Madam Speaker, I could begin my speech by congratulating the members of the Standing Committee on Transport for working many hours, just before the Christmas holiday. They heard many witnesses.
I could begin by congratulating the public servants at the Department of Transport for having worked hard on this bill.
I will not use that approach for the simple reason that we parliamentarians just did our job. People elected us through a democratic process. Personally, I was re-elected on June 2, 1997 to represent my constituents in parliament and to do the job of a parliamentarian. Part of that job is to pass bills. These bills must be reviewed in committee before finally being passed.
I do not want to boast about having worked hard. We just did our job. Transport Canada's officials just did their job.
I will begin my presentation by having a kind thought for the workers, for those in the airline industry who have been suffering for over 18 months. I am thinking in particular of the employees, pilots, flight attendants, ticket agents and maintenance people at InterCanadian. We are talking about more than 1,000 direct jobs.
Considering that governments, both federal and provincial ones, try to attract industries and create jobs—and I say this very objectively, because we want those whom we represent to have worthwhile jobs—we should have a kind thought for these 1,000 workers, and the members of their families, who lost their jobs. Over 600 of them were in Quebec and the rest in the maritime provinces.
My thoughts are with them and I am sorry that, with the restructuring that is going on, their company has not been able to stay in business.
I could also talk about the Air Montreal workers. This company had to suspend its operations lately. They were to resume on May 15, but it seems that the suspension will be much longer.
My thoughts also go out to Canadian International Airlines employees who have been under stress for years, worrying about the financial survival of their company. They have invested money in the company and they have accepted salary rollbacks to invest in their company and save jobs.
My thoughts go out to Air Canada employees also, who had their share of worries with the Onex takeover proposal. I remember that last fall, when I boarded a plane in Quebec or Montreal, they were wearing a stop Onex button. The situation was stressful for everybody.
I am tempted to say that this bill was expected, and I would add, without any hint of partisanship, that it is the reason why all parties in the House agree to dispose of it quickly.
No party has tabled 930 or 430 motions in amendment this time, although such things can be done in a democracy. Even if we want to deal quickly with a bill, members of parliament have the right to move amendments. Everybody could see that, in this case, we were ready to move this bill swiftly through the House, and that is what we have done.
The Bloc Quebecois has been asking the federal government since 1993 to stop subsidizing Canadian International Airlines at the expense of Air Canada, Quebec and Montreal.
After the elections held on October 25, 1993, the then leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Lucien Bouchard, asked me to be transport critic for our party. I can remember some of the questions I put to Doug Young, the Minister of Transport at the time and now the newest member of the Canadian Alliance, who had a lobbying firm in Toronto and was making big bucks thanks to contracts he got from the Liberal government. I am sure business with the Liberals is not as good since he switched over to the Canadian Alliance.
In any case, Doug Young has not changed. I knew him and I am very glad to be able to call him by his name in this House because he got what he deserved. The people of Acadie—Bathurst got rid of him. The people not only in his old riding but throughout the country do not like anyone who is as arrogant or, as we say back home, “baveux”, as Doug Young was. He was both arrogant and insulting.
Just as arrogant was David Dingwall, who was also defeated. His Nova Scotia constituents sent him packing and now he is doing very well as a lobbyist in Ottawa.
I remember a question I put to Doug Young at the time, when I was criticizing the Liberal government for its lack of fairness in allocating international routes.
I asked the minister why Air Canada, which has its head office in Montreal, could not have access to the growing markets in Hong Kong and Japan. He told us that Canadian was experiencing financial difficulties and we had to help the company, which was normal since a lot of jobs were at stake. That answer was clearly aimed at winning votes. I said at the time and I will say again that, in 1993 and around that time, this government showed incompetence in allocating international routes and discriminated against Air Canada.
That is the reason why the position of the Bloc Quebecois has been clear since 1993. Seven years later, we are finally getting what we were asking for. We, in the Bloc Quebecois, were saying that Canada should have a flag bearing national carrier for international routes, just as Great Britain has British Airways, France has Air France, Greece has Olympic Airways, and I could name many more, except of course for Japan and the United States.
