House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sars.


Canada Airports ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

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”.

Canada Airports ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

While the Chair takes the matter into consideration we will resume debate.

Canada Airports ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate today on Bill C-27, an act respecting airport authorities and other airportoperators and amending other acts.

As the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel and as transportation critic, I had the opportunity to review the legislation on airport authorities, since the Mirabel airport is managed by an airport authority called ADM, Aéroports de Montréal.

When a minister or other member of the Liberal Party introduces a bill as a means to have more transparency, we obviously always look at these nice proposals with an open mind.

In Mirabel, we had quite an exercise in transparency with ADM. All reporters and all Quebeckers who have followed the Mirabel airport saga know that Aéroports de Montréal did not operate with a great concern for transparency.

We sometimes use harsh words out of frustration with certain situations. I will try to explain the position of the residents of the Basses-Laurentides area concerning what could have been the best chance for economic development in this region of Quebec.

In 1966, when the federal government decided to replace Dorval airport, which was built in 1941, it really wanted to put Quebec back on the map. I should remind members that, at the time, Montreal was the only international gateway into Canada. Building a brand new airport was obviously indicative of a great desire to open our door to the world.

And it was not just any kind of airport. At the time, the government expropriated 93,000 acres of land, which was 10 times the size of the largest airport in the world and 27 times the size of Dorval airport. That was the goal of the Liberal government of the day.

Since 1966, or over the last forty and some years, the Liberal Party has been in power two thirds of the time. It is the Liberal Party that launched this project and set this goal. There were periods when the Conservatives were in office but, in the end, this is part of the history of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Giving Quebec a giant airport, the largest in the world, is a very important goal. Now we must see what the goal was and what the reality is today. Right now, Mirabel airport still sits on 15,000 acres of land, which is still four times the size of Dorval airport.

However, this international airport deals with only one air carrier, Air Transat, which is quite happy. In the Lower Laurentians, we are very glad that Air Transit is still doing business in Mirabel. ADM has announced that in the fall of 2003 or the spring of 2004 at the latest, international flights or air passenger services will be a thing of the past at Mirabel airport.

As you know, that is the harsh reality we have to face. Things happen, like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 or SARS which is currently affecting some airports, but ADM and the federal government took their decision well before air carriers throughout Canada started having problems.

Of course, that brings us to the operations of the infamous airport authorities, which have been a problem. Since 1988, we have been dealing with what is now called a non-profit corporation. First, there was SOPRAM, which was created in 1988 but was replaced in 1992 by Aéroports de Montréal, the current organization that this new bill will now change.

Non-profit organizations are currently managing equipment belonging to the people of Quebec and Canada and also funds. Let me go over some of the provisions of this bill to try to explain how it is possible to close down an airport that was inaugurated only in 1975 while investing in another airport, Dorval. At this point in time, over $800 million of public money has been invested. When renovations started at Dorval, we were told that they would cost $200 million at the very most. Believe it or not, the costs have now reached $800 million. Based on the most recent estimates, to properly upgrade Dorval for the new millennium, we will need to invest another $1.2 billion in the airport and the surrounding road infrastructure. That is $2 billion that the federal government will have invested in a airport that should have been replaced back in 1966, when Dorval and all of its facilities were felt to be obsolete.

However, today, this airport is being renovated but there are constraints. Indeed, Dorval is an airport in the middle of a city, with time constraints. Flights must not take place after 11 p.m. So there are time constraints. When Mirabel airport is closed, this will be the only airport capable of receiving passengers in the metropolitan area of Montreal. Of course, this will create constraints for airlines.

This is a matter of choice. When we put the question directly to the minister, to all the representatives, to Liberal members from Quebec, they say: “We will go back to Mirabel one day”. Why? Because Mirabel airport is located outside Montreal. The runways have been laid out so as not to disturb the urban populations. It is a highly secure airport. Considering September 11, 2001, we never want to experience another plane crash in an urban area. Thus, everything should have been taken into account, particularly since September 11, 2001, to try to keep Mirabel airport. On the contrary, a destruction operation started in 1992—in fact, in 1988—but more specifically since the creation of the new ADM. This destruction operation will continue, of course, because passenger services will disappear, as I said earlier, by January 2004 at the latest.

Besides, we are still being told that Mirabel is an international airport. Of course, people were up in arms. Not only was there land flipping, but proceedings were launched by the municipality of Mirabel and all social and economic stakeholders. Millions of dollars were spent. It was ruled that the lease had been respected , since ADM had an obligation to maintain an international airport.

Clause 6 of this brand new bill that has not yet been passed says:

Nothing in this Act derogates from the rights and obligations under a lease of an airport granted by any person, including Her Majesty in right of Canada, to an airport operator, as the lease read on the coming into force of this section, except to the extent that those rights and obligations are inconsistent with this Act.

That means that a lease takes precedence over this bill. Obviously, I would like to agree with the content of the bill, but I have to live with the situation in Mirabel. People are living with the situation in the Lower Laurentians in West Quebec. The airport authority there is going to eliminate passenger traffic, insisting it is still operating an international airport, and the government and the minister will say “Yes, we consider this to be an international airport”. An international airport without passengers is hard to swallow.

What is really going to happen in the industry? Will legal proceedings be taken again against ADM to compel it to abide by the lease? As long as the government is not willing to rein in these organizations that are claiming to be non profit, it will not work.

The government has quite the defence, of course. I am saying this for the benefit of Quebeckers who are listening to us; I will sum up how the airport authority board is set up. It is made up of between 11 and 15 members, their number being set in the bylaws.

In the case of the Montreal airport authority there are 15 appointed board members. The government is saying that the management of airports is being turned over to the industry. Out of these 15 appointed board members, only one is from the Lower Laurentians and the Mirabel area. As far as the other 14 are concerned, 11 come from the Island of Montreal, one from Laval and two from the South Shore.

Once again, we are told that the management is local. Obviously, the managers are not coming from Mirabel airport. When the time comes to make big decisions, it is obviously easy to reach a consensus around the Montreal airport board table.

This bill is telling us there will be greater transparency, but it confirms that independent bodies will manage assets. I will go even further than that. Clause 45 says:

An airport authority is not an agent of Her Majesty in right of Canada.

So it is not only non-profit organizations managing the government's assets. Clearly, the land and buildings belong to the federal government. They belong to us all because we all pay taxes in this country. The assets are managed by independent agencies that, furthermore, are not agents of Her Majesty in right of Canada.

So, why include this provision? It is so that the minister can say, in the House, in response to questions from the opposition about the actions of airport authorities: “It is not my responsibility. Those people do not report to the federal government”.

