House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was airports.


Business of the HouseGovernement Orders

11 a.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-27, An Act respecting airport authorities and other airport operators and amending other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

April 29th, 2003 / 11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in the debate on Bill C-27, the Canada airports act, brought forward by the Minister of Transport and the Liberal government.

At the outset of my remarks I want to congratulate, as some of my other colleagues have done, the great work of my colleague the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam as our transport critic. He has done an admiral job in dissecting the inadequacies of Bill C-27, as he has done with many pieces of legislation the government has brought forward in the transport sector specifically. He is certainly a great asset to our party, the Canadian Alliance, and is a great representative of his riding in Vancouver.

I will begin my remarks by reading into the record a letter I recently received from the Prince George Airport Authority. It is one of the airport authorities that will be impacted directly by Bill C-27, the new Canada airports act.

I was encouraged to note that members such as the Liberal member for Hamilton West during his remarks of about an hour ago raised considerable concerns with Bill C-27. I hope that is indicative of the open-mindedness of a lot of Liberal members of Parliament and hopefully the members who sit on the Standing Committee for Transport.

When the bill actually goes before the transport committee, I hope we will see some substantive amendments to address the concerns that we hear in this chamber echoed not just in western Canada by Canadian Alliance MPs but indeed by Liberal MPs representing many of the ridings in Ontario and also by the Conservative members. Indeed the Progressive Conservative member from New Brunswick who just spoke during questions and comments raised concerns about airports there as well.

Clearly we can see that concern about the legislation is not something confined just to western Canada. It is something that goes coast to coast to coast in Canada.

As well as congratulating my colleague from Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, I want to indicate that I will be splitting my time in the debate with my hon. colleague the member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys.

I want to read into the record a letter that I received from the Prince George Airport Authority which directly concerns Bill C-27. It was written on April 10, so it is obviously hot off the presses as it were:

The impact of air transportation on Canada's economy and our quality of life is significant. When the viability of the air transportation system is threatened--as it is today--the consequences for Canada are enormous.

Air Canada's filing under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) demonstrates the depth of the crisis facing the air transport industry and those that depend on it. Much more is at stake, however, than the future of a single company.

Air Canada's restructuring combined with the impact of SARS and the war in Iraq has created an environment where many airports--both small and large--are at risk. These difficulties have combined to generate a 20% reduction in traffic. If reduced traffic numbers continue, most airport authorities will reluctantly have little option but to increase fees charged to tenants, including airlines. The impact on smaller airport communities where Air Canada is the primary or sole carrier will be the most severe.

Airport managements have consistently reduced controllable costs and eliminated non-value added tasks. There is little residual fat. Even so reduced passenger volumes combined with an imminent and significant reduction in Air Canada frequencies mean that airports must seek to further lower costs to minimize consequential increases in fees and charges to airlines and airport users. Without federal government action to remove the significant costs it creates for this mode of transportation--costs many times higher than any other mode--there will be unfortunate consequences.

In the current environment it is also essential that the federal government does not increase the burden on the industry by introducing legislative or regulatory burdens that will compound the problems for little or no return. Before the Canada Airports Act or further regulation is introduced, a comprehensive regulatory impact and cost-benefit analysis must be completed. Any proposed legislative or regulatory changes have to be viewed in the broader context of the viability of the aviation industry.

We call on the federal government to stop treating air transportation as significant contributors to general revenues and take immediate and effective action to stabilize the industry by:

a) Implementing an immediate moratorium on federal airport rents--which constitute the largest uncontrollable cost for most major airports--while the current rent review is finalized;

b) Recognize that unlike other travellers, air travellers are required to pay for security. To reduce intermodal discrepancies the federal government must:

i. Suspend the air travellers security tax;

ii. Fully fund the cost of additional policing and security imposed by federal regulation;

c) Fully fund the ACAP program and make these capital funds available to airports with one million passengers or less [in other words, smaller airports];

d) Create a stabilization fund for smaller airports to mitigate the short term impacts of service dislocation; and

e) Reduce regulatory burden.