We were in agreement with having a national carrier and real competition on the Canadian domestic market, the trans-border market and the regional market. Seven years later, the bill before us is an answer to the position the Bloc Quebecois has been advocating since 1993.
What we have been asking the federal government since 1993 was to act to put an end to the duopoly that forced regional travellers to pay extravagant prices for service that was totally inadequate. We demanded that the federal government be more open regarding the implementation of the Official Languages Act in air communications.
In August of last year, the federal government undertook to change the rules of the game to allow Onex and American Airlines to take over the two Canadian national carriers, without giving any guarantee about competition.
Here, I have to be critical of my colleague, the Minister of Transport. I recall very well that in August 1999, our party asked that the Standing Committee on Transport be called in as soon as possible, because of preoccupying allegations in the press.
Earlier today, the Minister of Transport showed aggressiveness in his comments about the media and editorials. The minister was drawn and quartered by the media, especially the English language media. The French language media refrained from commenting. I read those editorials and the minister was rather roundly criticised, so I understand that he may have wanted to get even with the anglophone media, in particular those of Toronto, especially as he is the minister responsible for that area. He seized the opportunity to get even with them.
Of course, it is no use to say “If the Minister had done this or if he had done that”, but in the case of this bill which is timely and the passing of which we do not want to delay, if the minister had been more responsive, if he had not listened to the government leader who refused, who played hide and seek with us, who did not want to call the Standing Committee on Transport because he knew that the House would be prorogued, that there was going to be a new speech from the throne, in other words if it had not been for all that hide and seek we were drawn into all summer long, I believe that the situation might have been solved much more rapidly. Who knows, InterCanadian might not have ceased operations on November 28 last. This has to be pointed out. That is where I must criticize the lax attitude of the federal government, especially the transport minister.
I must also tell the minister we know of his ties with his good friend Gerald Schwartz and Onex; the minister cannot deny that Onex president Gerald Schwartz is a generous contributor to the Liberal election fund.
I blame the minister for trying, in the middle of the summer holidays, to pitch us a fast ball, as we would say back home. In baseball terms, he tried to pitch a curve ball outside the home plate, the empire called a strike for a third out in the ninth inning. However, things did not go as planned.
The opposition was keeping a close watch. The four opposition parties formed an ad hoc committee which met here, in the House of Commons. We told the government “You do not want to convene the transport committee, we will form our own committee”. We heard witnesses with the co-operation of the four opposition parties.
The government House leader called it a masquerade, backroom or barroom discussions, but whatever it is called, it gives us an inkling of how he perceives democracy.
Again, if the Minister of Transport had managed to convince the government House leader to convene the committee as soon as possible during the summer, perhaps we would not be here today, on May 15, reviewing this important bill.
One of the points the Bloc Quebecois insisted on, and I believe it is in the bill, but I want to confirm it, was the respect of the 25% foreign ownership limit and the 10% limit on individual share ownership in Air Canada. We indicated to the transport minister that the increase of 10% to 15% of the limit on individual share ownership in Air Canada did not represent a major problem for our party.
In committee as well as through the amendments we put forward at report stage, the parliamentary action of the Bloc members has been to insist that a series of concrete provisions be included in the bill to protect the regions and the small carriers.
Moreover, we were in agreement with the commitment made by Air Canada on December 21 that no layoff would result from the merger between Air Canada and Canadian International. That is reflected in the bill. That is why we cannot criticize it. We insisted that no regional route be abandoned by Air Canada or its subsidiaries for the next three years.
This morning I talked about the consideration of bills. We are members from various political parties, with different interests, coming from different regions and, in my case, with a different language and culture. A bill is basically a tool of compromise. It is like the collective agreement signed at the end of the collective bargaining process, where labour and management have to determine the working conditions for the next three, four or five years. Ultimately, a compromise must be reached.
The compromise we have before us is not completely satisfactory to me. Many things in life may not be completely satisfactory; as much as I strive towards sainthood and would like to get canonized as a saint at the end of my life on earth, I do not always behave accordingly. When I take stock of my life, I will say that it has not been fully and completely satisfactory.
There is one aspect where I would like the government to show a bit more open-mindedness, even if the minister has told this House that more restrictive measures had been adopted, and it is the enforcement of the Official Languages Act. I raise it again because this is the last opportunity I will have to do so in debate.