We had a terrible time with this in the Lower Laurentians and at Mirabel. We are going to go through this again. In fact, ADM is holding its annual general meeting on May 8. According to my sources, I am almost certain that ADM will announce the complete shutdown of the airport and will expect its board to adopt, next Thursday, a resolution to launch an international call for tenders for the use of the airport, hotel and administrative offices, excluding tenders related to running an airport. In other words, ADM wants to see if the airport, hotel and administrative offices can be converted into something other than an airport. That is the goal, although it says it will respect the lease and that this will remain an international airport, because Mirabel still offers cargo operations.

I do not know how members with international airports in their ridings would feel if an airport authority candidly told them that it did not want to launch an international tender call for aviation operations, because it was too afraid of the competition. There are people interested in using this site for civil aviation and passenger transportation. So, ADM does not want to manage it.

The hotel has been closed since last summer. There have been at least six potential buyers and ADM has said publicly, “We operate airports; we are not hotel managers”. The hotel belongs to the federal government. In the lease, there is a clause stipulating that they must use the buildings and infrastructure for the purposes for which they were entrusted. That is a clause in the lease.

The hotel was entrusted to be operated. Today, they can contravene the lease with the Minister of Transport's approval, since he responded here in the House that it was an independent organization and it could do what it wanted. He trusted ADM because ADM has the obligation to maintain an airport of international calibre.

Those who know anything about aviation predict that three years from now even the cargo sector will have left Mirabel. The airport will cease to be. In this bill, once ADM has been given all of the powers it needs to reach its objectives, how will it be possible to save Mirabel?

It will be impossible. The government should modify the lease and allow ADM to close Mirabel airport.

Obviously, there would be a debate. How would the government do it? It would wait until the election and make the change in the first year of its new mandate, so that voters forget about it. Governments always operate in the same old ways. When you follow things and see how good the Liberal government is at controlling information, you can predict how people will react. We know the important stuff occurs before the election and a month or two after. Then it comes around again three and a half or four years later.

Polling indicates—and you may have had the opportunity to see some polls—that attitudes toward politicians in Quebec differ a great deal from those of the rest of Canada, where the central governments are chosen by the people, whereas in Quebec, it is the complete opposite. Local governments are the ones that are most loved by Quebeckers. That is traditional and probably historic. We could always take a closer look at what has happened.

Yet the Liberal government is fully aware that, in Quebec, the public is far less concerned about federal government operations and this therefore allows the feds to stir up great hopes as it did with Mirabel. It created a huge potential for employment and now it is going to be closed down completely.

There cannot even be any predictions because as we speak, believe it or not, Mirabel, the biggest airport in Canada, as far as area goes, still has no development plan. Even with the lease requirement of the provision of a master plan and a development plan by 1998, there is still none, yet they say there is a master plan.

It is so complex, but I can tell you that they do not know, at this time, what they are going to do with Mirabel. Never mind whether one calls it a master plan, a development plan or a land use plan, I can tell you they have no idea. If they are asked the question tomorrow, they will say they do not know what they will do with Mirabel.

One thing they do know: passenger flights are going to disappear and they will try to keep the freight for the moment, despite what the reports are saying.

Leafing through the bill, I must express my resentment of it, despite its possible good intentions. We are told, of course, that the role of an airport operator is to give equitable access to its facilities. Clause 24 reads:

Every airport authority and other airport operator must provide to all air carriers who operate or wish to operate aircraft on their airport, equitable access to the facilities or air terminal building—

Having spoken with executives of Air Transat, which is at Mirabel, I can tell you that they are still interested in remaining there. They want to stay, but of course the approach that has been taken by ADM and the company to get it out of Mirabel will leave them without the same access to facilities at the same price. There have been threats along the lines of “You are the only ones flying out of this airport, so we will charge all costs to you”. This will make it more expensive than flying out of Montreal. So there have been threats.

Even though the carrier has a lease with obligations, even though, legally, it could go to court and try to protect its rights, things are not easy for an operator in such a situation, with all the complexities of aviation today.

In addition, even though the Government of Canada is the owner, it is clear that ADM acts as the landlord, managing the facilities, negotiating with the airlines and, in the end, saying to them, “If you do not move to Dorval, you will have big problems in the future. We will send you bills and you will be fighting them in court”. That battle will last 15 years, until their lease runs out.

Here is a company that provides very good service, that is quite satisfied to be at Mirabel, and which has another 15 years on its lease, but, under pressure from ADM, will probably sign a new agreement to move to Dorval, if it has not yet already done so as we speak. Nobody is supposed to talk about it; it all has to be done oh so nicely and under a cloak of secrecy. No pressure must be put on ADM. No one should say anything, because that might reflect badly on the company and on operations.

Finally, one thing I know is that it is bad for the entire population of the Lower Laurentians and West Quebec. If there had been transfers to other airports in Quebec, I would have said, “That is not so bad”. The problem is that the shift is towards Toronto and Ottawa. That is a fact.

One problem is that those who manage the Montreal airports have not understood that they are not helping Quebec; they are helping the rest of Canada. That is what they are doing. They are helping the Ottawa airport, which has been expanded, and that is good for Ottawa. They are helping Toronto, which has picked up all the transferred flights, and now finds itself the new gateway into Canada.

All this has been to Quebec's detriment, and it has been done with the full knowledge of all the federal Liberal members from Quebec and all the Conservative members at the time. They watched as all this happened. Obviously—I say it again—the Liberal members were especially involved, since they were in power for more than two thirds of the last 40 years while the Mirabel saga was unfolding.

Of course, when we see concern for transparency in a bill and when we hear the minister say, in his press conference on Bill C-27, that the government will stop having airports managed by organizations that do it behind closed doors, we cannot imagine how things can be different. These organizations have been doing everything behind closed doors since they were created. I cannot see how they could show any concern for transparency. It will be very hard.

Moreover, passengers who use Mirabel airport are required to pay enormous fees to repair Dorval airport. All those who have flown from Mirabel airport over the last eight years, since the fees were implemented, have been paying for the renovations at Dorval airport. Imagine that. I would not say it is Machiavellian, but close. That is the way things are done. People are told that they will have better services. The authority took the money and renovated Dorval airport.

Everything is done in secrecy. The government tells anyone with whom it deals not to say anything, that it will make an announcement. Of course, at the general meeting that will take place on May 8, there will be a big press conference and we will all be handed a done deal. We will not have the opportunity to object and to criticize; the decision will already have been made.