The purpose of these actions when combined should be to provide security and reassurance to our passengers, tenants, lenders and communities that the long term future of air transportation in Canada is assured.

We stand ready to work with the federal government and parliamentarians to find solutions for these unprecedented difficulties.

That letter was addressed to me from the Prince George Airport Authority Inc. and was signed by Jim Blake, the chair of the airport operating board for that airport.

I also have a letter from TradePort International Corporation. That is the organization that is in partnership to operate the Hamilton airport. I will read a couple of segments from that letter which was sent to me by Tony F. Battaglia, president and CEO of TradePort International Corporation. Mr. Battaglia wrote:

The airline industry is in crisis. The impacts of 9/11 and the war on terrorism; the current war in Iraq; and a developing epidemic known as SARS have led to a 20% reduction in air traffic. Air Canada's restructuring will have a dramatic impact on smaller airport communities across the country where Air Canada is the dominant or sole air carrier. Airports must adjust to the new realities of air travel. Reduced frequencies and withdrawals of service mean that airports will have to reduce costs in order to minimize impacts on airlines and air travellers.

Mr. Battaglia went on to state:

Blindly advancing this gratuitous legislation may bring irreparable harm to Canada's smaller airports [such as Hamilton]; 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 Transportation 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.

Unfortunately, I have just had time in my short remarks today to cite two examples. One is the Prince George airport authority in my riding of Prince George--Peace River where that airport has some serious concerns with Bill C-27. The other is across the country some 3,000 miles away in Hamilton. Some of the same concerns are being echoed by the airport operating authority in Hamilton.

I would have liked to have had more time to go on at some length. As my colleague from Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam said in his remarks, one of the biggest things of concern to me as a member of Parliament for a large rural riding that has a number of airports, and specifically, Fort St. John and Dawson Creek that are impacted by things like CARs 308, is that this civil air regulation that is being brought forward by the Minister of Transport is going to do irreparable damage to the small and medium size airports in western Canada in particular.

We are raising that issue because that is not contained in Bill C-27, as my colleague has said. As our transport critic he has raised the issue repeatedly. I have raised it. Other colleagues have raised the issue of CARs 308. The imposition of firefighting and crash rescue will do irreparable damage if and when those airports have to pick up all the costs.

Since it is the federal government that will be re-imposing those regulations on the small airports, we are in favour of the the federal government paying the costs.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Canadian Alliance Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, the proposed act is federal government at its worst. It is centrist, an Ottawa empire builder's dream and a nightmare for the rest of the country. This is an ill-advised attempt to codify the status quo and apply a one size fits all regulatory regime to Canada's airports. It is doomed to failure while dooming some airports to potential bankruptcy.

It will fail massively on two counts. First, one size fits all is not the way to deal with airports ranging in size from Gander, for instance, which handled 86,000 passengers in 2000, to Toronto which served over 28 million passengers. Are the Liberals saying that the airport in my city of Kamloops is the same as Toronto? If they are, I have news for them. Kamloops is not Toronto, nor does Kamloops want to be Toronto. There is no room in our valley for an airport or population of that size. A Liberal may not appreciate or even care about that kind of thinking when drafting legislation but the values that rural-urban populations appreciate should not exclude them from equality and equal consideration when it comes to transportation needs.

The second problem with the bill is that some parts of the it would apply only to former Transport Canada facilities. The legislation would apply standards to Thunder Bay that do not apply to, for instance, Hamilton, even though both of those airports served roughly 550,000 passengers in the year 2001.

We do not have to wait for the weather to create fog because the legislation is as foggy as anything we are ever likely to see. The Liberals declare that the legislation would create a national airports policy. Perhaps, but at what cost and who benefits?

There are four glaring weaknesses readily apparent in the legislation. First, it fails to deal with the unfounded mandate which holds small airports to higher response time standards than when they received the airports from Transport Canada. Does this mean there are two sets of rules, one set when the government manages and another for non-government management? Or should I say that when Liberals manage, expectations are lowered but when others manage expectations are raised? Is that the philosophy at work here?

Is the legislation saying that when federal bureaucrats manage we should not expect high standards but when we turn it over to somebody else to manage we should demand the highest possible standards?

