to provide those outlying communities with government departments. As I have said, why should we not? The technology is there.

Nunavut is calling for the fulfilment of the commitments of government to deliver employment to decentralized communities. How better for a community to feel connected to the federal government and to see some benefit for the taxes they pay than to see the government spending some money in their own community?

Through partnering arrangements, the government does spend money in terms of paving, assisting provinces and in medicare. Every day in the House we have debates on whether or not the federal commitment is enough.

I will use another example, the new gun registry. To the government's credit, the registry was not located in Ottawa. The gun registry is a very real and tangible expression of government expenditures in a community.

I do not want to touch on the HRDC scandal that has occupied so much of the House's time, but instead of arbitrary criteria, what I am saying in this motion is that one of the compelling criteria in determining where those government offices should be located would not be political patronage but would be in areas of high unemployment.

It is very hard to justify, in this day and age, setting up a government agency or a government department in a city like Ottawa when we have regions in the country that have, in my particular hometown, an unemployment rate of 21% to 22%. I will not just single out Ottawa. It is also difficult to justify putting it in Toronto where there are predictions of a shortage of skilled labour. I submit that it could be a saving to the taxpayers in terms of the amount of taxes the Government of Canada would have to pay on a building with a high square footage because of the crowding and the land value in certain areas. If the buildings are located outside the major centres in areas of high unemployment there tends to be empty office buildings.

If we were to walk down the main street of Sydney Mines or of Plumber Avenue in New Waterford, I could show the government empty buildings that it could fill with a government office or agency at a fair savings to Canadians.

Job CreationPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member has brought forth some good ideas with his private member's motion. If we could use employment insurance, as the hon. member has decided, it would in fact not be used in a political way.

I want to draw members' attention to what the hon. member had to say about the headquartering of the gun registration in New Brunswick. There was nothing wrong with that in in itself. It outlined the principles of the hon. member's motion. However, the moment the government changed in New Brunswick there was some sort of threat that the office of registration should move. That clearly indicated to this controversy all across Canada, that EI is indeed being used for political purposes, which it should not be, simply because people from across Canada pay into this and there is nothing wrong in supporting regions of low unemployment with government offices.

In the province that I come from many things were moved out of the city of Regina into the smaller cities where it could be handled. Crop insurance is in Melville, and so on and so forth. Retirement is out of the city. It provides employment in the smaller areas of Saskatchewan. That point is good.

I want to mention what he had to say about having the road paved three times in front of his office. When I first came here a chap of a French dialect said to me “Monsieur Bailey, I want to tell you that in Ottawa we have two seasons.” I said “Oh, what are they?” He said “Winter and construction.” That stuck, and is quite true; we do spend a lot of money here. I would disagree with the hon. member, however, on the site of the national war museum. Aside from that, his points were very well taken.

The other day I briefly mentioned the fact that when young people in my constituency get the chance they jump to get on oil rigs. They work 12 hour shifts until the rig goes down and then they have to come home. Most of them qualify for EI benefits. However, if they are living with their mother and dad on a farm, if they do not have a permit book and are not registered as farmers, they do not qualify. That is an injustice. Everybody in here knows that. It is a misuse of funds. We should take advantage of this time in the House to tell the people in charge of EI that this is not a tax and should not be used as a tax. We need to make sure that everybody can qualify.

My hon. colleague, in speaking about his own constituency, said that he was well aware of the high employment rate and so on. I want to describe to the House a case that is before me at the present time of a terrible injustice for which no one is willing to lend support to correct.

I am aware of a 24 year old young man who has spent all his working time on the oil rigs. He had a very bad accident and can never return to the work he was doing. EI and Human Resources Development very promptly and very correctly provided funds to this intelligent young man to upgrade his skills in order to find work in the future and be able to earn enough money to pay child support which he had always paid.

Human Resources Development through EI got this man into training and he was doing well. However, another branch of government took away the funding for his training and sent it off for child support. He is now not only broke and desperate but, quite frankly, I think he is suicidal.

There is something wrong with government agencies working against one another. This is but one case. I know of several other cases. This issue should be examined. Many different departments have been approached, as well as the Minister of Justice, the Prime Minister and provincial officials. No response has ever been received on this huge problem.

The member talked about new job creation. I do not think anybody would argue with that if this was totally without political interference. I have no argument whatsoever that we could move many institutions from Ottawa to other parts of Canada and EI would be one of them. I do not think we should ever be found guilty of using this money as a political tool.

I do have trouble knowing the tremendous profit that goes into general revenue from this. I have no hesitation to agree with the government when it says that it needs a surplus in case of a shortfall but how much of a surplus does it need? The workers out there now consider this to be a tax and not an insurance.

The final point I want to raise relates to students.

I remember the first paying job I ever had. There was no EI around at that time. Young people may get their first job at Dairy Queen or McDonald's. When they get their first paycheque they see two big deductions. One is income tax and the other is EI. Income tax is taken off even though they are students, and they can never reclaim the EI deduction. We encourage our young people to find work, but there should be a declaration of some type which would limit the amount of the EI premiums they have to pay. It is a little disappointing for the 14, 15 or 16 year old who gets that first paycheque to see the amount of the deductions. After all, we have $27 billion sitting in Ottawa. We need to look at this in a big way because it is unfair.

I would like to commend the hon. member for his job creation motion. I would like to believe that this money would not be used for political purposes, but somehow I do not have any firm belief that would happen.

This is a non-votable motion. It is Monday morning and this is a private member's motion. Who cares. However, before we dismiss it totally I would say that there is meat in this motion which should be considered by both sides of the House.

I hope hon. members opposite and on this side of the House realize that corrections can be made to Canada's employment insurance system. They should listen and pay heed to the private member's motion and to some of the serious problems that I have brought forward this morning. I would hope that anyone watching today would pay heed as well.

Job CreationPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for his job creation motion and inform him that, in principle, we on the government side of the House are not opposed to the intent of Motion No. 268. The government is already doing exactly what he proposes we do.

The government's vision has always been of a strong and vibrant country where prosperity is shared across all regions. That is why we continue to be committed to a job creation strategy that focuses on helping the private sector to grow. This in turn fuels job creation in the private sector, which is exactly what we all want to achieve.

While all federal organizations support the government's job creation priority, Western Economic Diversification Canada, Industry Canada, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency play a key role in advancing our jobs and growth agenda. These organizations work in partnership with other levels of government, associations and the private sector to help entrepreneurs establish new businesses and help existing businesses grow and prosper. The member for Sydney—Victoria did recognize that.