I would like the minister to know that the air transportation workers intend to pursue the issue with the Senate. Do not forget that Senator Joyal defended the air transportation workers 25 years ago, and it is very likely they would testify before the Committee.
I think that Air Canada could improve its record as far as the use of the French language is concerned. Once again, I call upon Air Canada president Milton. He is a serious, reasonable person. He is not an adventurer. I believe that he has displayed tact in the debate over the restructuring and merging of Canadian International and Air Canada. He has proven himself to be a good manager, and I would like to congratulate him on that.
I would like him to put his foot down and make a much stronger commitment to increasing the number of French-speaking employees in all groups of employment at Air Canada. This company, as well as others, is considered as a stronghold of Canadian unity.
We have seen Via Rail change its logo. Trains now have a great big maple leaf on the front. There is also a maple leaf on the tail of all Air Canada planes. This is to tell all Canadians “This is your country. Whether you speak French or English, wherever you live, this is your country”. In principle that sounds fine and dandy, but I would like to see it applied in real life.
Among the 1,258 pilots at Canadian Airlines, is it normal or acceptable that, as of today, only 71 of them speak French? With francophones representing 24.8% of the overall population in Canada, is it normal or acceptable that only 17% of all Air Canada employees speak French? Is it normal or acceptable that only 15.8% of Air Canada pilots speak French?
Given all his power and business acumen, surely Mr. Milton can summon the vice-president of human resources and tell him “Look, with 24.8% of the population of Canada speaking French, since we now are a dominant national carrier, the tenth biggest company in the world, we must hire francophone workers”. By the way, these French speaking employees are all bilingual. I do not think there is one French speaking employee at Air Canada who is not bilingual. We have to remember that we are talking about bilingual francophones.
Such a commitment from Mr. Milton would give hope to young men and women who are currently studying at the CEGEP in Chicoutimi. Hon. members will probably wonder why I am suddenly talking about the CEGEP in Chicoutimi. Let me point out that the CEGEP in Chicoutimi is the only CEGEP to have a flying training school.
There are young people from every region in Quebec and even from elsewhere who come to the Chicoutimi CEGEP flying training school. It costs $100,000 a year to train a pilot at the school. Is it normal and acceptable, considering the strong demand on the aviation market, that 22% of graduates from the Chicoutimi CEGEP flying training school do not succeed in finding a job as a pilot? There must be something wrong. I do not want to start saying things because people will send me letters, faxes or e-mails to tell me that I am crying murder and expressing that mistreated francophone feeling again.
It has nothing to do with that. It is a matter of respect. If people say to us francophones that they love us, as they certainly will three days before the next referendum, “we love you and we do not want to lose you”, like the theme of the Centennial campaign in 1967 that said “Canada, stand together; understand together”, then they should prove it.
I would like to add that I think Air Canada should make an effort to hire InterCanadian pilots who were laid off.
The Minister of Transport is listening carefully so I would like to ask him the following question: Does he know how many pilots of InterCanadian have been hired by Air Canada recently? There were many pilots. Of the 1,100 employees, I believe that there were between 325 and 400 pilots. Only three InterCanadian pilots were hired. Most of InterCanadian's pilots were francophones. With a bit of good will, Air Canada could encourage the hiring of InterCanadian's francophone pilots who are competent but presently out of work.
In terms of the Official Languages Act I would like, before concluding, to draw a comparison between the percentage of francophone employees at VIA Rail and the percentage of francophone employees at Canada Post.
VIA Rail is a transportation company that operates from Halifax to Vancouver—it provides rail transportation while the other one provides air transportation—and has to provide its service through the different provinces. Air Canada should know that the percentage of francophones at VIA Rail is 39.3%. VIA Rail is a crown corporation. Of course, the government has never heard us complaining that there were too many francophones at VIA Rail. Their percentage is 39.9% and at Canada Post it is 23.8%, which is equitable proportionally speaking. When I say that francophones account for only 17% of employees at Air Canada, it shows there is room for improvement.