Why? Because, as I mentioned earlier, these non-profit organizations are not accountable to the federal government. They are completely independent and I should add that they are also financially self-sufficient. They are given the power they need to find money. It is as simple as that.

In fact, clause 46(3) reads as follows:

An airport authority may issue a bond ordebenture or other evidence of indebtedness.

And that is done, of course, without any endorsement from the federal government, but rather on the sole basis of expected revenues, which are the projected revenue from the airport improvement fees collected from the users, because that is the beauty of all this. These people have clients. They go to the banks and say “Look”. And they end up with the same credit rating as any Crown corporation and they can contract loans. During all that time, nobody is held accountable. It is a very profitable deal for those who charge interest rates. There is no risk involved. The money is not used to run deficits. Have you any idea how far a director can go? Some people have heard directors say “If things do not work out, the federal government can take the airport back.” It is as simple as that. Of course, there are the buildings, the land, the runways, the hotel. All of that belongs to the federal government. The directors only manage the buildings and have the duty, as I said before, to maintain two international airports.

I find that quite incredible, which is why I would like to go over clause 6 one more time.

Nothing in this Act derogates from the rights and obligations under a lease of an airport—

This provision puts the lease above the bill. It has always been that way. They have never upheld the law. They have always had their own way. The minister has always said “Yes, you are doing good; everything is going well, it is up to you. We will not get involved in what you are doing”. Why? Because it is politically dangerous and might even be politically devastating. That is how governments behave nowadays. Discussions are held and then the onus is put on independent organizations who are subjected to incredible political pressure.

The problem is that, often, these are people who are appointed, because there are representatives appointed by the government. In this case, we will have an appointment process that is well indicated in the legislation. Yes, these are representatives of the area, appointed by organizations in the area, but the fact is that Montreal's north shore and the Basses-Laurentides, excluding Laval, will only have one representative. It is not the new board and the new process that the bill is proposing that will change anything.

For us, ADM has already changed. Last year, the type of board contained in this bill was introduced. For all those who thought that, with this new bill, a new way of operating or appointing directors would be introduced, it is too late. In Quebec, things were going so bad that everyone had to get involved to get rid of the old directors, among others, the old chief executive officer. The process was changed and we have the new board of directors.

Bill C-27 is already in force. The Mirabel area, the Basses-Laurentides and Montreal's north shore, excluding Laval, only have one representative out of 15 members of the board. Consequently, the future is not looking good.

In this bill, there are airport authorities. I see that several airports are jointly managed. But Ottawa and Halifax manage only one airport. I even dare to dream that we could perhaps think about having an airport authority for Mirabel and one for Dorval. We could perhaps abolish ADM, which is managing two airports, but which is bleeding one dry to try to make the other one survive. Perhaps we will see this one day. Perhaps the Bloc Quebecois will introduce a bill or an amendment to this bill. Except that it would really take the will of the people to make this happen.

I know perfectly well that it will not happen since I asked the question to ADM officials. That is why they will put out an international call for tenders for the terminal, the hotel and the administrative buildings. When I talk about an international call for tenders, it is to find a new vocation for the property. They will look at the international level to see what someone could do with an empty hotel, an empty administrative centre and an empty terminal, apart from operating a passenger airport, which any interested party will be told they cannot do.

That is the decision that will be made, believe it or not. I am preparing a nice question to ask of the minister the next day or a few days later. I will ask him if he thinks that ADM's position respects the terms of the lease. He will certainly answer that, yes, it still is an international airport because of the freight operations. Some international airports rely solely on freight.

But those who know the history of air transportation know that the newer passenger aircraft have more and more space in the cargo hold for the transportation of goods. That is how airlines make flights profitable, which allows them to reduce fares for passengers. Aircraft are made bigger so they can carry more cargo. As a result, cargo planes are disappearing, slowly but surely, in favour of bigger passenger planes. That is a fact.

But once again, they think people on Montreal's north shore or in the Basses-Laurentides and all over Quebec do not understand how the industry works. They are telling them, “Look, you have a nice cargo airport, which is going to be developed and remain an international airport”.

No matter how much we hope, how much we read into bills such as this one, how much we try to be encouraged and to encourage our fellow citizens, this is not the first time the federal government slaps the Basses-Laurentides in the face.

Of course, my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville can attest to it. A decision was made to close the GM plant in Boisbriand. Ontario finally managed to eliminate car manufacturing in the rest of Canada and maintain it in the province. We know full well that it is the minister in charge of Canada's economic development in Quebec's regions, the current justice minister, who announced after visiting Detroit and meeting with the executives at GM Canada that he had no choice and that the GM plant in Boisbriand had to be shut down.

Mirabel international airport will be closed to passenger traffic. What it will become will be announced in a matter of months or days. It is tough to be repeatedly slapped in the face by the federal government.

It is not true that the federal government cannot act; however, it is true it does not want to act. That is the truth. Of course, Bill C-27 is a perfect example. I can predict that even before Bill C-27 is passed, Mirabel airport will be closed to passenger traffic. That is what is going to happen. This bill will be dragged through the House long enough so that the government will not have to force ADM to abide by this new bill, especially section 6 that would compel it to respect the terms of the lease and not to do anything that would be contrary to the lease since it has precedence over the bill. That is what will happen. ADM is in a hurry. We know. Air Transat is being pressured. ADM is rushing ahead to make sure everything is done before May 8 to be able to make the announcement at the general annual meeting. It is rushing to announce Air Transat is moving.

Why? Because ADM does not want Bill C-27 to be adopted. It does not want to have to deal with other problems. It has already had to deal with the hotel owner's wrath. About $17 million had to be paid to the hotel owner because, clearly, the profit projections are not quite what they were when the lease was negotiated. The owner won. An appeal has been launched. Obviously, in the meantime, this is costing hundreds of jobs in this sector. This hotel was not just for passengers; it was also used for other purposes and had built a reputation over the years. That is why so many hotel owners would like to purchase it.

The harsh reality is that ADM does not give a—there are things we are not permitted to say in the House—hoot what the residents of Mirabel, the Basses-Laurentides, Quebec and Canada might think. It does not care. It wants to try to save what remains of the aviation industry in Quebec, again by choosing the wrong solution, which is to try to direct road and air traffic toward Montreal Island.

On every island in the industrialized world, traffic is being directed elsewhere to try to set up offices for white collar workers. Pretty suburbs are created too, all to try keep the big stuff outside, including airports. In this respect, Montreal will always be doing the opposite, controlled by the West Island of Montreal—how wonderful—which prefers to deal with Toronto than the rest of Quebec.