At the national level, these organizations work together to increase Canada's share of global trade. They work to improve the conditions for investment in the Canadian economy. They promote improvements to Canada's innovation performance and help build a fair, efficient and competitive marketplace for businesses and consumers.

At the regional level, these organizations have programs in place that are tailored to specific regional needs. At the same time, these programs support broader objectives, such as targeted job creation, export promotion, improvements in the business climate and access to financing and technology information.

At the local level these organizations partner with communities and associations. One of their partners is the network of over 250 Community Futures Development Corporations that are spread right across this country. These grassroots organizations, supported by a voluntary board of directors and a small paid staff, deliver programs to establish or expand local businesses, which in turn create new jobs in the community. As for the operations of the federal government itself, we have offices right across the country which represent a significant presence in each and every region.

I reiterate that, in principle, the government is not opposed to the intent of the hon. member's motion. Indeed, when the opportunity presents itself to expand federal operations in the region, we have done exactly what the member proposes.

The Summerside experience, for example, is an excellent case in point. In this instance we worked with the provincial government to offset the impact of the closure of CFB Summerside. We established a new GST centre, while the provincial government transferred Holland College's Police Academy to Summerside. These moves were followed by extensive and diversified new private sector activity in conjunction with the establishment of Slemon Park.

I note that, in practice, areas of high unemployment are already one of the considerations when there is to be an expansion or new establishment of government offices. The reality, however, is that today expansionist governments are effectively extinct. I can empathize with the concern that we, as a government, need to do everything possible to create new jobs and opportunities for our citizens. At the same time, I believe that all members appreciate the fact that today bigger government is not the answer to new job creation.

That is why instead of a strategy of government job relocation or creation our government has chosen to focus on a different strategy. Instead of moving existing government jobs or expanding government activity, our approach has been to help create brand new jobs in the private sector.

The recent Cape Breton experience is another case in point. Instead of taking government jobs from one area and relocating them, the government chose to work with the provincial government and the private sector to help create new jobs. As a result of these efforts, EDS Canada recently announced that it will establish a contact centre that will help create up to 900 new full time jobs in Sydney over the next four years.

I am very pleased to say that our approach is working, not just in Atlantic Canada, but in every region of the country. Our approach is helping to create new jobs. These new jobs continue to be created month after month after month. According to Statistics Canada, April marked the 27th consecutive month that the Canadian economy produced job growth. In real terms this growth has fueled the creation of 115,000 new jobs in the first four months of this year.

The effect of our focus on job creation can also been seen in the unemployment rate, which remained at 6.8% in April. This level is the lowest in almost a quarter century. In fact, we are now a full 4.6% down from the 11.4% unemployment rate which we inherited just after taking office in October 1993. The translation is, we have reduced the unemployment rate by over 40% since 1993.

This goes to show what our commitment and determination, coupled with the right policies, at the right time can achieve—more new jobs for more Canadians. These increases add up to a significant number of new jobs. As of today over 1.9 million new jobs have been created since we took office in 1993. I have no doubt that our jobs and growth strategy will continue to help Canadians in all regions, just as we will continue our focus of creating more jobs and lowering unemployment.

Statistics Canada reports that Canada is on a run of economic growth that is the longest it has ever measured—18 straight quarters of GDP growth. Moreover, the composite leading index, that is, the indicator of projected economic growth over the next three months, rose 1.1% in March, almost doubling economists' expectations of a .6% gain.

The policies and measures put in place by this government are working. Even more important is the fact that more Canadians are working as a result of our efforts. We have helped to create new jobs. We have helped to create a climate of growth.

The finance minister's budget 2000 will keep the growth and momentum going and help to make Canada the place to be in the 21st century. Budget 2000 continues our efforts to put forward a balanced approach to creating new prosperity and enhancing the quality of life of all Canadians in all of our regions.

Our approach is one of balanced budgets and lower public debt, as well as lower taxes, especially for middle and low income Canadians and families with children. Our approach is one of smart, strategic investments and initiatives that will boost job creation, productivity and our standard of living. Our approach includes initiatives to strengthen our health care system, promote knowledge and innovation and ensure the quality of our environment.

Our government's record of prosperity and job creation is strong. The member does not have to take our word for it. Look at the agencies that monitor these situations. We are working to ensure that every region benefits from the new economy and new job creation. Our vision for the future is clear. We want our citizens to be skilled and knowledgeable. We want our businesses to be successful and competitive. We want our country to remain strong and prosperous.

Job CreationPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with considerable interest to the member who has just spoken. It is a good thing that he only had ten minutes, because, had we let him go on, we would have ended up with a shortage of unemployed people in Canada.

It would perhaps be a good idea to look closely at the NDP member's proposal and read the motion. It provides:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take into account regional unemployment rates when establishing or expanding government offices and agencies so that regions with high rates of unemployment are considered for any new job creation.

I do not know if the member is aware of the scope of his motion. I was involved in the 1993 and 1997 election campaigns and I saw the Liberals opposite waving about the famous red book, which, the second time round, had rather a warmed over look about it. However, the government did not object.

The government is being asked today to honour its promises and do what it has always promised in the regions. The member who spoke before me gets around this when he says that unemployment dropped by 40%. This is why I was saying we will end up with a shortage of unemployed people. The member should have said that 40% of the 12% it had been, and it is still high, unfortunately.

Some 20 RCMP investigations are under way in management at Human Resources Development Canada. I did not invent that figure. It was in the papers again this morning: all sorts of misappropriation.

The minister explained her terrible boondoggles by saying that there were pockets of unemployment in the regions and that the department was acting based on these pockets. I wonder which pockets.

In any case, in response to a simple application for a name change, HRDC gave $720,000 to a company that had 118 employees and transferred them three or five doors down the street. Meanwhile, in my riding of Chambly, which is neither poor nor rich, just average like most constituencies represented by my colleagues, we feel that we are not getting our fair share, as the hon. member from the NDP pointed out.

When a party like the one in office has 98 of its 155 members coming from Ontario, it knows which side its bread is buttered on.

This is a recurring story itself, with the result that, since Confederation, the regions have been ignored, except during election campaigns, when politicians come and promise the world to everyone. But once they are elected, they make cuts affecting the regions and they centralize everything around the national capital, Ottawa, instead of trying to give the regions a fair share of the economic spinoffs resulting from government activity.

