Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand to speak on Bill C-27 today. I listened with interest to the words of the parliamentary secretary to the minister and I will probably have some direct comments on some of those things if time permits.
With a bill like this, let us start with the worst. One of the worst things in the bill is that the powers of the minister are not subject to review or appeal. He gives himself awesome powers in the bill.
Let us just imagine how this would work in other areas like, for example, the former minister of finance, who says, “Let us close some of the tax loopholes in all these foreign countries where we have Canadian corporations that are getting tremendous tax benefits, but let us leave one open, Bermuda, let us say”, where, as it happens, the former minister of finance has all his ships in his private company registered, “and let us have that not subject to review or appeal”.
How about the former minister of public works and government services, who says, using these kinds of powers, “Let us have the power to award contracts without tender. Let us be able to send them out to our friends, our donors, and let us get into a big advertising scheme and pay these people whether they actually do the work we have contracted for or not”.
Or maybe we will have the former minister of justice, who will come up with a bill like Bill C-68, tell us that it is going to cost $2 million and, when it costs a billion, says, “That is fine. Let us leave it that way. Let us not review it and most certainly let us not have any appeal”.
Given the mistakes that the Liberal government and its various cabinet ministers have made in the past, I think the very notion that we would give any minister on that side of the House the powers to make decisions that are not subject to either review or appeal is absolutely absurd, yet that is exactly what Bill C-27 does.
I will now get to some of the specifics. One is airport authority directors. The authority makeup calls for up to 15 directors on the board and it is quite possible that there would not be so much as one person representing the airlines. The required makeup includes two from the federal government; we notice that the government always make sure that it is on the list. The mandatory requirements are two from the federal government, one from the provincial government, three to five from municipal government, and then three to five from two of the following five groups. To be sure, one of those five groups is the national association of domestic air carriers, but they do not have to use that one. The other alternatives are economic organizations, provincial associations of lawyers, engineers or accountants, community organizations and unions. Out of all of these three to five are taken. It is quite possible that in some cases there would not be so much as a single representative of the airlines on those boards.
This is a not for profit corporation we are talking about, the airport authority set up by the government, as the parliamentary secretary has stated. By contrast, the same government set up Nav Canada. Nav Canada also has 15 directors of which four are from the airlines and one general aviation representative on the board. Five out of 15, one-third of the board, are absolutely guaranteed to be from the aviation industry, yet for the airports of the country, the national airports, the government has a board that could quite conceivably end up with not so much as a single airline representative, yet they are the ones that have a primary interest. The primary paying customer of the airports is the aviation industry, but with this bill there is not a commitment to have even one industry representative on the board.
The airlines must have the ability to influence terminal designs in order to ensure that cost effective designs reduce costs. We can imagine how we could build a very elaborate and very fancy edifice with a lot of architectural oddities, wasted space, a lot of dramatic flare in the design and incredibly expensive furnishings, none of which are part of the functions of the airport. We do not want a bunch of ugly boxes dotting the country. We want buildings that are pleasant to be in and are effective for the flow of traffic and so on, but we all know that there are people who have a tendency to get carried away. With that very primary customer possibly not being on the board, there is nothing to prevent airport authorities from saying “We can charge pretty much what we want, add airport improvement fees, and build something pretty fancy. It would be a monument to our work and our board to have such an incredibly beautiful airport”.
We do like to have nice things, but we also like to have a functioning, cost effective airline industry, particularly at this time. We are finding out that the airline industry is having a tremendous amount of trouble staying afloat and the last thing we should be doing is coming forward with a bill that could add to those costs instead of trying to find ways to control them.
Speaking of controls, there needs to be some control on the rent that the federal government charges airports. The federal government used to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year in airport operations. Now it makes hundreds of millions of dollars and all the improvements that are done to the airports are done at no cost to the government; now there is a sweetheart deal. The government used to have airport landing fees and a variety of fees that it charged the airlines. It used to lose a lot of money and it still had to operate the airport and do any improvements.