Second, the legislation also ignores an airport rent policy that lets the federal Liberal government gouge the life out of airport operators who improve their facilities. This is not fair. I will give an example. When Winnipeg International Airport was handed over to the Winnipeg airport authority in 1997 the annual rent was $900,000. That seemed a reasonable amount at the time. After the Winnipeg airport authority made vast improvements, the federal Liberal government demanded that as of 2007 the annual rent would be raised--and I hope everyone is listening because this is a huge jump--to $7 million. That is outrageous.

That is like tenants painting a wall in their apartment and then the landlord demanding a huge increase in rent because the tenants made an apparent improvement in the apartment and made it more attractive.

The Liberals are reaping unconscionable profits from airports across the country, much as they are from the security tax they imposed after 9/11. It should be obvious by now to even the doziest Canadian that the Liberals live for only one thing, revenue, and the more of it the better because it can be doled out in exchange for votes.

Why is there nothing in here to allow airlines to influence terminal design to reduce operating costs? Is it because lower costs bring lower GST revenues? That is the third weakness in the legislation but there are many more.

Fourth, why is there nothing in the legislation to allow the Minister of Transport to intervene in situations like the dispute last year between the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and Canada's wireless telephone companies? The GTAA unilaterally disconnected cellular phone company antennas on airport property leaving thousands of cellphone users without service.

Perhaps we should look at both sides in the dispute. The airport authorities are being gouged by the Liberals in Ottawa and have to look at every possible source of revenue to meet Liberal demands. To stay afloat they look at every possible source of income. It is Liberal greed and lust for revenue that creates these kinds of problems. How could it be otherwise when rents jump from under $1 million a year to $7 million in a few short years?

Is there a secret bonus plan for Liberals or bureaucrats who come up with ways to gouge even more cash out of taxpayers?

If people like big brother they will love the way the Liberals plan to wave the maple leaf. Every airport will be required to prominently display the flag of Canada:

at every terminal building and at other which the public has access; and

erect signs in prominent places at the entrance to the airport and to every terminal building, proclaiming that the airport is owned by the Government of Canada

What that would do is lull travellers into thinking that Ottawa's contribution is much bigger than it actually is. Airport improvement fees are blamed on the local authority while Ottawa takes credit for something other than being a mere landlord, gouging for every possible dollar.

Every Canadian flies our flag with pride so the question must be asked, why do the Liberals insist that the flag must be displayed at airports? One of the few clauses in the legislation that applies to all airports is the requirement that the flag must be flown. Why did the government go to such lengths over such a simple thing and leave out such important detail?

Will the government next insist that portraits of the member for LaSalle—Émard be displayed on every wall at every airport from coast to coast? Is that how Canada Steamship Lines does it?

Another concern is that while the Liberals see large urban airports as cash cows to finance such boondoggles as the gun registry, it has orphaned regional airports. The smaller airports, perhaps my own local airport in Kamloops, have been left to struggle to maintain services with little or no support from Ottawa. Is that what the Liberals call a national airports policy?

The legislation would have a huge negative impact on Vancouver International's long term planning and growth. Any downturn or economic hardship suffered by this major entry point could seriously affect 26,000 jobs directly related to the operation of Vancouver International. That could have dire consequences for my province's bid for the 2010 Olympic Games and impact the national economic indicator.

As Vancouver International faces a struggle coping with the new legislation, there are potential calamities for Kamloops. Vancouver International manages Kamloops Fulton Field. If national airports are hit with tough legislation and rules of operation, w can bet that it will trickle down to the operations they manage, including Kamloops Fulton Field. That airport is an economic lifeline that we need for economic development, tourism, medical evacuation, firefighting and the list goes on and on.

Can it be that nobody in the bureaucracy has stopped to think about the cause and effect of their one size fits all formula? How can the Liberals call this a national plan when it does not address the concerns of the smaller and medium size airports, many of which service populations that are dependent upon them remaining open?