There are, of course, some exceptions. Unfortunately, these exceptions are all found in the 20 investigations currently being conducted by the RCMP on all kinds of misappropriation.

Is the hon. member of the NDP aware that Atomic Energy of Canada is preparing to outsource the building of its Candu reactors to someplace in Asia, Vietnam or a neighbouring country? I learned this last week when doing research on various government agencies, at which time I discovered that it has been five years since Atomic Energy Canada submitted its five year plan to parliament for approval, as it supposed to.

This has been going on for five years, under the supposed pretext that there is restructuring going on. As well, there are preparations under way for signing agreements with Vietnam and Cambodia, I believe, for production of Candu reactors over there. This is totally against the very principle of the motion by the hon. member from Nova Scotia and the totally gratuitous statements made by the Ontario member who spoke before me.

A total of $12 billion of Canadians' hard-earned dollars has been invested in Atomic Energy Canada at a time when there was no hope of any clear benefit from the production of Candu reactors. Time has passed and the interest has built up. If Atomic Energy of Canada were to pay back capital and interest to the Government of Canada, the total would be impressive, so much so that the figures might seem unrealistic. The interest that would normally have been paid back to the government was therefore written off.

This is a little like the government telling Canada Post “I transferred assets to you when I created Canada Post, so now I am entitled to dividends. I want to be reimbursed”. This is why André Ouellet, the President of Canada Post, pays the government dividends every year. Last year, he handed over $200 million in dividends to the government and he will likely hand over the same amount, maybe a bit more, this year, because Canada Post Corporation is doing quite well.

Why does the government require Canada Post Corporation to hand over dividends, but not Atomic Energy of Canada? For the simple reason that taxpayers are the ones who are going to be paying dividends to the federal government through Canada Post Corporation. They are easy to overtax and shove around because they do not answer back or, if they do, it is just part of the general background buzz, and no one pays any real attention.

But when Atomic Energy of Canada gets ready to contract out the building of its Candu reactors, there might be a slight possibility of some small benefits, rather than the already considerable capital losses and interest loads associated with this kind of project. But no, the government is going to contract this out to another country.

That is how this government treats Canadians who, election after election, want to see the government's actions produce some economic benefit. Generally, the parties that take office hold out the promise of tremendous post-election economic growth in the form of job creation.

In my riding, for instance, Marieville is located in one zone, because Canada has been carved up into zones for the purposes of the transitional jobs fund.

If you have less than 12% unemployment, no business in your riding or your region is eligible for the transitional jobs fund. Marieville, a pretty town in my riding, is a major centre. The region is almost 100% agricultural. The people not working in the farming community come into the major centre. The town of Marieville itself has perhaps 22% or 24% unemployment. However, neighbouring villages have almost full employment. There are family farms and small family businesses linked to the field of agriculture.

Marieville is being penalized, because it is in an area with less than 12% unemployment. If we isolated Marieville, it would be a pocket of unemployment in the opinion of the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Prime Minister. He considers these pockets when they are in his bailiwick, which is Saint-Maurice. He considers them such all the more since the RCMP is considering them as well, because it went rooting around there.

Why do these famous pockets not count elsewhere? Perhaps because the elsewhere did not elect someone in the party in power. What bothers me and what the member for Nova Scotia is right in saying is that this business is unfair.

Apart from those around Ottawa, in Ottawa itself, or in Ontario in the case of many, Canadians do not feel they are getting fair benefit from the government's economic activities. The government generates activity, for example for document printing or for jobs for public officials.

Although not necessarily for the same reasons as the Canadian Alliance, the Bloc Quebecois, for its own reasons and after considering all that I have said, feels it has to make the government see things as they are. It has to say to the government “You do not do what you should be doing unless you get a push from behind”. It takes motions such as the one by the member for Sydney—Victoria to say to the government “If you are unfair, rotten to the core, do not give people that impression. Try to at least appear to be fair”. That is what we want.

Job CreationPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise Progressive Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Motion No. 268. This motion would see the federal government take into consideration regional unemployment rates when establishing or expanding government offices and agencies so that regions with high rates of unemployment would be considered for any new job creation.

I would like to congratulate my colleague from Nova Scotia the member for Sydney—Victoria for drawing the government's attention to the serious unemployment problem which exists in the maritime provinces. The member would likely agree that the Liberal government has done little if anything to stop the tide of our young and brightest Atlantic Canadians who are being forced to relocate to other parts of the country in search of employment. Even the Prime Minister has failed to recognize the serious brain drain problem in the country.

It was indicated in the comments by my colleague from across the way who spoke earlier that everything is rosy. In certain parts of the country unemployment rates are low, but I can assure my hon. colleague that the unemployment rates are very high in the Atlantic Canada ridings, and more specifically the riding of West Nova which I represent. Unemployment in seasonal work is very high. The amount of seasonal jobs are high as well which causes a lot of unemployment.

Another issue which is important in West Nova is the brain drain. The last census showed that over 2,000 people have left the riding. These people are between the ages of 18 and 35.

With a population of approximately 70,000, West Nova cannot afford to lose 2,000 of its brightest inhabitants. It is time the federal government did something about this problem before more of our young people decide to leave.

I can certainly sympathize with the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria. All Canadians are aware of the many difficulties that have plagued Cape Breton Island over the past decades. Unemployment is at an unacceptable level. Therefore it is paramount that the government do something to assist future economic development in that area as in most areas of the Atlantic provinces.

The Progressive Conservative Party recognized the serious problems facing Atlantic Canadians. That is why in 1987 the Progressive Conservative government of the day announced a new direction for regional economic development policy in Canada. That Progressive Conservative government was responsible for creating the western economic diversification program and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

I might add that earlier my colleague opposite seemed to speak in very positive way of those things which the Progressive Conservative Party put forward and which the present government has adopted as its own. It is interesting that when things look bad, government members point the finger at us. They would probably point the finger at Sir John A. Macdonald if they thought they could get away with it. But when it is an issue that has worked well for parts of the country, they take it as their own.

One of the very important components of these two new agencies was precisely the moving of government's regional development decision making out of Ottawa and closer to the people it serves. This policy helped to address some of the concerns referred to by the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria in the motion he has put to the House.

Obviously much more needs to be done to help Atlantic Canada. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency was given a legislated mandate which in part reads “to increase opportunity for economic development in Atlantic Canada and more particularly, to enhance the growth of earned income and employment opportunities in that region”. In many instances ACOA has achieved those goals.