I was in the aviation industry for many years and saw how bad many of these terminals were. In fact, even now some of them are still in the process of growing out of that neglect by government. Right here in Ottawa is a prime example. We have a very inadequate terminal in Ottawa, but as we drive up to it, we see a very beautiful new terminal being constructed off to the right. That new terminal will be in operation sometime next spring, actually ahead of schedule. It is being built by the Ottawa Airport Authority at no cost to the federal government. We have that wholly inadequate terminal, out of which we are still operating while the airport authority puts up the new building, yet the government is essentially gouging these airport authorities. The government is taking huge profits out of these businesses, if we want to call them that, on which it formerly lost money.
Government rent increases are exorbitant, not just from where the rents started but in regard to where they have gone since the government has had these airport authorities take over. For example, when the Winnipeg Airports Authority officially took over the operation of the Winnipeg airport in 1997, the rent was $900,000 a year. That is quite a bit of money. Basically it is $1 million a year. Since that time, the Winnipeg Airports Authority has made many improvements, none of which were funded by the federal government. It has done this through its own drive, through its own funds raised in operating the airport. The rent that the federal government will charge by the year 2007 will have increased to $7 million from $900,000 in 1997. No wonder the airline industry is in trouble. It gives new meaning to the old adage “I am from the government and I am here to help”. With that kind of help, it is a wonder we have an airline industry left at all.
National airports are not the only ones affected by bad government decisions of this nature. When the government, as the parliamentary secretary described, set about creating the national airports program, it also set about divesting itself of all the other airports in Canada, all the smaller feeder airports and community airports. The government pushed these onto the municipalities, many of which really did not want to take them. They did not want to be operating airports. They have enough responsibilities on their own. In my hometown, the airport of Castlegar used to lose, under the operation of Transport Canada, half a million dollars a year, so the government was telling Castlegar, a small community of about 7,000 people, “You had better take over the airport, because if you do not, no one will take it over, so we guess we do not need an airport and we will just shut it down”. That is a hell of a load, frankly, to put on a small community of 7,000 people.
At the time the government asked Castlegar to take over, it said there were certain things that the city would be able to do to be cost effective and to hopefully get rid of some of this deficit, because of course adding half a million dollars a year in costs for a small community like that would be absolutely devastating. Castlegar was allowed to put on an airport improvement fee. The parliamentary secretary said the minister was very generous, that he would allow the city to continue to operate it to cover operational costs. It is a good thing, because otherwise it could not operate that airport.
There is one other thing that was done. At the time the City of Castlegar took over the operation of its airport, there was an airport fire department with a full complement of staff, vehicles, facilities and everything. They were well-trained, very conscientious people and I want to make sure that no one misunderstands that. I am not in any way suggesting that airport firefighters are not highly motivated and well-trained, conscientious people. However, in many of these airports, they are largely unnecessary. I worked directly at airports for 22 years. During that 22 years of working at airports, I have never once seen a firefighter save a life, not because they are not properly trained or motivated but because the opportunity never arose.
First, to put it graphically, the aircraft, if that is what we are dealing with, has to have the decency to have its emergency at the airport. If it happens somewhere en route and comes down somewhere off the airport, then the fact that there is a fire department at the airport is irrelevant. Second, gruesomely but accurately, there have to be survivors. If there are no survivors, then the whole exercise is for naught as well. Third, in terms of response time, it has to happen suddenly and without notice. If an aircraft has a problem and is coming in to land, the people on board want you standing by. They are not going to wait until they get to the airport to tell you this; they radio ahead and advise. So firefighters do not necessarily have to be at the airport. They can come from some distance.
The federal government said, “We know that there are a lot of costs in operating airports like Castlegar. We know that we lost a lot of money. We also know that there has to be some level of protection for public safety. That is reasonable”. It said, “You do not necessarily need to have the firefighters stationed right at the airport if you can demonstrate to us an acceptable response time for bringing in those firefighters from somewhere else”.