Liberals and their bureaucrats do not seem to realize that in British Columbia there are communities that are 10 hours apart by motor vehicle. The legislation shows utter disregard and lack of concern for people who live more than two hours away from the hub of their very cloistered world.

Another problem with the bill is that it would limit an airport authority's to invest in another corporation to 2% of gross revenue per year. The Vancouver airport authority, called YVR, owns the very profitable YVR Airport Services. YVR's concern in this legislation limits its ability to invest in projects in Chile, Jamaica or Hamilton, yet clause 57 does not put the same limits or restriction on airports such as the one in Kelowna or Abbotsford. Why the Liberal double standard?

We know the Liberals embrace double standards. They have always said that Canadians should never do as Liberals do but do what Liberals tell them to do.

Canadians are tired of double standards and doublespeak. They are tired of Liberals saying that only they know what is best for every nook and cranny in Canada and for every individual Canadian and every Canadian airport.

The legislation is flawed from the get-go. It is a guarantee of future confusion, of future rancour and conflict. We should think about this: nearly every session the House is called upon to pass amendments to the Criminal Code and other legislation. Most of the time those amendments are approved by all parties and allowed to pass. It does underline the fact that even Liberals admit that sometimes mistakes are made and need to be corrected by legislative amendment. However it begs the question, if the Liberals have to do this annually with insignificant matters, how many big mistakes do they ignore rather than admit they were wrong?

The legislation, if passed, will be back before Parliament in the not too distant future. This has the potential to be as great a boondoggle as the gun registry. It has the potential for extremely negative economic impacts on airports from coast to coast to coast. It is a demonstration of the unfortunate philosophy that pervades Ottawa, and that is that Ottawa knows best.

The fact is that Ottawa does not know best. Ottawa never did and never will know what is best for every region and every individual in Canada. The sooner the Liberals rid themselves of that belief the better off Canada will be.

The sooner the Liberals and their bureaucrats admit that this is flawed legislation, the better off we will be and the better the future will look for all Canadian airports. The legislation is not worthy of the support of even the most disciplined Liberal backbencher.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to first congratulate my hon. colleague from Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys for her excellent speech on Bill C-27.

I want to quote from another letter. I quoted from two letters during my brief remarks. I want to read a brief analysis of Bill C-27 that was sent to me by Mr. Alvin Maier, managing director, North Peace Airport Services, in his representation for the Regional Community Airports Coalition of Canada. It encompasses a number of small and medium size airports. In his conclusion he stated:

Most of the language contained in C-27 already exists in most of the leases that NAS airports have with Transport Canada. If Transport Canada has issue with any of these airports in particular, then perhaps they should review the leases with these airports, and not attempt to introduce legislation that attempts to regulate all airports universally, and will negatively affect the viability of the regional community airports and the economic development of the communities they serve system of Canada.

I want to refer my colleague from Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys to this particular conclusion drawn by Mr. Alvin Maier from Fort St. John in my riding because she remarked quite eloquently about how this legislation, if indeed it were to pass in its present form, would negatively impact on Kamloops in her riding. I know she represents a riding very similar to mine where the airports have the same concerns. I think it gets to the thrust of her presentation where she referred to this one size fits all approach that the government is taking and the negative impact it will have, especially on the smaller airports.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Canadian Alliance Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, I very much agree with the remarks the member quoted today. It is a very serious problem and one size does not fit all. It might work for pantyhose but it does not work for airports.

We have to be considerate when we make these kinds of changes to legislation. We actually have to look at what the economic impact might be to a particular area if something like this is put through. I do not believe that has happened and I think e a number of changes need to be made before this is even palatable, let alone decent legislation.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, within a few days after 9/11, when the airline industry really suffered, the government saw fit, rightly or wrongly, to make a cash injection into Air Canada. Within a very short space of time we saw the upstart of the low cost runs to compete with WestJet in western Canada. The people in western Canada were very upset about that. They were getting good service and to think that the government then put money into two of their low cost runs to compete against the successful cost run did not necessarily help the air industry across Canada.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Canadian Alliance Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague on some of the problems that have transpired. I believe that the problems with Air Canada began long before 9/11. They began when Air Canada began playing Pacman with other industry airlines, and started eating them up and taking on their debt.