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has enabled many small and medium size businesses in the Atlantic provinces to create jobs that otherwise would not exist. Its involvement in the region's economy has resulted in an important net positive contribution.

Despite its success, there have also been some publicized failures. These failures have been harshly criticized for some of their business decisions and rightfully so. Overshadowed by this criticism is the fact that there have been countless success stories throughout the Atlantic provinces; companies such as Tri-Star Industries in Yarmouth which, with the help of ACOA, is now exporting ambulances throughout the world.

There are problems with ACOA. Improvements must be made to ensure that Canadian taxpayers are getting true value for their investment. However, unlike the reform party, I do not believe in running away from the problem and turning our backs on Atlantic Canada. Let us work together to make necessary changes to ACOA so that Atlantic Canadians can benefit from this agency and ultimately create new long term jobs for our youth.

When the reform party calls for the disbanding of ACOA, it fails to recognize the fact that most chartered banks in Atlantic Canada are quite reluctant to support a small business venture unless it is willing to provide between 30% and 50% of its own equity. Unfortunately most aspiring entrepreneurs are unable to meet this demand. Without ACOA having taken a chance on individual projects, many would not have gotten off the ground.

The hon. member for Sydney—Victoria has introduced a motion calling upon the government to focus greater attention on regions with high rates of unemployment when establishing or expanding government offices and agencies. Unfortunately the opposite appears to be happening. Already the federal government has made huge cuts in the federal civil service.

I will take a moment to speak to the comments made earlier by my hon. colleague on the Liberal side. He said that job creation was going very well.

I am thinking specifically of my part of the country, the riding that I represent, West Nova. We have seen many jobs in Yarmouth, for example, being pushed off to more centralized locations in other parts of the province. These are jobs that are valuable and needed in an area where unemployment is too high.

Another issue which I think is very important is the CBC, the links it provides and the potential removal of local broadcasting centralized in Toronto. This is another issue in which the government seems to lack the foresight and the intention. I would stress that it should keep pushing to make sure that local broadcasting can remain in local areas.

On the weekend the Right Hon. Joe Clark, leader of the PC Party, made a commitment to all Atlantic Canadians that our party would be working hard on their behalf to help them achieve their maximum potential. As the member for West Nova and a proud Atlantic Canadian I will do whatever is necessary to help us achieve that goal.

Job CreationPrivate Members' Business


The Deputy Speaker

If the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria, I should advise the House, speaks now he will close the debate and exercise his five minute right of rebuttal.

Job CreationPrivate Members' Business



Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank members of the House who participated in the debate for their thoughts and for their ideas.

Because I only have five minutes I want to comment on the remarks of the member for Hamilton West. I will concentrate there first because I am not sure he understood the importance of the motion. He spoke about the accomplishments of his government in terms of reducing unemployment. Again, I do not want to be political and I do not want to be critical for the sake of being critical. There are areas in the country where government policy has worked extremely well, but there are areas in the country where it has not worked.

As much as Toronto, Ottawa and perhaps Vancouver have unlimited growth, it very difficult in regions of the country to pick up national newspapers that talk about the unprecedented growth and the economic strength of the country and walk out to the main street of our downtown and see boarded up buildings and young people leaving our communities because the unemployment rate is 20%, 21%, 24%, and, heaven knows, in some of the native communities it is 75%.

While there is economic growth and that growth is important to help carry the regions which do not have the growth, we do not want to be carried any more. We want to be self-sufficient and make a contribution.

The member said that they appreciated the intent and were doing what the motion says. Then he went on to talk about the private sector. If that is the belief then all government departments should be sent out of this city and the private sector should be the sole engine of growth in Ottawa. Give us the $60 billion of the Department of Human Resources Development and put it into the main street in my hometown. I would be happy with it. Take the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and put it somewhere in Newfoundland. Take the Department of Transport and put it in western Canada. Let the private sector be the sole engine of growth in this city.

I do not want to get too angry. When we hear that in other regions of the country there is a temptation to say the government does not care. It says that we should do as it says, not as it does. I want to make very clear that if the Liberal Party and the member support the intent of the motion, we would look forward to receiving some of the things that could be located in our area.

I know the member from Bras d'Or has written to the Prime Minister and suggested that the Canadian Tourism Commission be located in Cape Breton. The government keeps telling us that tourism is the way to do that yet there is no sign of it. When this commission is created it would not even be missed in this town, but it would be a centre of good jobs and some money located in the community I represent. Then if someone wants to open a little coffee shop or a restaurant, he or she knows there will be some people there who will spend some money.

The member for West Nova touched on the CBC. I think that is a prime example. There is talk of centralizing, of cutting regional broadcasting across the country and centralizing the whole operation. Centralizing it where? In Toronto where the government's policies are working, where there is low unemployment, where a centralized broadcast is not needed. One of the conditions for the CBC to get some of its licensing was that Newsworld would be run and operated out of Halifax. There was a commitment to the intent of this motion but now we see that being cut.

We have been through this in the smaller centres. We dealt with cuts to CBC and the loss of a regional broadcaster and a local suppertime news hour 10 years ago when we lost it in Cape Breton and it went to Halifax. Now we are being told it will go from Halifax to Toronto.

The CBC is a crown corporation and the government does not have a complete hands on approach, but surely it would say that its intent and in the spirit of the motion, if the regional suppertime news hour has to be cut—and I do not think the government could justify it—that it should be located somewhere in western Canada in an area where there is high unemployment.

I did a show with Ralph Benmergui one time and that is what he said to me. He talked about Devco and I asked him how many people were employed in his building in downtown Toronto by the government and paid by taxpayer dollars. I would like to see a little more decentralization.

Job CreationPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time for the consideration of Private Members' Business has expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item it is dropped from the order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-26, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act, the Competition Act, the Competition Tribunal Act and the Air Canada Public Participation Act and to amend another act in consequence, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There are seven motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-26, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act, the Competition Act, the Competition Tribunal Act and the Air Canada Public Participation Act and to amend another act in consequence.

Motions Nos. 1 to 4 will be grouped for debate and voted on separately.

Motions Nos. 5 and 6 will be grouped for debate and voted on separately.

Motion No. 7 will be debated and voted on separately.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 4.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order in relation to Group No. 1. I wish to withdraw Motion No. 2.