Castlegar and many other airports like it did exactly that and said, “Here is our plan, here is the location, here is the distance, here is the staffing we have, here is the response time. It has been all properly demonstrated. We can do this. This is our plan, presented in detail”. The federal government said, “We accept your plan. Do you now accept the airport, with this and all the other conditions that have been agreed to?” And the City of Castlegar, and many others, over 70 of them, said, “Yes, we do”.
The federal government, having had these little communities accept these airports, now has come back with Canadian aviation regulations 308, CARs 308, which now potentially would place the onus on many of these small communities that run these airports. They basically took money losers off the hands of the federal government. They came to an agreement with the federal government before they took them over in which the government said, “You don't have to keep the firefighters on. We agree with your proposal. It is safe”. Now the government is saying, “We changed our mind. Thank you for taking over the airport. Thank you for getting this loser off our hands and coming up with better, more efficient ways to operate it than we ever could. Now we are going to force you to put the firefighters back at the airport”.
For small airports such Castlegar, or even small communities in some cases, that is an overwhelming expense to visit upon a community of 7,000 people. In some case they are spread over a bit bigger population. That is absolute total irresponsibility on the part of government. Yet the minister wants us to think this is a good bill when it does not even begin to address things like that.
I would like to talk about some of the things the government is involved in that also have not been dealt with in the bill, things where the government could be saving money. It is just like the example I gave on small community airports where the government was so inefficient and ineffective in its operation that it lost a fortune. We should look at the things for which it is still responsible, that it still actually operates or an operation it has taken over and see whether is cost effective.
I am talking now about airport security in general terms. I would like to give a couple of examples that really draw to light the fact that airport security, to a certain degree, is a myth. It is nothing but a facade to make people feel safe. It is something that stops an honest person from accidentally doing something wrong, like taking along a little penknife that he forgot was in their briefcase. It stops him from doing that. It does not stop someone who intends to take some form of weapon that could be used against other people on board an aircraft.
Let me give an example of that as it applies to security at the House of Commons, post-September 11. Undoubtedly, Mr. Speaker, you have noticed the large number of RCMP officers at the foot of the road coming into the House of Commons down by the Confederation building. Half of the parking lot, which used to be there, is gone. A great big trailer is there. There is a big covered inspection station. At any given time there are as many RCMP officers and RCMP vehicles at that location as most individual detachments in my entire riding have.
What is their purpose? Their purpose is to inspect vehicles that drive on to the hill. They stop them. They check who is driving them. They check where they are going and why they are going there. They may look in the trunk. They may look under the hood. They have fancy roll out mirrors that they can roll underneath to see if anything is attached.
One time I asked an RCMP officer why they did that and what was the purpose. The officer said that it was to make sure somebody did not take something into Parliament that was not allowed, that would be dangerous and that could be used for destructive purposes. It was to prevent terrorists from smuggling explosives on to the Hill.
The RCMP officers stop these cars, open their hoods and their trunks and roll fancy little silly mirrors underneath the vehicles. Maybe they are dripping water on to the mirrors. Right beside that station people off the street, coming from wherever, dressed in whatever manner, without any security or any connection with the House of Commons whatsoever, walk on to the Hill with backpacks, with shopping bags and with big packages of things. They come on the Hill not only at the bottom by Confederation building where the vehicles are stopped but at a number of points along Wellington. They just walk on the Hill. If this is about stopping explosives and all these other things, what is the point of looking under a car's hood when there are people who we do not know walking on to the Hill carrying backpacks?
I am not suggesting that we stop and search every person who comes on the Hill. I am showing the absurdity of looking under the hood of a car to ensure there is nothing tied to a tailpipe but not worrying about people, whoever they may be, coming on to the Hill with backpacks, shopping bags and whatever other method of conveying stuff on to the Hill that they might happen to use. It is absolutely absurd.