This is the reality. It has always been like this. It always will be. I cannot imagine things being any different, although maybe some day they will. That will be the day that Quebeckers create their own country. Perhaps then people will see that by helping someone else, you help yourself. Charity begins at home. So, the people of Quebec must understand that they must do unto themselves before they do unto others.

That is the harsh reality. Once again, the federal government had created high expectations within the population of Quebec. Let me go over the figures one more time, because they are incredible. The government had set aside 93,000 acres of land, that is 27 times the Mirabel airport and 10 times the largest airport in the world. That is what Mirabel was at the beginning. Nowadays, it is still one of the biggest airports in the world. Even if almost 75,000 acres have been given back to the expropriated, it still sits on over 15,000 acres of land and that is four times the size of Dorval airport. Once again, this airport will disappear with what? With an organization, ADM, that will argue that we will be going back to Mirabel one day; with a minister that will agree; with Liberal members from Quebec who will also tell us “One day, we will come back to Mirabel. It is unavoidable. Because of security issues. Because of all kinds of things”. In the meantime, $800 million has already been spent on Dorval and another $1.2 billion will be invested in that airport, with the requirement, under the new legislation, for greater transparency. There is a whole chapter on airport improvement fees. Air carriers have the tough duty to tell airport authorities, “You charge too much for improvements. The fees that we and the passengers have to pay are crippling the airline industry”.

I do not see how these costs can be reduced at Montreal. ADM has not finished and still has over $1 billion to invest in its facilities.

There will be an attempt by all companies, Air Canada leading the pack, to ask ADM to cut the charges. One way to do that is to reduce renovation expenses. Renovations are finished at some airports, but Montreal is only about one-third done. ADM cannot, therefore, cut its costs. Obviously, Mirabel will have disappeared, so there will be only Dorval left.

There is another issue: rents. Today the airlines are coming before the standing committee on transport to tell us that, if the industry is to be saved the federal government absolutely must reduce rents so that airports, airport administrations, can reduce the charges levied on the airlines. Our audience needs to understand that in Montreal ADM does not just charge user fees for hanger or facility renovations, but also charges the airlines fees. Each time loans are arranged or bonds are issued, these must be paid back. They need revenue from somewhere.

I can tell you that the Bloc Quebecois agrees. Rents must come down and this must have a direct impact on the airlines. Believe it or not, ADM has been making requests of me for more than three years, since I was elected. ADM wants to reduce the rents in order to invest, once again, in renovations for Dorval. That is the reality.

I cannot see how to make it work in Montreal, because ADM has already thought about reducing the rent paid to the federal government, but that was to free up cash to borrow more and put more money into Dorval. As people have said, in 20 years, that will be finished and they will come back to Mirabel.

Somewhere the idea of the high speed train to get to the Mirabel airport has been dropped. Believe it or not, the terminal, which was built in 1975, has a train station that has never been used because high speed trains were never brought in. However, there is a station.

It would have cost $350 million to finish both highways, highways 13 and 50, and to finish the access by high speed train. In 2000, the cost was up to $450 million. More than $2 billion will have been spent at Dorval and yet, one day, we are supposed to be back at Mirabel. That is the reality.

In closing, it has been a pleasure for me to take this time to try to help those Quebeckers and Canadians who are following understand that sometimes we have good reason to complain about the federal government's actions.

Obviously, for the residents of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, of Terrebonne—Blainville, of Laurentides and Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, and all of the ridings that could have benefited from the major development as a result of the Mirabel airport and that never got that chance, I hope that this bill will allow us to wake up ADM or even the federal Liberal government. It is never too late to do the right thing. As long as we own 15,000 acres of land with good buildings and equipment, there is always hope that it can be made profitable. I hope that a ray of wisdom will beam down from the sky and enlighten the Liberal government, so that justice can be done for the Lower Laurentians region.

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6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, I am now ready to rule on the admissibility of the amendment moved by the hon. member for Kootenay--Boundary--Okanagan.

After careful review of the bill, the Chair finds numerous references to fees levied by airport authorities. It does not deal with fees levied by the government such as referred to in the first report of the Standing Committee on Transport. Marleau and Montpetit at page 639 states:

For a reasoned amendment to be in must be relevant and relate strictly to the bill being considered.

Accordingly, I must declare the amendment out of order.

Canada Airports ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am going to shorten my debate so my colleagues from Saint John, New Brunswick and Hamilton West, Ontario may say a few words in this critical debate.

At first blush one would think that if the Minister of Transport wanted that much control over the airports, why he would not just take them all back. This is the perception he is giving to the people who run the airports.

Halifax International Airport is run by some very good and competent people. Bernard Miller, the chair of the board, Reg Milley, the president of the airport, as well as Andy Lyall do great work in servicing the needs of the customers of the airport facility.

One of the concerns we have, besides the high fees that are charged through Nav Canada, either the airport security tax or whatever, is that the fees are becoming cost prohibitive for people who travel. That concern needs to be addressed.

Another concern we have is that appointments to the boards of the various airport authorities should remain in the control of the community and not the minister. We will be keeping a close eye on that.

We are also concerned that security personnel at all airports across the country receive a high standard of training so that people who travel to places like Regina, Whitehorse or Halifax, do not go through different types of procedures. The procedures should be similar so customers will have a see through process on the entire screening aspect.

We know that the minister is a railroad man by choice. We will be ensuring that he is up to speed on our concerns on what is happening at airports throughout the country, especially airports such as those in Yarmouth, Deer Lake, Saint John, Miramichi, et cetera and the smaller airports such as in Sydney which get neglected in the debates on larger airports. We need to ensure that they are not only viable but also have service available for their communities.

Our transport critic, my colleague from Churchill will have more to say at a later date on this important legislation.

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6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for sharing his time with me.

The government has to take a look at the smaller cities, towns and villages. It has to reach out. My city of Saint John has the largest privately owned oil refinery in Canada, the Irving oil refinery. We also have the nuclear power plant, Crosby's Molasses, Moosehead Brewery and several pulp mills. Yet the government has taken the large planes out of Saint John, New Brunswick, which is the second largest city in square mileage in Canada. It took away my train. Glory be to God, I cut the ribbon for it when I was mayor six months before the 1993 election and six months after, it closed the train and took the train away from us.

We have to have the planes. In order for us to attract business into our communities we have to have all modes of transportation. Certainly we have to have our planes.