(Motion No. 2 withdrawn)

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB


Motion No. 1

That Bill C-26, in Clause 3, be amended by adding after line 42 on page 7 the following:

“(2.1) Every licensee who contravenes subsection (2) is guilty of an offence and is liable (a) on summary conviction, to the suspension of its licence for a period of up to five years and a fine of not more than $25,000; or (b) on conviction on indictment, to the suspension of its licence for a period of up to five years and a fine of not more that $50,000.”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-26, in Clause 4, be amended by replacing lines 46 to 48 on page 9 and lines 1 to 3 on page 10 with the following:

“subsection (1) or (2) on its own motion.”

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-26, in Clause 4, be amended by adding after line 3 on page 10 the following:

“(6.1) Where the Agency makes a finding, under subsection (1), that an increase in fare is unreasonable, the Agency may, in the case where the increase during the year is at least 1.25 times the inflation index for that year, order an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the increase in fare and make any ruling it considers appropriate in the circumstances.”

Mr. Speaker, it is with some disappointment that I am here at report stage dealing with amendments which I hoped would give some kind of clout to the piece of legislation before us.

It was quite apparent through numerous witnesses at committee and numerous comments by committee members that there was much fear out there with regard to having a monopoly carrier in Canada. There was a lot of concern from airline travellers, a good number of them members of parliament who sat around the committee table, and a good many who had horror stories and complaints about the way things were already being done since December 1999 and January of this year when the merger started to show the first signs of how things would be.

With all the talk among committee members and witnesses I was initially getting the impression that we would actually see the committee put some strong rules in place to control this monopoly carrier, to control prices throughout Canada and to provide service to communities. In spite of all that talk, all that huff and puff, we have before us a piece of legislation that is fairly lacking.

I hoped that by making some amendments we could at least have a bit of meat in the bill to give the Canadian Transportation Agency some chance at dealing with a monopoly carrier and to give the Competition Tribunal an opportunity to do something. We listened to these two bodies that appeared before us indicate that they did not have the rules in place to put the clamps on a monopoly carrier.

With regard to the amendments in Group No. 1, I have moved three amendments which I believe would certainly give the opportunity to provide that. I will take this opportunity to emphasize Motion No. 1 which reads:

Every licensee who contravenes subsection (2) is guilty of an offence and is liable (a) on summary conviction, to the suspension of its licence for a period of up to five years and a fine of not more than $25,000; or (b) on conviction on indictment, to the suspension of its licence for a period of up to five years and a fine of not more than $50,000.

This is not the exact similarity, but it was intended that this amendment would deal with the situation similar to the one involving InterCanadian in the last part of 1999 when it withdrew service in a matter of a day or so and a lot of travellers were left stranded.

I think everyone has recognized that in the case of InterCanadian there were some real serious financial problems. We have rules in place to address that, but a discussion took place about situations where a carrier just says to heck with it, does not abide by the rules that are in place, does not give the required time limits to withdraw service, and goes ahead and withdraws.

The bottom line was that we have rules which say the carrier should not do it, but there is no penalty to emphasize that it was not okay for the carrier to withdraw the service and start up somewhere else. There should be some kind of penalty in place. If a carrier has the means to continue the service and the means to give reasonable notice, it should do it. This amendment would give the legislation some clout.

We had numerous witnesses who appeared before us at committee saying that they wanted to know the rules when they got into the game. They did not want to go before the CTA and find out that it will do it this way or that way. They wanted to know upfront what the rules were. That was the indication for the first amendment.

The second amendment in Group No. 1 is in relation to the Canadian Transportation Agency having to wait to get a complaint before it could review a situation. When we have an agency such as the Canadian Transportation Agency and we want it to have the power to deal with issues, we should accept that maybe it could look at a situation and say that it is not right. It should be able to go in and investigate. It should not have to wait a period of three or four months until unsuspecting consumers get up in arms, ask that something be done about it, and realize they have to put in a complaint. We have a qualified group of people at the Canadian Transportation Agency. Let us give them the authority to intervene and investigate on its own initiative should it see the necessity to do so.

Motion No. 4 refers to when the agency may want to review the pricing. We heard a whole pile of complaints come across the committee table from all members about how terrible the price gouging was and about how terrible Air Canada was being already. What was the result of the committee? It wanted to give it six months and if it appeared there was a problem the committee would review it. Boy, did that ever put a lot of meat in the bill; let us give them six months and we will see how things happen.

I would suggest that we have some rules in place. Motion No. 4 reads in part:

Where the Agency makes a finding, under subsection (1), that an increase in fare is unreasonable, the Agency may, in the case where the increase during the year is at least 1.25 times the inflation index for that year, order an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the increase in fare and make any ruling it considers appropriate in the circumstances.

Again, it recognizes that the agency is qualified and should be able to review. It knows all the different fares involved in the airline industry.

Most passengers do not know the number of fares involved. They do not know what applies in certain instances but the agency does. We need to give the agency that opportunity. We need to give it something to go by. Again this reflects what the witnesses said, that they want to know the rules before going in. If they know the rules ahead of time, and they know that if the increases are above a certain point and there can be an investigation, at least it is going to put the clamps on those airlines which may decide to raise their prices to heaven knows what.

Those are the three motions in Group No. 1. I am not going to go on about it. Members know what has been happening; certainly the committee members know. Over the weekend the government should have had a little insight into the fact that the bill has not given any clout whatsoever to the Competition Bureau or to the CTA in regard to addressing the problems that are going to be. I would hope it would see fit to put some rules in place in the legislation so that we are not reviewing some whimsical idea of what we think may happen with Air Canada or any other monopoly carrier.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario


David Collenette LiberalMinister of Transport

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to deal with the amendments from the New Democratic Party. I understand the reasoning in putting the amendments forward but we believe the three amendments should be defeated, notwithstanding the sentiments that I understand.

Motion No. 1 mixes the questions of licensing and penalties for offences. I remind hon. members that section 174 of the Canada Transportation Act already provides for penalties for contravention of section 64 as follows:

Every person who contravenes a provision of this Act or a regulation or order made under this Act, other than an order made under section 47, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable

(a) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding $5,000; and

(b) in the case of a corporation, to a fine not exceeding $25,000.

The motion insofar as it provides for penalties would overlap and be inconsistent with section 174. At the very least we would need to provide that section 174 does not apply to any offence covered by subsection 2.1.

Also, section 65 provides that in cases of failure to comply with section 64 the agency may direct the reinstatement of the service, which is considered the most appropriate remedy.