In my entire riding there are 27 communities, 18 city councils and two regional districts. It is 27,000 square kilometres. We have 100 RCMP in my riding. We have about 100 RCMP officers on the Hill, never mind the House of Commons security people.
RCMP officers are not inside the buildings. They are out there wielding these silly little mirrors underneath the cars and watching all the other entrances, not for the people with backpacks and shopping bags but to ensure that someone does not drive through. I pointed this out to them one time and they said that if those people tried to come into a building, then their backpacks and shopping bags would be checked. Why do we not check the vehicles when they come into the building? That is absurd.
However, if we are worried about what is in the vehicle, then why would we not be worried about a vehicle coming through without anything, being checked through and then having half a dozen people with big backpacks or whatever come and put them into cars. Now they are inside the parliamentary grounds and the car has whatever has been taken in unchecked in the trunk, or back seat or wherever else. The concept is absurd. When we get to airports, we have exactly the same concept: the facade of security.
We now have plastic knives on board aircraft. We get plastic knives but we get China plates, glass glasses and steel forks. When I fly, I have a meal on board Air Canada. I am given two steel forks. Something happened some time ago now. The trays are a little crowded. I was working and then dinner came, so I put my work away and had my dinner. One of the forks must have been knocked off the tray and landed in my briefcase unbeknownst to me. When I got home and took the stuff out of my suitcase I discovered I had one of these forks. Being an honest person, I wanted to return it to Air Canada because it certainly was not my intention to steal that fork.
The next time I went to the airport, I took the fork with me. When I got to airport security I put all my metal stuff, my pen, my organizer and my cell phone, into the little basket. I also included the fork because I certainly was not trying to sneak it on board the aircraft. Security looked at it and said that I could not take it on board. I asked why not? I asked the security officers where they thought I had got it? It had an Air Canada logo right on it. I told them that I would be given two more as soon as I got on board the plane. They said that they knew that, that it was silly but those were the rules. They confiscated the fork, and I presume that Air Canada never got it back. I was stopped from taking on board a steel fork. We are paying a fortune to stop people from taking on something that the airline will give them once they get on board anyway.
While I had that fork, I looked at it because there were some striking comparisons. A lot of people may have found that when they tried to get on board the aircraft, they were stopped because they had one of those little manicure clippers, the kind that people squeeze together to clip their nails. It has a tiny slide out file. People can take the clippers on board but the files have to be broken off. I had one of those at home which had not been modified for airport security. When I looked at the fork, much to my surprise the tines on the fork were longer than the file I was required to break off if I wanted to go on board the aircraft with it.
We are not talking about John Q. Citizen. We are not talking about some accountant or a school teacher going on board to do something stupid. Conceptually at least we are talking about terrorists who would hijack the plane or do something incredibly disruptive on board. Do they need an inch and a half long nail file, especially given the training that many of them have? If they take an ordinary wooden lead pencil and hold it so the eraser part is in the palm of their hand and the rest of the pencil protrudes between their second and third fingers, that is infinitely more dangerous and more deadly than a sharpened stiletto in our hands. Yet they do nothing about that.
Let us talk about an ordinary credit card. A person can actually hone the edge of a plastic credit card to the point where it is as sharp as a knife. Speaking of knives, they make composite material knives, special hard plastics, that one could actually strap to one's leg and go through security. It will not set off any alarms because it is not metal. It will not be found in the X-ray machine because a person's leg does not go through. Yet it ends up on board in the hands of someone who is trained to use that type of thing.
That is the facade we are going through and nothing will change that. There are totally different ways of dealing with it. Many suggestions have been made, including something that is politically incorrect but nonetheless effective. Something like profiling is very open to criticism but it is effective. The Israelis have had one hijacking. They are a target, yet they have had one hijacking. That is the method they use. What we are doing is completely ineffective.