In terms of government interference or getting in the middle of things, I think that entrepreneurs and business people are in a far better position to decide what has to happen in industry than any government. In fact, if the member is asking me to be perfectly honest, the very last entity in the world that should be involved in business is government. I could give hundreds of examples of how it has managed to easily foul up what was working well before it got involved. I do not believe that we need to have government interference. We need to level the playing field for all air companies, and I believe that my caucus member from Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam has eloquently spoken in the House on a number of occasions about a simple solution to the entire airport problem.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to talk about this airport issue. As a former transport critic I was involved with the divestiture process at one time. Now it seems to be snapping back to haunt us a little and it is a pleasure for me to talk about it.

I want to give an Atlantic perspective to this if I can. I was reading in Hansard the remarks made last night by the hon. member for Saint John. She was complaining about the service from Saint John, New Brunswick. The minister apparently said that she should go to Moncton and then fly from Moncton because there are better connections there. I used to fly to Moncton, but now I drive to Halifax because Moncton does not have direct flights to Ottawa either. The service has definitely declined after the divestiture and after all the changes that the government has made to transportation in the aircraft industry. Certainly, that was not very effective advice for the member for Saint John by the minister.

Let us look at the Maritimes. In St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, we had airport workers on strike for seven weeks. It created chaos there. We have added to the burden of the strike with all the other security issues and security fees, and the SARS issue which has created more difficulty for this airport. It costs more money. It costs delays in time because of the strikes and the chaos.

The member for New Brunswick Southwest was standing a few minutes ago talking about his discussion with the CEO of the Saint John airport, John Buchanan, who said that the airport was only one crisis away from a disaster. Since the hon. member had that discussion with the CEO of the Saint John airport, we have experienced the gulf war and SARS.

Right now many airports are having a difficult time making ends meet because they do not have the revenue that they need to have to pay their bills and allow for capital expenditures in the future. Meanwhile, the government is bleeding them dry with high rentals. They all say that if the government wants to help, Bill C-27 should just say it will reduce the rental fees on the airport facilities to the communities that use them.

We must understand that the airport authorities get their money from two basic sources. They get it from the airplanes that come in and pay landing and tarmac fees, but they also get it from rentals for rent-a-cars, restaurants, Tim Hortons coffee shops and things like that. Therefore, there are two sources of revenue: one is directly airplane related and the other is non-airplane related, parking lots and so forth. However, as the traffic declines these airports cannot sustain these small businesses within their airports so they lose that rent. It just exacerbates and gets worse, especially for the small airports with a limited amount revenue.

Bill C-27, in their view, would impose tremendous restrictions on them in their ability to generate revenue. The government is denying them the revenue by changes in its policies which have reduced the numbers of flights and the types of airplanes and the fees that can be charged there. It is making it more difficult for airports to generate the alternative income.

In a recent discussion with some other airport officials in airports like Halifax, which is the biggest airport in Atlantic Canada, the members of these airport authorities all said that these changes were unnecessary. As one of them said, it is an attempt to interfere with the system. It is an attempt to regain power that the government used to have over the airport system while at the same time not wanting to share the burden. The government wants to recapture its power but does not want to share the burden and the cost. The bill is a way for the government to regain power, revenue and control but not share the responsibility.

Every airport administrator I talk to tells me that the outrageous rental fees are the biggest problem right now. This is the problem that is keeping the airports from surviving, prospering, and being able to provide a service at a level that used to be there before divestiture. The other thing is the security tax. As one of them said, “No one minds paying the security tax as long as the money goes for security”.

However, as far as the airport authorities can tell, the actual cost of security tax is triple what is needed to provide the security that is being provided now. What the government is trying to do is gouge the public and it is using the excuse of September 11 to impose a tax on security which is triple the amount required so that it can just raise more revenue.

It is somewhat the same or at least there is a parallel with employment insurance, where the premiums are so high. The government is raising hundreds of millions of dollars on the backs of the employees who pay employment insurance when in fact the money is never going to go to employment insurance benefits. This security tax is never ever going to go to provide security at the present level. The people who I talk to in the business say that the tax is three times what is necessary.