I left Saint John, New Brunswick at 11:10 this morning, which was 10:10 a.m. Ottawa time. Guess what time I arrived in Ottawa. I arrived here at 3:30 p.m. my time in Saint John, 2:30 p.m. Ottawa time. If we had the planes we used to have, I would have been here within an hour and a half.

We only have Dash 8s and I know the minister is looking at whether we will even have Dash 8s before the government is through. When that happens, the people of the country can blame the government for the way in which Saint John, New Brunswick will go and it will not be in a positive direction.

Does the minister want me to drive to Halifax? Does he want me to drive to Quebec City, to Montreal or Boston in order to get a plane to Ottawa?

Enough is enough of this. The government has to get its priorities straight. The Minister of Transport has to get his priorities straight. Everybody in this country from coast to coast needs to have transportation. They need to be able to fly. They do not want to drive.

I laughed when the minister said to me one day “Maybe you could drive to Moncton to get a plane”. They do not have them in Moncton. They have them in Dieppe.

For me to drive there takes two hours if the sun is shining, but look at this past winter. Maybe some people in the House would be glad if I was not sitting in the House every day, but there would have been no way for me to get to the House, no way for my colleagues in St. Stephen, St. George and Saint Andrews to get here, no way for my other colleague in Kings County to get here.

There is just no way this can happen. The Minister of Transport does not understand.

We are going to help our colleague over here because he is telling me he is not in favour too. If he had said he was in favour, I would not be giving him any time at all.

I look at the information I just received this week that the government is planning to cut six, eight or ten flights out of Saint John for the month of May. I may have to call on you, Mr. Speaker, to come down and drive me up because I may not be able to get to Ottawa because of the Minister of Transport. There is no way the government should be removing any flights. Every seat was taken on the flight I was on today. In fact, it was overbooked. The flights are always overbooked. There is no reason in the world to cut out any flights.

This is going to be a matter of major debate. If Sir John A. Macdonald were still living, he would make sure we not only had trains but we also had planes.

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6:20 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, first let me thank my colleagues from Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore and Saint John who are giving me this opportunity to speak. I rise on behalf of my constituents in Hamilton West to address second reading of Bill C-27, the Canada airports act.

There is extreme concern in the airports community that Bill C-27, if not amended, would cripple an airport's ability to continue to work in what is clearly a very competitive international market. It is no secret that the air transportation industry has an enormous impact on the Canadian economy. It creates over 300,000 jobs, accounts for over $34 billion in economic outputs, and provides nearly $4 billion in tax benefits to all levels of government.

Today, the viability of Canada's air transportation system is threatened and the consequences for Canada are enormous. It is a well known fact that the airline industry is in crisis. The impacts of 9/11, the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq and SARS have led to a 20% reduction in air traffic. Air Canada's restructuring will have a dramatic impact on smaller airport communities where Air Canada is the dominant and/or sole air carrier.

Airports must adjust to the new realities of air travel. Reduced frequency and withdrawal of service mean airports will have to reduce costs in order to minimize impacts on airlines and of course air travellers.

The federal government too must act to cut costs to airports so that these may be passed along to airlines in the form of lower fees and charges, and to air travellers in the form of lower airfares. Ironically, at a time when the federal government should be reducing the operating costs of airports the proposed Canada airports act does just the opposite. The act, which effectively re-regulates an economic sector which the government effectively and successfully de-regulated eight years ago, piles one administrative redundancy upon another and introduces over 40 areas in which the minister may pass regulations adding to the administrative burden of Canada's smaller airports.

The government is introducing these drastic measures without a single overarching public demand for change and without having conducted a single regulatory impact or cost benefit analysis. In fact, a number of independent and government commissioned studies have recommended a course of action substantially different from the government's proposed legislation. These include: first, a moratorium leading to a reduction and eventual elimination of airport rents; second, removal of industry specific security surcharges--no other type of traveller is required to pay directly for security and policing services--third, full funding for ACAP and making these capital funds available to all level two airports; and fourth, substantial reduction of regulatory burdens.

I declare my bias and it is called John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport. According to Mr. Tony F. Battaglia, President and CEO of TradePort International Corporation, and operator of the Hamilton airport:

The act will have a profound impact on the growth of John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport. The act's one size fits all approach to airport government conflicts with Hamilton's unique and award winning public private partnership between the city of Hamilton and TradePort International, a private company operating the airport under terms of a 40 year lease. The act impedes the ability of the private operator to innovate and adapt to changing market conditions and customer needs in order to improve service and reduce costs. The act significantly erodes local control by the community--a founding principle of the Canada Airports Policy (1995).

The John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport is unique in Canada; between 1999 and 2002 passenger volumes have grown exponentially--from 23,000 in 1999 to 846,000 in 2002. In the next five years passenger volumes will grow sixfold--to about five million passengers annually--and HIA will become the fifth or sixth largest airport in Canada. Under the act, the ability of HIA to attain this growth is substantially impaired. Growth of this magnitude requires a significant investment in airport infrastructure--over $100 million must be raised in the capital markets.

By adding to the airport's cost structure and impeding its ability to set fees and charges to match revenues with expenses, the act imposes an element of risk that private sector lenders may be unwilling to accept. Blindly advancing this gratuitous legislation may bring irreparable harm to Canada's smaller airports; there are other alternatives. We suggest the following:

Phased implementation of the act with Canada's Schedule II airports exempt from its provisions until three years after its proclamation.

Schedule II airports would have three years to file with the Minister of Transport an operating model that satisfies the act's governing principles of transparency and accountability.

As operators of the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, we stand willing to work with the federal government and parliamentarians to find solutions that meet the needs of the government, the aviation industry, and air travellers.

It is signed by Tony F. Battaglia, President and CEO.

I could go on because the problem also impacts larger airports such as Vancouver airport. I do not know if it is appropriate, Mr. Speaker, but given the time, may I ask for the unanimous consent of the House to complete my remarks which would take no more than five minutes?

Canada Airports ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Hamilton West have the unanimous consent of the House?

Canada Airports ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely the severe acute respiratory syndrome known as SARS.

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

6:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB


That this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker, in my opinion this is probably one of the most important debates that we will be having in this place for many months to come.

Regrettably, we called for this debate about a month ago when the member for Cumberland—Colchester requested the debate. In the ruling from the Chair, and I think it was a fair ruling at the time, it was suggested that maybe the timing was not right, that there was not enough information and that maybe we should wait and revisit this.

The House has been in recess for a couple of weeks. I reapplied for this special debate on April 23 and today being the first day back, the Chair agreed that the timing was right. A number of circumstances have developed since then and this emergency debate was granted.