The carpet cutters that were taken on board were not snuck on board. They were taken on board because they were allowed. Now we do not allow carpet cutters but we still allow pencils and credit cards. The airlines still give out steel forks and regular glasses on board the plane. There are wine bottles, liquor bottles, all these things. Even things like a shoelace in the hands of a highly trained person is a deadly weapon. We have to be realistic about the incredible amount of money we spend and what it is supposed to do.
To put it in a more specific manner as to how we can save money in a lot of these airports, I go back to the example at Castlegar.
First, let me talk about the major airports. The major airports now have what the government calls enhanced security. More people have been hired and given training. Bigger and better X-ray machines are being put in and there is talk about putting in CAT scans. There are explosives sniffers and all kinds of things. Supposedly this is pretty effective.
Then we go to small communities like in my area: Cranbrook, Castlegar, Penticton. We do not even have basic X-ray machines. We have some very conscientious people who check hand luggage and make passengers walk through metal detectors. For all their training, it is incredibly easy to conceal things for those who would do that type of thing. Obviously it is easier to get something through there than it is when one gets to a big airport and it is run through a CAT scan.
However once people go through that and they get on board the plane, that plane flies around all that fancy enhanced security and deposits them on the secure side of the airport. All the money being spent to put this stuff into the major airports is for naught because we let people get on at the least secure airport and fly them around them.
How can the government save money? Places like Castlegar, Cranbrook and Penticton have Dash 8 service. Anyone can charter a Dash 8. It is not a big deal. They do not even use the terminal. They get on the plane and fly to whatever place that plane has been chartered. Why would people worry about getting on board a Dash 8 to hijack it? They can lease the plane and take it wherever they want?
I suggest the government look at doing away with airport security in the small airports that only have small turbo prop service. It should let people get on board in those places and not worry about checking. When passengers fly into places like Vancouver or Calgary or other places, the passengers should simply be unloaded into the general part of the airport so they do not go into the secure side. If they are only flying from Castlegar to Vancouver on a business trip, they are on their way, no hassle and no cost. If they are connecting to other places or flying overseas, they should go through this enhanced security. There is some logic at least to that.
It is still essentially ineffective for someone who is determined enough but at least there is some rationale behind that and at least we have eliminated the cost of security in a lot of airports where there really is no justification for it. The old adage for this one is “a chain is as strong as its weakest link”. It is a phenomenal waste of taxpayer money to put a CAT scan in Vancouver and one in Castlegar then fly them around the CAT scan in Vancouver having gone through in Castlegar.
Clause 116 would require every airport authority to display the Canadian flag in the terminal and in any other place to which the public has access. I like to see the Canadian flag as much as anyone. The people are arriving in Canada. The minister has suggested that these would be at airports that have international travel. I would suggest that it is probably already there. However if the government wants to formalize it I think it is going way over the top in terms of the bill. Beyond that, it would require that signs be erected in prominent locations around the airport and in every terminal building proclaiming that the airport is owned by the Government of Canada.
The only possible reason for doing that would be to fool travellers into believing that the new terminal, built with airport improvement fees, was somehow provided by the government. It is a deception at best and a fraudulent misrepresentation at worst.
Let us say that we own a business. We rent a building and make all kinds of development improvements to the building because we have an expansive operation. Why on earth would we put up signs proclaiming that the building and all the wonderful things belong to somebody else? It does not happen.
Why should these airport authorities put up prominent advertising saying that the building they are leasing happens to belong to the Government of Canada, especially in buildings such as the new terminal building that will be opened next spring in Ottawa which does not have 5¢ of federal money? Yes, it belongs to the federal government, and what a sweetheart deal that is, but not 5¢ was put in. In fact, a huge amount of money was extracted from the very people who paid to put that building up.
Clause 57 would limit an airport authority's ability to invest in another corporation, limiting it to 2% of gross revenues per year. This effectively would kill off Vancouver airport's very profitable YVR airport services by severely restricting its ability to finance projects in places such as Chile, Jamaica and Hamilton. The profits from these projects come back to be utilized by this non-profit authority and reduce the overall costs of airport operations.