We would like the government to go back and review this whole issue again, have the committee discuss it and listen to the airport authorities because they are the ones on the front lines. They know the difficulties in providing the service that they used to provide.

The Government of Canada used to pay to provide airports to the communities. Now it charges exorbitant rents so that the Government of Canada is getting hundreds of millions of dollars in rent every year when it used to pay out to provide these airports. It is now time for the Government of Canada to come back and participate in the cost of running the airports, but not try to interfere and micro-manage what the airport authorities are doing.

They are doing a good job. They are providing the services that are appropriate for the communities in which they serve. Nobody is better able to do that. No one is more qualified to provide those services and know what services are needed than the airport authorities because they represent the communities they are in. Let us let them do their job. Let us get off their back.

Let us reduce the security tax to what it should be and to what the actual cost is. Let us reduce the rents to a point where the airports can survive. Those airports that do not have very much traffic cannot support the alternative sources of revenue, the parking lots, the stores, the tax free stores an so on. They do not have access to that revenue so they should be given a special category and given a special deal on rents.

Those are our thoughts as we follow this and as we see it move forward. We will be watching it closely, but essentially the government should not try to interfere with these authorities. It should give them the freedom to operate, get off their backs, and stop overtaxing on rent and overtaxing on security.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Canadian Alliance Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member talks about the closing and the overtaxing of smaller airports. It seems to me it is part of the decline of our whole transportation network across the country.

In my riding we have an airport as a result of the closing of an air base some years ago. The government sold that for around $5 million and now it is being revived. It is owned by the city along with a number of groups and the province has anted up money. Private enterprise has put money forward, but the federal government has put absolutely nothing forward.

All the airport is asking for is some fencing for security purposes. We will then have commercial traffic at that airport and I believe it will be viable to the east and to the west. Could the member elaborate if this is true across the country? It is certainly true in my riding. I would like to know his feelings on that.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, that sounds like an exciting and appropriate project. It sounds like the ideal setup other than the fact that the government will not participate. However, if we go back before divestiture and look at Transport Canada, we see that it was a burden to the government because it cost money. Transport Canada lost money.

Now it is a huge profit centre. It makes huge amounts of money. Transport Canada is a great business. It has all these properties that it rents and it has tremendous resources. It makes hundreds of millions of dollars now every year instead of losing money and costing the government money.

In a case like this where Red Deer has had a contribution from the private sector, from the province, and all it is asking for is help in security, we would think that would be a natural common sense role for the government to play and I believe it should be there. But again, the government is so greedy at holding onto this profit that it does not want to share any. It wants to interfere in the management but does not want to participate in the cost.

It is the same right across the country. The airports I visited in Atlantic Canada do not exactly have the same problem but the same concept and the same philosophy by the government.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the speech given by the hon. member at the south end of the chamber. I would like to ask him a question with respect to the whole concept of privatization.

It is true that the government used to greatly subsidize the operations of airports. It seems to me that when it divested itself of them and privatized them, it still wanted to keep its fingers in the pie, so to speak. Even though it now rents out the facilities and collects rent, to a large degree it is interfering with day to day operations.

Clauses in the bill requiring the display of the Canadian flag at airports really is almost a given. If an airport chooses not to have a flag or if its flag is in need of replacement or something, does the Canadian government replace it? No. All it does is pass a law that says airports must have one. It gets into the itty-bitty administrative details and really makes the job of operating the airport very difficult for the local authority.

Does the member have any comment with respect to whether the Liberal government knows whether it is coming or going in terms of its involvement in airports?

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I watched the divestiture process unfold, I was amazed at how little order and consistency there was to the process. One airport would make a deal that was satisfactory to it, then the next airport would make a completely different deal, a different deal on the rent or a different deal on the transitional fund that was given at the time the airport was transferred. There was no order to this. The government decided to get rid of the airports. It had a target and a date and it went through the system and did whatever it took to get rid of them.