Let us have a look at complaints under the Official Languages Act. In 1998, there were three complaints against VIA Rail compared to 98 against Canada Post. The same year, there were 251 complaints against Air Canada. This shows that if the Official Languages Act were applied more rigorously to Air Canada, this carrier might be forced to abide by the act. There were three complaints against VIA Rail in 1998 compared to 251 against Air Canada. This is totally unacceptable.
Another aspect I would like to point out to the House is the merger of seniority lists. The minister, and we, as parliamentarians, may be powerless in this regard.
My colleague of the Canadian Alliance spoke about this earlier. I think there should be a little more good will or good faith among parties, and Air Canada management should show leadership and say “Wait a minute. Is it normal and acceptable that a Canadian Airlines International pilot with 22 years of experience should be placed at the bottom of the seniority list of Air Canada pilots?”
I would like to salute the determination of my friends, the regional pilots, mainly those of Air Alliance, now Air Nova, who believed for many years in the one employer theory. They thought in good faith that they could be included at their seniority rank on the list of Air Canada pilots.
Unfortunately, a decision was made, confirming the opposite. I greatly sympathize with regional pilots, especially those of Air Alliance and Air Nova, who thought it was legitimate for them to think they would fly other planes than a Dash-8 or a Beechcraft 1900, and I do not intend here to discredit the reliability of these aircraft.
I am not a pilot, but apparently, when you are a pilot, you expect to start flying small bush airplanes, then bigger aircraft and, perhaps, after 28, 30 or 32 years in your career, a Boeing 767 or 747 or an Airbus 330. It is perfectly legitimate for a young pilot to think about flying a bigger plane one day.
There is no way we can force those who chose to continue flying Beavers or Piper Aztecs to fly bigger planes, but I think that regional pilots simply wanted respect and recognition.
I call once again on the goodwill of the management of Air Canada to try to resolve this issue of the amalgamation of seniority lists. I call on the management of Air Canada and Mr. Milton to give serious thought to giving the new Bombardier regional jets, 50-seaters, to the unified regional carrier that will be born of the amalgamation of Air Ontario, Air British Columbia and Air Nova. Mr. Randell said before the committee that there would be a new amalgamated unit with a new name. I would like Air Canada management to give serious thought to allocating the RJs to Air Canada's regional pilots.
I realize that Bill C-26 will require Air Canada to provide independent regional carriers with the same services it provides its subsidiaries to enable them to serve the regions.
I also recognize, on behalf of my party, that this bill gives new powers to the competition commissioner and the Canadian Transport Agency to prevent Air Canada or any other carrier from using anti-competitive practices or from imposing unfair prices.
This is provided in the law, but we must keep an eye on how the dominant carrier will apply the law. We wanted an ombudsman, as the minister said, and the government responded by providing a complaints commissioner. Let us say that it is a borderline situation.
I would like to respond to one thing the minister said earlier in his speech. Perhaps this is the advantage of speaking after someone else: I can criticize what he said, but he cannot criticize what I say because there is no questions and comments period.
The minister said that an ombudsman was too bureaucratic and complicated a structure. I am disappointed in the minister. He went through all the problems of the armed forces when he was the Minister of National Defence, and the government's response to these numerous problems was to appoint André Marin as armed forces ombudsman, the person to whom soldiers could take their complaints. I have never heard members of the armed forces complaining about the bureaucracy of the ombudsman. On the contrary, he has a role to play.
If the minister had wished, he could have agreed to what all members of the committee, except the Liberal majority, agreed—the creation of an ombudsman. Once again, I do not wish to criticize for the sake of criticizing. I wish to be constructive. The minister has responded by creating a complaints commissioner. This is very interesting.
In passing, I wish to congratulate Air Canada on appointing an ombudsman. Air Canada's management probably knew that the committee was pushing for this. It is interesting to see that our concerns as parliamentarians were noted by the dominant carrier. Air Canada decided to appoint an ombudsman.
In conclusion, we will have to keep a close eye on how this legislation is actually enforced, on a daily basis. I repeat that the Bloc Quebecois will be voting in favour of Bill C-26 at third reading, so that it can be passed quickly and real competition made possible, so that small local and regional carriers are protected as quickly as possible.
We realize that we must pass this bill as quickly as possible, once again in order to protect the regions, regional users and companies with regional operations.