The airport authority is made up of business people and the government is the last entity in the country that should be giving the private sector rules and advice on how to make a profit.
Going back to the example of Edmonton, here is an airport like all the rest on which the federal government lost money. The Winnipeg airport authority has made a tremendous number of improvements to its airport at no cost to the government. Its reward was, first of all, being hit with $900,000 a year in rent, and, if that is not bad enough, since 1997 its rent has been increased many times and will be $7 million in 2007.
Another thing that is significantly absent in the bill are rules regarding airport improvement fee money collected by the airlines on behalf of airports. This is curious given that the government has already recognized the need to protect its own money in the name of the air traveller's security charge currently being collected by airlines. The airlines are required to hold that money in trust separate from general revenues.
All funds collected by the airlines on behalf of others should be held in trust. It should not become part of the individual airline's revenue and then some other charge come out at some other point. If it is collected by the airline on behalf of someone else then it should be held separate.
As of April 4 Air Canada, which is, as we know, in a lot of trouble these days, owes Canada's largest airports many millions of dollars for airport improvement fees collected. That money is now tied up in Air Canada's bankruptcy protection hearings.
When we talk about small airports, as I have with my home airport of Castlegar, it does not take a lot of funds that were budgeted for and counted on by that community to run into serious trouble if they suddenly find that they are not getting paid those fees.
I would like to talk in general terms about the fact that the bill has too many errors and omissions for the aviation public to deal with. There are always a few things in a bill that someone will not like or a few things that should be in it but are not. That is what makes up Bill C-27. A vast majority of the things in the bill should not be in it or should at least be better modified. If the government were truly responsible a lot of things would be in the bill but unfortunately they are not. Committees should be tasked with fine-tuning bills, not doing major overhauls.
I want to touch on a few things the parliamentary secretary to the minister said. He said that the government was building on the 1994 airport program it introduced and that this was new international airport policy that was building on this and doing things well. One would think that when it takes nine years to put something together it would be put together a lot better than the government has done with this. There are so many problems in the legislation that it is absolutely absurd.
The parliamentary secretary spoke about monitoring and promoting good corporate policy and yet the government does not have any concept of good corporate policy. Everything it does is either touched with corruption, like the former minister of public works and government services, or it is corrupted with absolute financial irresponsibility, like the former minister of justice who came before Parliament with a bill that he said would cost $2 million and now has cost $1 billion. While all of this was going on, the government knew of the horrendous cost overruns and it covered them up. This is the organization that will monitor and promote good corporate policy for the private sector, not for profit airport authorities. That is pretty absurd.
The parliamentary secretary also talked about better transparency and public reporting. Why does the government not start over there on that side? It is curious to hear the government saying that it has to watch this organization to make sure it is held accountable, that it is absolutely transparent in its operations and that it holds public meetings to allow the public see exactly what is happening. Where was this idea when the government ran up a bill of $1 billion with Bill C-68, the Firearms Registration Act, which was supposed to cost $2 million? Why does the government not start with those kinds of policies and then maybe we can consider that it has some credibility to start talking about accountability from others?
Let me talk about the charging principles for airport improvement. The government wants to have mandatory consultations with the users and a lot of control to make sure nobody is overcharged. I again remind members of the example of the Winnipeg airport where $900,000, almost $1 million a year to start, from something that it used to lose money on, accelerating to $7 million a year by the year 2007, while that airport authority continues to build up that airport and make it better than it was when it took it over from Transport Canada.
The public bid solicitation is also something in the bill.
I see I am almost out of time so I will conclude by saying that I am concerned that none of the recommendations from committee dealing with security fees, airport rents and reduction of aviation fuel taxes have been addressed by the government. I therefore would move that the motion be amended by replacing all the words after the word “that” with “this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-27, an act to amend the Criminal Code and other acts, since the bill fails to address the recommendations in the first report of the Standing Committee on Transport, air travel security charge, tabled on December 12, 2002”.