Motion No. 3 removes the time limit during which the agency can act on its own motion on review of prices on monopoly routes. The government is of the view that such time limits are appropriate to cover the transition period. As we move to a more healthy and stable airline industry, the government has given itself the latitude to extend the period of time for an additional two years if competition is not developed and there remains a significant number of monopoly routes.

The hon. member may be able to make the case that during the statutory review of the Canada Transportation Act which must begin July 1, this period could be extended even further. We are open to that.

When we debated this in the department, I was very insistent that we put this clause in to allow the agency on its own motion to review the monopoly prices and have the power to roll back and not just wait for complaints. We have to have a proactive Canada Transportation Agency. We have seen in recent weeks some of the inherent dangers. Notwithstanding all the best intentions that Air Canada may espouse, the fact is that when one has 80% of the market, there is a tendency to try to push the envelope a bit more.

On the question of monopoly prices, we want to make sure that small communities are protected. Even though I believe we are going to get a lot of competition in the months ahead, there is no question that some of the smaller communities are vulnerable because they may not be as attractive to competitors. Therefore, the only way we can help the people in those communities is to put this particular clause in play.

This in effect is going to have a two year life. If toward the end of next year we believe that is not going to be enough, then I would certainly, if I am still Minister of Transport at that time, be open to bringing forward amendments to the Canada Transportation Act to entertain extending this motion on its own motion authority for the CTA. The hon. member has made a valid point. Even though I think the transition period will deal with these issues, we cannot ultimately let the power lapse if indeed it is required. I hope that will help the hon. member even though she probably will not withdraw her motion at this stage.

We also think that Motion No. 4 should be defeated. The current process puts the onus on the carrier to produce a fair rate that is reasonable in the opinion of the agency. The effect of this motion would allow the agency to fix prices where certain indices have been met. That goes a bit too far in terms of reregulation. The government prefers to have the agency retain the discretion it would have under the provisions of Bill C-26 as they currently read.

When this was debated in the department a balance had to be struck. If we accept the amendment, we are going further down the road to adopting the 1987 psychology with respect to the Canada Transportation Act which really reregulates the whole market.

Even though I think my friends in the NDP and others make valid points that base airfares have grown unconscionably in the last 10 years, the fact is that advance booking fares and all the other fares one can get with layovers are reasonable. We cannot forget that about 90% of the travelling public use that kind of method. The number of people travelling by air today proportionate to the population is significantly greater than it was before deregulation.

Something which may confuse hon. members and others is that for 10 years there was a duopoly with Canadian Airlines and Air Canada. Everybody talked about it being a competitive environment but it was not. The two carriers knocked themselves over the head each and every day putting on too much capacity, but the base fares were the same. If Air Canada had a seat sale, Canadian Airlines was ready to have one within a few days and vice versa. It was a duopoly. I would not say it was a cartel but it was a duopoly and it was unhealthy.

I travel to Toronto two or three times a week. Before the merger, if a person travelled on an economy or business class ticket, the ticket was interchangeable between Canadian Airlines or Air Canada. There was no price break. There was no real competition for the business traveller. We have to be serious about competition. Some of the measures in the bill, especially on predatory pricing and the powers given to the commissioner, will deal with competition in a very strict fashion.

I was surprised to hear the member say that the bill needed more teeth. This has to be the toothiest bill that has come forward in a long time with respect to regulation of a private sector company. In fact, it is even toothier as a result of what the hon. members and our colleagues did in committee, and I think with good reason.

There is no question that even though we wanted this bill through earlier, the delay in getting it to this stage in the House has turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise. We have seen some of the effects of the consolidation of Air Canada and some of the things we do not like about it. There have been a lot of good things, but we have seen some of the negative things. That is what led hon. members to convince me and my colleagues in the government to come forward with another commissioner at the CTA. That alone gives much added protection for the consumers.

In terms of the powers dealing with the Competition Bureau, there was another amendment that came forward from the bureau which helped to toughen up the act. This regime is as tough as we want it to get without going back to the old days of reregulation.

With great respect for my hon. colleague, while the three motions obviously have merit, they should be defeated.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Val Meredith Reform South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I will probably speak not only to Group No. 1 but also to Groups Nos. 2 and 3 so I do not take up the House's time later on.

I am not surprised that the New Democratic Party has come up with an attempt at report stage to reregulate the industry. Those attempts were made during the committee hearings. With all due respect, the committee did not support it on that.

I would like to congratulate the committee of which I was part. It did a super job of reviewing the legislation, at times under some stressful situations. It did a good job in looking at the legislation and bringing forth some amendments through the committee process which, as the minister said, have dealt with a number of issues that have identified themselves since the merger began in the spring.

I would like to address the amendments proposed by the New Democratic Party on the Air Canada public participation act.

I have great difficulty with government at any time interfering with the private entrepreneurial spirit of an individual. I do not think the government has the right to limit how many voting shares a Canadian can have in a Canadian company. Again I am not surprised the New Democratic Party has put forward an amendment to try to take that back a step rather than move forward in taking government out of the operations of and interference in a Canadian company. It will certainly not get support from us to do so.

I am a little disappointed the government also was not prepared to take the big step and remove itself from interfering in a Canadian company and the operations of such. I do not think it is the role of government to determine what kind of ownership a Canadian has in a Canadian company.

I was not surprised that the New Democratic Party challenged the foreign ownership and wanted to get rid of any suggestion that Air Canada might at some time have the foreign ownership component raised. It wanted to limit it to the 25%. It is somewhat ironic and a little hypocritical that the New Democratic Party is totally supportive of the automobile industry which is 100% owned for foreigners. It does not seem to have the same problem with the automobile industry that it does with the airline industry. It is curious that what is good for the automobile industry, the NDP does not consider to be good enough for the airline industry.

I have problems with the proposed amendments in that they want to penalize people for withdrawing a service that has proved to be uneconomical. They are putting extra burden on a company that may decide to try a new route in a smaller community. Looking down the road, that company may have some serious financial penalties addressed to it if it chooses not to continue that service because it is uneconomical. We are not going to encourage competition by laying the heavy hand on business people who are willing to take a risk and try a new route. We certainly cannot support the intentions of those amendments which the member has brought forward.

The minister mentioned the amendments to the legislation which offer the teeth to control the monopoly of Air Canada. We would suggest that the teeth which the government has put in the legislation are enough. I do not think we want to interfere any more than we have. We have given cease and desist powers to the competition commissioner, powers which are quite extreme in the entrepreneurial world.