Mr. Speaker, I give you and your staff full credit in recognizing the importance of allowing the debate to take place.

Sadly, the government has not come into the House and uttered one line that would provide Canadians with any level of comfort at all on this issue. In fact, I would have to say that the government has been in hiding on this issue and as a result of that a lot of circumstances that could have been avoided were not avoided.

Mr. Speaker, in my letter to you today I pointed out that one of the important things that we must do in this place is provide a level of confidence or information to the people, or at the very minimum, exchange ideas. I want to quote directly from my letter of April 23. I said:

Ignorance and panic are significant enemies in battling this disease. A debate in the House of Commons would allow the government to place facts before the House. Members of the House of Commons would also have an opportunity to express their views on the measures taken...

I would suggest that, in fact, members of this House might have some ideas for the government, ideas that could be debated, examined and information exchanged. That has not happened up until this evening. The debate, in my view, is not about the outbreak itself, but rather about the federal government's response which can only be described as too little, too late.

All of us in the House, regardless of political stripe, commend the work of the scientists, health care professionals and public health officials, all of whom have succeeded in containing the outbreak and reassuring a very worried and nervous public.

The difficulty with SARS of course is the fact that there is no known cure and so the best that we can do is to contain or control the outbreak. In our opinion, the tragedy of this is that individuals were let down by the highest level of government in the country. Health Canada officials did their work, as did their provincial counterparts, but sadly our elected federal government did not do its job.

In fact, there is a raging debate, not only within your caucus, Mr. Speaker, but within the government itself on--

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. The Chair feels rather uncomfortable when the Chair is referred to as being a member of a caucus when in fact the Speaker has waived all possibilities of participating in that political context. I am not indicating in any way that the member for New Brunswick Southwest is trying to indicate anything. I would just like to set the record straight.

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, when putting everything through the Chair, sometimes I might overdo that. I should not use the term caucus, but there is no question that there is a raging controversy within the government frontbench, that is, the cabinet. The members of the Liberal Party who make up the cabinet are in complete disagreement. When the Minister of Canadian Heritage suggests that the Minister of Health dropped the ball and has not responded adequately as a minister of the crown, I think that is telling us something.

Again, as evidence of dropping the ball, where was the Prime Minister? The fact of the matter is that he was on a golfing vacation in Santo Domingo. Never once was he in Ottawa to address this in the last couple of weeks. That is deplorable. I can say the same for the Minister of Health. To my knowledge she never left the country, but she certainly was not in Ottawa on this file. In fact she was in a very deep state of denial.

With a disease where there is no known cure, and we may be months from that if we are lucky and we do get one, there is danger in that sort of laissez-faire management of government. The simple fact is that a lot of information was not communicated to the World Health Organization. I think that if we listened very carefully to the response by the Minister of Health when she was being pressed by one of Canada's leading journalists today, we would have heard that there is no question that the government did mess up on this file. She suggested that the process was wrong in which they communicated that message to the WHO, and information was wrong that they communicated to the WHO. There is a full understanding within the international rules that there is a process that has to be used and there is detail that has to be passed on to the WHO and that was not passed on by the ministry, neither by the health minister nor the Prime Minister.

The result is that today there is a huge cost to Canadians and the rest of the world. The reason for this is that we did not control the situation. We did not contain the virus quickly enough. In other words, the government did not respond quickly enough, much to the chagrin of the World Health Organization, and today we are paying a heavy price for that. Not just Toronto and not just Vancouver but the entire country is paying a price for it. Again, it is not just I who am speaking that way, but the Governor of the Bank of Canada, and just about anybody else who runs a business in this country will say the same thing. There will be a cost to Canada for not acting quickly and in a fashion that would have prevented the WHO ruling coming down hard on Canada. That is not a debatable point. It is simply what happened.

There was an urgency for the government to act in a manner that would be consistent in terms of what we would expect a government to do. The cost of not doing it will be felt for many months in this country, because we rely on tourism. We have just finished speaking in the House about the heavy costs to the aviation industry in terms of the outbreak. Much of that damage could have been controlled or minimized by the government in a quick and rapid response.

More important, when this first occurred, members on this side of the House were asking questions of the minister. How much information is exchanged in this place in the normal course of question period? I would suggest that it is not a lot. Most of the people who watch this place on a routine basis would say that most of it is showmanship to a degree. We try to ask questions that will embarrass the government and the government attempts to answer and try to get off the hook.

That exchange of information has to occur in 30 second spots. We have to abide by the rules of the House, as do the Speaker and the minister. In the course of a 30 second exchange on both sides, the minister has to articulate an answer to a question. There are limitations in that type of exchange of information: basically there is none. We were counting on the minister to give us an overview of what the government was doing and suggesting. That is why I think debate is important in this place. The minister does not have all the answers and neither do we as opposition parties. This is the highest court in the land. This is where laws are written. We do not interpret them, but I think that most people would interpret the government's response to this issue as being inadequate. If we cannot debate issues like this in this place, what are we here for?

Again, the government is in a constant state of denial. In fact, the heavy-handedness of the government is evident on the government side. Not one government member suggested that we should have this debate on the floor of the House of Commons. It was up to the smallest party in the House of Commons to proceed with this emergency debate. The member for Burnaby--Douglas, the health critic for the NDP, will be speaking shortly. He was the only other member to request an emergency debate today and he was in the House when I filed my request. We are members of the smallest parties in the House. That is the type of leadership one would expect from the Government of Canada and we have not seen it on this issue. Nor have we seen it on many other issues.

In fact, today a Liberal member got up the courage to demand an emergency debate on the cod closure in Newfoundland, which is an issue that is deserving of debate. That emergency debate will take place tomorrow evening. We can understand the pressure on this man not to do that. In fact, some discussion was held today behind the curtains and outside this place suggesting that he will be basically ostracized by the Prime Minister for suggesting that the debate should take place. We can understand why Liberal members, particularly those from Ontario and those from the City of Toronto, are hiding under their desks on this issue. They are taking their lessons from the top man, because he spent all last week hiding under his golf cart with regard to this issue. As a consequence of that deliberate evasion of this issue, we are stuck with a ruling made by the WHO which we should not have to live with.

In fact, today the World Health Organization told us that Vietnam is the first country in which there has been a SARS outbreak to completely control that outbreak. Canada is a country that at one time had the best health care system and information system in the world. We are now being outdistanced on this issue by Vietnam. Members should think about that. We have to give that country full credit because it did not duck the bullet, but the fact is that it could have been us, not Vietnam.

I should not say that the Prime Minister of Canada should learn something from this, because he is in his dying days in office and just holding on by a thread hoping he can make it through to next February. What price will the country pay at the next crisis if he does hold on until February? His number one replacement is now saying that the government is out of focus and admitting it is not handling many issues correctly or in the fashion one would expect a government to handle issues as critical as this one.

Let us talk about the role of the government and the roles of the Prime Minister and the health minister. That is where the Prime Minister can use the power of his office. Despite who the Prime Minister of Canada is, there is still an acknowledgement that despite our disagreements he is still the Prime Minister of Canada and that entitles him to do certain things. One of them is to bring together the provincial health ministers of Canada and come up with a strategy to deal with this from coast to coast to coast. Those are just some of the things that could have been done.

The health minister should be the last person in this place to interfere in this debate, mouthing off from the side as she enters the chamber, because she has been noticeably silent on this file for weeks, busy hiding under her desk, not owning up to her responsibilities. Evidence of that, as I pointed out earlier, is the WHO ruling, which falls clearly at the doorstep of the minister, and her inability to take her job seriously. Where was she when these questions were first raised on the floor of the House? There was a 30 second response from the minister on given occasions, regardless of whether I or other parties put that question to her. That was it and then it was a slide out the back door of this place without standing in the House with any detailed account of what she and the Prime Minister were doing on this file.

The fallout for this is not with the opposition parties. When she gets on her feet she will talk about the rhetoric, the extreme statements that we are making, but we have not made them. We have been more than responsible on this file in our role as the opposition. We are the ones who forced the minister to come into the House tonight to make a statement on this issue for the first time and hopefully take questions from individual members, because she might have actually reached the conclusion that this is the place where ideas can be formulated, where we can exchange information. Would it not be helpful for opposition members if we knew exactly what was on the mind of the health minister? Would it not be good if when we shared some of our ideas on what we would like to see happen the minister would actually take them under consideration?

This debate is necessary. I think the golf trips have to be over. We must have the Prime Minister paying attention to this file. If they had paid attention to this file I do not think we would be here tonight, because this spread of SARS would have not reached the proportions that it did last week. In all fairness, I think the situation is better this week than it was last week, but the key to this is containment.

I was watching the minister this morning when she was talking about implementing some new technology at the airports. The minister would like us to believe that this new technology only came about or was invented last week, possibly by the minister herself, but the fact is that this technology was there and was being used by other jurisdictions, including Vietnam, and that is why they got a favourable ruling from the WHO compared to Canada.

I look forward to comments by the minister and questions from some other members, but the fact is that it is refreshing to see the minister in the House prepared to give a statement on this SARS issue--finally.

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

6:50 p.m.

Edmonton West Alberta


Anne McLellan LiberalMinister of Health

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to be here this evening and to participate in this debate. In fact, I look forward to the ideas that will be expressed here this evening by my colleagues on all sides of the House.

While we in this country and in particular the people of Toronto have faced a major public health challenge in relation to SARS, at this point I want to say congratulations and thanks to the front line public health workers in the province of Ontario and the city of Toronto who, for over six weeks, have been working with others, including Health Canada, their provincial and territorial colleagues, researchers in this country and around the world. I do believe that we can now say with confidence that the containment and control measures put in place in the city of Toronto are working and have worked. I do believe it is incumbent upon the House to acknowledge that extraordinary effort.

Nothing should be said here this evening to create the impression that those control and containment mechanisms and procedures have not worked, because they have. That has been acknowledged as late as Sunday of this week by the World Health Organization itself. That is a tribute, as I say, first and foremost, to the resilience, the strength and the heroic efforts of the front line public health workers in the city of Toronto.

I am pleased to rise in the House this evening to speak to the hon. member's motion on SARS. The global outbreak of SARS and the events of the past month have taught the Canadian people two things. First, we have been reminded of our vulnerability to the global forces of nature to this disease. Those of us in the House who have been around a little longer than others have heard stories while growing up, stories of families coping with polio and Spanish flu claiming the lives of our great-grandparents. So much has changed in just a few generations. Immunizations and medical research, new treatments and medicines have made us healthier and have reduced the fear of diseases that were so common just a generation or two ago.

I think it is fair to say that SARS has changed that somewhat. It has changed our expectations about our mastery of disease. Where did SARS come from? How did it start? Can it be eradicated? That brings me to the second point I would like to speak about this evening. The other thing that we have learned since the arrival of SARS is that people, while vulnerable and fragile, have a remarkable ability to protect themselves and to overcome threats.

The health and safety of Canadians is a priority of this government. Since the outbreak of SARS a month ago, all of our actions have been directed toward protecting the health and well-being of Canadians. We sincerely regret the loss of life due to SARS. Our thoughts are with the friends and families of those who have been affected by this disease.

We must also take time to recognize public health workers for their extraordinary efforts. Thanks to them, we believe the infection is now under control. Thanks to health care providers, many SARS patients have now recovered. Thanks to researchers, we have a much better understanding of this disease. All levels of government have worked together to respond to this disease and to help those affected by it.

With research and partnership, we have made great strides to overcome this disease and to mitigate its effects on our society. This disease represents a challenge for all Canadians, especially for the citizens and public health officials of Toronto. This evening I would like to spend a few moments describing the actions the Government of Canada has taken in response to this disease.

Upon being first notified about the existence of SARS on March 13, Health Canada established a federal-provincial-territorial SARS committee of public health experts and began a daily teleconference. On March 16 Health Canada's operation centre was activated and in fact it has been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week since.

Employees have been deployed as quarantine officers in a number of airports, especially Pearson and Vancouver. These employees are playing an important surveillance role, detecting SARS cases among travellers who may have been exposed to SARS. We are also advising travellers about the symptoms and the steps that they can take to protect themselves. We are working with the airlines to ensure that check-in procedures include confirmation that passengers have read the information about SARS.

In addition, on March 19 Health Canada issued its first SARS related travel advisory and the first team of epidemiologists left for Toronto. On March 22 field epidemiologists were sent to Toronto to support the front line investigation. On March 25 Health Canada activated a SARS website for health care professionals. On March 29 we instituted more aggressive screening measures at airports. On March 31 at the request of Ontario, we sent supplies to the front lines. On April 5 we convened a meeting of travel, tourism and health stakeholders to help them understand what we knew about SARS and what was happening on the ground. On April 10 we instituted in-flight measures for the distribution of information as it related to SARS.