The competition commissioner has also been given a broader predatory behaviour designation, which gives him some flexibility. That is a good move because we are not always able to identify when we are dealing with legislation what might happen in the future which is predatory in nature. We support the government in that.

We believe that more controls to re-regulate the industry certainly will not move us forward into the 21st century, but will move us backward. Therefore, the Canadian Alliance will not be supporting the amendments put before the House by the New Democratic Party, which is no surprise to my colleague. We believe that the government has a role to play only in trying to get a monopoly to understand that it has a responsibility to the travelling public. We feel that the teeth in the legislation are enough to hold that company accountable.

We look forward to the legislation passing and to controls being put on Air Canada to help it through this transitional period. There are protections to the travelling public in this legislation. The ability of the new commissioner in his position in the Canadian Transportation Agency to act as ombudsman for complaints will be an added factor. We are somewhat disappointed that there is no means for that individual to actually resolve the problems, but at least he can identify where the problems exist and through the other means that the government has can see that resolutions are fulfilled.

As I mentioned before, we will not be supporting the amendments to this legislation and we look forward to the report stage going quickly so we can get on to the third reading of the bill.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

Madam Speaker, this weekend, when I was preparing my speech, I asked myself the following question: what is the significance of a bill such as the one before us this morning?

By definition, a bill is nothing more or less than an instrument of compromise. It is similar to a collective agreement, where the parties have opposing interests.

Before I became an MP, I worked in labour relations for 16 years and I often drew the following comparison. Putting the employer and the union together is like putting two scorpions in the same jar to propagate the race. Ultimately a compromise and an agreement have to be reached.

The bill before us today represents this sort of compromise between diverging interests. It is certainly true, for me as the Bloc Quebecois representative on the Standing Committee on Transport as well as for all the members of my party, that it would have been or would be good to improve some parts later on, because, by definition, a bill is above all an instrument that is perfectible, or capable of improvement.

However, when it is a question of the sort of situation we have had for over a year, with a major carrier experiencing serious financial difficulties, we had to define a new legal framework for the advent of a so-called dominant carrier.

On the one hand, there was Air Canada, which has acquired Canadian International, and on the other a whole gang of others directly or indirectly involved in this restructuring.

There were the regional and local carriers, the employees' unions, the travel agents, and consumer groups. Each of these many groups was profoundly convinced that the situation needed organization and regularization. We ought therefore to have a game plan.

I do not want to just give the speech I intend to give on third reading. I will have an opportunity to come back to that. This morning, what I want to do is comment on the first group of amendments introduced by my NDP colleague for Churchill who is, I might point out in passing, a highly professional colleague who has followed the committee's deliberations most seriously and always comes up with reasonable opinions. Although sometimes the concerns she has expressed differ from ours, I wish to thank her for her contribution.

I do not wish to get off on a diatribe on this, but I do wish to say that my party engaged in a serious exercise around the proposed amendments to Bill C-26. I respectfully submit to my colleague from Churchill that they impose a framework which we consider far too rigid, paralyzing or constraining.

As I said earlier, it is true that we had to set new rules based on the fact that one company, Air Canada, was becoming a dominant carrier. However, we also had to ensure quality services, with the emphasis on frequency of flights, on time departures and arrivals and affordable airfares for people from all regions, particularly those of Quebec.

These people, who have to transit toward major centres, often use small local and regional carriers. One of the main concerns of the Bloc Quebecois members who represent Quebec regions was to ensure that these regional and local carriers could discuss on an equal footing with the new giant created by Air Canada, which accounts for 80% to 85% of the Canadian market.

With all due respect, the amendments proposed by the member for Churchill are much too constraining, rigid and almost impossible to apply. For these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will oppose three out of the four motions:

Motion No. 3, with which we agree, would amend clause 4 of the bill, which reads as follows:

(6) The Agency may make a finding...on its own motion within two years after the date this subsection comes into force.

The motion proposed by the hon. member for Churchill seeks to remove the two year restriction, by stating that the agency can make a finding immediately. We agree with this motion, which also has the effect of removing the power of the governor in council to extend for two years the period within which the agency may make a finding.

Therefore, with respect to the amendments in Group No. 1, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against Motions Nos. 1, 2 and 4 proposed by the New Democratic Party, but will vote for Motion No. 3.

Canada Transportation ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on this subject as we near the end of the great debate about the airline mergers and the changes to the Canada Transportation Act and the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

I want to compliment the member for Churchill for her amendments proposed in Group No. 1, which include Motions Nos. 1 through 4. Certainly she has been a very attentive and effective critic and member of our committee.

Having said that, we are going through a really interesting transition as these two airlines come together and we see other airlines either starting up or expanding. Obviously we have a work in progress. Everything we do as a government and all the legislation we pass must be flexible to allow these things to happen. Even we have been surprised, and certainly Air Canada has been surprised I believe, by some of the new proposals that are on the table for regional airlines, discount airlines and expansions. There is a lot of entrepreneurial interest in the aviation industry, which certainly surprised me.

Since the effective merger of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines we have seen a lot inconvenience to consumers, confusion, overbooking, delays, scheduling problems and all those sorts of things, which I think were a surprised to Air Canada and certainly have been a surprise to consumers.

Although Air Canada is dealing with so many issues, such as scheduling aircraft, union negotiations and slots at airports, I believe that it underestimated the impact on consumers. I believe this is a transitional issue. I believe Air Canada will fix it. I believe the will is there and that Air Canada really understands how serious it is and how big the problem is. Again, I detect the will to fix it and I am confident it will be corrected.

In the future perhaps a dominant carrier would not recognize the effect on consumers, so we need Bill C-26 to protect those consumers from a dominant carrier or monopoly situation that would not address or care about consumers. That is what we are here to talk about today in the amendments put forth by the hon. member for Churchill.

I believe and our party believes that the government's position should be one that encourages competition in every way possible, one that encourages the entrepreneurial instincts which we see are alive and well in the industry. If there is one thing that impressed me throughout the debate and throughout the discussions and the presentations by so many organizations, it was the entrepreneurial instinct in the aviation industry.

There are airlines in Canada that I had never heard of, and I was really impressed with them. I think the government should encourage these new companies. It should encourage new routes and it should encourage new ventures. That should be part of everything it does, to create the infrastructure and the framework to encourage the entrepreneurial instinct to provide competition for the dominant carrier.