On April 23 which was last week, I convened a federal-provincial-territorial conference of health ministers where the minister from Ontario, the hon. Tony Clement, had a first-hand opportunity to share with his provincial and territorial colleagues what was happening on the ground. In fact the opportunity arose at that point for Mr. Clement to identify some front line health professional needs. We all know that health care professionals in Ontario are stretched at this point. I must say it was heartening to see provincial and territorial colleagues and federal departments come together to see how we can help those front line health care professionals who have been on the job for the past number of weeks.

It is also worth noting that outside agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from Atlanta have described the Canadian efforts as exemplary. It is through collaboration and cooperation among governments that we have achieved this level of excellence.

Here in Canada we have not only collaborated nationally but also internationally. Infectious diseases like SARS know no boundaries. Throughout the past month we have worked with the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We have taken appropriate measures to protect the health of Canadians. To help prevent the spread of disease we have, for example, recommended that Canadians not give blood if they have been in a SARS affected region within the last 10 days.

Our excellence is also demonstrated in the research being done in our Canadian laboratories. At Health Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, employees are working tirelessly to find the cause of SARS.

The Government of Canada is also ready to respond to additional requests for support, financial or otherwise, from Ontario and other provinces and territories. The Prime Minister and my other cabinet colleagues have been visible in their support of Toronto as a safe place for people to visit and do business. In fact in a show of support, the Prime Minister will hold this week's cabinet meeting in Toronto. I do believe, to the best of my memory, that this is the first time in 10 years the Prime Minister has held a meeting of the cabinet of his government outside Ottawa. This speaks to the very strong show of support the Prime Minister and the government are making on behalf of all Canadians for the people of Toronto and the front line health care professionals who have been fighting SARS for the past six weeks.

We are reviewing every request for assistance. While the government is aware of the economic impact SARS is having, our number one priority is and must be the health of Canadians. We will use all available means and we will be successful in managing this disease.

I end where I began, which is that it is truly remarkable to see the heroic efforts of those on the front lines. This morning I had the opportunity to meet with approximately 50 of those people, including a doctor who has returned to work, who in fact had contracted SARS and has fully recovered. From the Salvation Army to the paramedics, nurses and doctors, those who work every day in the community SARS clinics in Toronto, their dedication and devotion is truly remarkable.

I am very proud to say that Health Canada has worked shoulder to shoulder with those people and people like them across the country from the day SARS was identified by the WHO.

We will continue to work as a government and as a department shoulder to shoulder until SARS is controlled. As I have indicated, we are pleased today to be able to say that because of these heroic efforts SARS is controlled and contained in the city of Toronto.

We will continue to be vigilant. We will continue to do that which we need to do as a government to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a brief point of order.

I wonder, given the importance of the issue that we are dealing with tonight, whether the minister would be prepared to answer a number of questions from members in the House following on her speech.

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7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas have the consent of the House for his proposal?

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7 p.m.

An hon. member


Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It might be helpful if I could ask the member for Burnaby—Douglas if he could maybe indicate a time limit. That is usually helpful in these circumstances.

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I am quite prepared to ask the indulgence of the House to have a five minute question and comment period for the minister.

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas have the consent of the House?

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7 p.m.

Some hon. members


Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thought this would be the opportunity to begin my debate but it is even better to begin with a question for the minister. Most of my dialogue would have been to question the minister on the lack of intensity in dealing with SARS from the very beginning.

Why would the minister not discern the need for a federal quarterback dealing with the issues from coast to coast on SARS rather than giving it off to the provinces? I think the provinces have done a tremendous job. I could not agree more with the minister that the province of Ontario has done a tremendous job, particularly in the Toronto area.

Why was it that there was not a national quarterback dealing with the issue when the travel advisory first came out that morning, that Nova Scotia said it would not advise travel to Toronto and Alberta said it would not advise travel to Toronto? There was no national agenda to say that we would deal with this on a national basis.

Why was the minister not prepared to stand up and work as a national quarterback on that issue and many other issues right from the very beginning a little over a month ago when SARS was first identified?

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7 p.m.


Anne McLellan Liberal Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I and my department have been playing exactly that role. That is the appropriate role of Health Canada as it relates to public health challenges, both the development of public health infrastructure and the utilization of that infrastructure in these kinds of public health challenges.

Let me say to the hon. member that I want the record to reflect that the Government of Alberta did not issue a travel advisory in relation to travel to Toronto. In fact, I point out that the minister of health for the province of Alberta made it absolutely plain that he saw no reason for people not to travel to Toronto. Obviously reasonable precautions should be taken but with that in mind, there would be no reason for people not to travel to Toronto.

In fact we have been doing exactly that which the hon. member has requested. I know I do not have time here, but I could list chapter and verse all the things we have done, especially since September 11 in relation to the creation of a public health infrastructure. Is there more that we can learn and more that we can do? Of course there is because we learn from every one of these public health challenges.

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that there is limited time. I wanted to say that I share completely with the minister the accolades to the front line workers. They have been absolutely extraordinary.

I think also that Canadians feel there has been a huge failure of leadership by the federal government. I want to ask the minister a couple of very specific questions.

The minister will know that a coalition of 24 respected scientists from across Canada has asked the federal government for $500,000, a very little amount of money to jump start the development of a SARS vaccine. They are top people. They want to get to work. They want to develop a vaccine. They need the money now, not a month from now. Is the minister prepared to support that?

What steps is the minister prepared to take and the Liberal government prepared to take to deal with the economic crisis that is facing Toronto, particularly small businesses? Jack Layton, the leader of the federal New Democrats, has called for a funding program to assist these businesses to assist workers who have been hurt. What is the minister prepared to do on that front as well?

Severe Acute Respiratory SyndromeEmergency Debate

7:05 p.m.


Anne McLellan Liberal Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, could I ask the hon. member a question in relation to the $500,000? Is he referring to the recent request for proposals from the CIHR, which involved the amount of $500,000, because that is moving forward? I have been in discussions with Dr. Bernstein and proposals are being sought. That work will move forward.

I had the opportunity to speak with the Premier of British Columbia this afternoon. He spoke to me about a particular research initiative in relation to vaccines that he would like to pursue in British Columbia. I told him I would be taking that up immediately with my department to see how we can facilitate and move forward with the science and research so we both get better diagnostic tools and can work toward a vaccine.

At the moment the view is that it may be up to three years for the development of a vaccine. If it is possible to cut that time in half or even less, then clearly we, as part of the international scientific and research community, will do our part.

I can reassure the hon. member that we are looking to the resources we put to science not only in our world class lab in Winnipeg but more generally for researchers. I think the hon. member will see that we will be doing more in this area in the days ahead.