In the meantime, we have to provide protection for consumers in a monopoly situation because without competition they are without protection. There is no choice. If people are unhappy with the airline and they are travelling back and forth from Atlantic Canada, if they are unhappy with the flights, with the treatment, with overbookings or delays, there is no place to go. We cannot go to airline B any more. There is no competition. I believe that Air Canada is striving as quickly as it can. I think a big indication of its will to fix the problems is the recent announcement that it will appoint an ombudsman, a proposal which it flatly turned down about two weeks ago. It did not think it was necessary. It did not think there should be an ombudsman. However, it announced last week that it will appoint one.

The minister has put in place a complaints commissioner through the CTA, which was an excellent move. I had proposed an amendment to the bill to bring in an ombudsman. The minister's amendment, as much as I hate to say it, was better than my amendment. It had more teeth in it. I applaud him for it.

Today we are dealing with the amendments put forth by the member for Churchill, which I will summarize briefly.

Motion No. 1 establishes penalties in the event that an airline does an early pullout on a route. It sets the penalties between $25,000 and $50,000 maximum, depending on the circumstances. I see the point and the argument of that but my position and my approach would be to encourage entrepreneurs and competition. I believe this motion does a little more than is necessary. I do not believe the CTA needs these powers. It takes away some flexibility. It sounds like re-regulation. We in this party want to stay away from that as much as we can, while at the same time protect consumers.

Motion No. 2 seems to define the terms of monopoly. It appears to deny a dominant or monopoly carrier the right to defend itself in the designation of the Canada Transportation Agency of a monopoly. I do not think that is right. It should have the right to defend itself or at least express its opinions or concerns about any decision the CTA makes.

Motion No. 3 takes away the time limit provided in the bill to two years, plus an optional extension on that. Again, I do not think we need that. The bill provides enough time and flexibility by the CTA to deal with this issue. I would think that a four year period would give plenty of time to deal with that.

If I understand Motion No. 4 correctly, it defines the thresholds where CTA would act. It kind of ties down the CTA. This is a work in progress that is changing day by day. We see fundamental changes on behalf of the dominant carrier. Air Canada is now changing the rules and adapting as fast as it can to many things.

There is a fundamental change of direction on the ombudsman point of view. Two weeks ago it said that it did not want an ombudsman, that it was unnecessary. Last week it announced that it would have its own ombudsman.

This is a work in progress. I think it is important to leave the flexibility in this for the airlines and for the Canada Transportation Agency and the Department of Transport.

Although there are some motions that we could support, and I can see the arguments back and forth, overall, because of the way they are grouped, we will be voting no on this group of amendments. I do respect the member for all the good work she has done on her amendments here today.

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12:45 p.m.


Louise Hardy NDP Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to these amendments.

The NDP, as my colleague already stated, is not content to have a powerless complaints commissioner and a vague promise to look at pricing in the future. The time to protect what we have is right now.

I will give an example of pricing. The price of a regular ticket to fly down east from the Yukon is $4,000. The minister mentioned that there are ticket sales. Everyone I know does book in advance, as do I over the summer, in order to get the cheapest flights available, but that was when we had some choices.

Canadian Airlines has always had a monopoly in the Yukon. From time to time, other carriers have come in during the summer months to address the tourist season. Right now everyone is facing less choices, less chance of a flight, less room on the flight and less flights.

Canadian Airlines will not be putting its third flight in over the summer. However, many people have accumulated points. A lot of people in the north do that because it is a way to get themselves and their families out of the north for a holiday. Since they are down at the very bottom of the pecking order, it gets more and more difficult to get a flight out of the Yukon on points.

A lot of people come to me when there is a death or an illness in the family and they have to get back east. They are looking at $4,000 for a ticket and have to pay that up front.

The north also has to deal with the Medivacs that fly to treatment centres in Vancouver or Edmonton. There is generally an escort, depending upon the seriousness of the condition. If a nurse is required, then the nurse travels with the person who is ill and a family member cannot go. Sometimes there are allowances. If the illness is not serious, a family member can go with the person and stay with him or her at the hospital. This is really critical for elders and seniors who become very disoriented and cannot make their way around. If they have to go out for cancer treatment and stay for a long time, they have to make their way back and forth from the hotel and deal with all the consequences of the illness. Most family members cannot afford to fly to and be with that person. Even a bargain ticket costs anywhere between $600 to $1000. A regular ticket from Whitehorse to Vancouver is $1600.

I know of a young woman who needs dialysis treatment every second or third day. She is living in Vancouver completely isolated from her community of Haines Junction. No one can afford to fly out to see her. There is no dialysis treatment in the Yukon. These stories go on and on. Since I have been MP in the Yukon, the prices of flights have gone up by at least $800. People cannot count on the transportation system to get them out in an emergency or during a family crisis.

If one is fortunate enough to plan his or her travel months in advance sometimes it will work out. I was talking to an elderly woman who tried to arrange a flight three or four months in advance. Some flights no longer exist today which means a delay of three to four days for her to get back to the Yukon. Flights into remote communities are limited by time.

The Canadian Alliance has said that the government should not be involved at all in any business. We are talking about transportation over a huge country. It is absolutely critical for the government to be involved and for the Canadian people to have a say in the transportation policy through their government and through their elected members of parliament.

If we do not have the ability to travel from one end of this country to the other, there is no sense thinking we are a part of this country. It is a three day drive to get out of the Yukon. If we need to get out of the Yukon because of illness, an emergency or even to take a holiday to Vancouver or Edmonton, it is at least a three-day drive. It would take a week to 10 days to drive across the country to visit family on the east coast. Transportation is critical to all areas of our lives.

The minister said that a duopoly was unhealthy in this country. I happen to agree but at least we had some choice. Even as a member of parliament, I had some choice on which flights I could connect with to get back home or get down here. I have to travel a day in either direction to be at work. If a duopoly was unhealthy, how healthy can a monopoly be? I have no idea what we will be facing when it comes to price changes. It is nothing that I look forward to.

I think the Canada Transportation Agency should have the power to review fare increases on its own without waiting for action on some other front. It should have the permanent ability to act on pricing. The minister did hint that if he was still minister he would extend it. I do not think as a government or as a people we should be depending on perhaps a promise to think about it. Before we go any further, we should have concrete guidelines and rules set out that people can actually count on and know what they are facing as much as we can know when heading into this next century.

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The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members


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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.