To answer the hon. member's question more directly, I have some quotes. I talked to an official at an airport just a few minutes ago to get a little background on how the airport authorities actually felt about Bill C-27. These are the quotes. “It is an attempt to interfere with a system that is now working”. “Airports are responding to regional needs and no one is better able to do that than us, the authority”. “Now the government is trying to reclaim the power and control, but they will not participate in the cost to do that”.

It pretty much answers the question of the government's position. This is not a compromise, it is not a give and take deal, it is all take. The government wants to take back the power and control. It wants to be able to make specific orders to these airport authorities but it does not want to give any more assistance. It does not want to bring down the security tax to the actual cost. It does not want to bring down the rental to an appropriate fee. It does not want to acknowledge that the Department of Transport is now a huge profit centre for the government. Before it provided airports all the costs through the Department of Transport. It does not do any of that now. Quite incredibly, instead of providing money, now it takes money in rents but it is not prepared to share that with authorities and it is very difficult for most small airports to make ends meet.

I predict that we will see some problems with our medium to small airports. We will see some other inconsistent and, if I can call it that, screwball approaches to helping some airports survive. Rather than have an appropriate plan for them and make the changes that have to be made across the board, we will see inconsistent capital grants, funds here or injections there.

Canada Airports ActGovernement Orders

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-27, the Canada airports act.

We have an airport in my riding, in the City of Abbotsford, which serves all the folks in Langley, Aldergrove and throughout Abbotsford. In fact the whole Fraser Valley and parts of Vancouver are well served by the Abbotsford airport.

The main airline out of there, which is very near and dear to our hearts, is WestJet, an airline that we in our community are extremely proud of and which is fully supported by the folks back home. Another very large airline in Canada tried to weasel its way into WestJet's clientele but it did not do so well. Therefore, I am glad to say that the people in our community very much support WestJet and its activities.

Along with WestJet's efficient operations come these things called airport fee, taxes, security taxes and so on, levied in large part by the federal government.

I will go through what the bill reflects as to the kind of autonomy airports would have but also what kind of effect the federal government has on those kind of taxes.

To fly between Calgary and Edmonton with WestJet costs $100. Added on to WestJet's fees is a GST bill of $11.23 and a security fee of $22.43, which was imposed by the government just recently. Then we have an insurance fee of $6, an airport improvement fee in Edmonton of $15, an airport improvement fee in Calgary of $12, and a Nav Canada charge of $5. Therefore the round trip fare the consumer pays is $171.66 for a $100 flight.

One of the problems with flights today is that the government cannot get out of the pockets of the consumer. If there is a problem with security, the first thing the government does is ding consumers to pay the bills, when in fact, if it looked around hard enough, it would find all kinds of dollars in its own coffers to fund such programs as security, improvement fees and so on. The mentality of the governments, be they federal, provincial or municipal, is to ding the taxpayer. I think most people are darn sick of it.

If we are talking about airports, by and large people, if they want to go from one point to another, must use an airport and an airline. The problem is the governments are sensing that and they are dinging everybody that has any association with an airport or an airline today.

Notwithstanding that, WestJet happens to be one of the most profitable North American airlines and will continue to be so because of a good common sense approach to things. We could all take an example from WestJet, in my community at least, and look at how to operate an airline and then, coincidentally, how to operate an airport that could help the airlines.

I will be opposing this bill for a number of reasons. One of them is this government interference in a pretty good idea. In fact we fought for the privatization of airports and airport authorities for a long time in the House of Commons. That idea finally went through the thick heads across the way. Now we find ourselves facing Bill C-27, which is essentially an interference bill on what the government created.

Essentially, clause 12 of the bill gives the minister the power to make directions that are final and not subject to appeal or review. That in this place and country is a dangerous approach. If we give ministers final approval on anything, it more or less gives final approval to help their friends, relatives or whomever, anybody but the consumer.

The airport in our community of Abbotsford is a municipally run airport. It is a fine airport. We do not even have parking fees, so we keep the costs down as much as we can. The real problem is the interference in increased fees from federal government hurt us.

Let me give an example. The first year's rent for the Winnipeg International Airport, after it was handed over to the Winnipeg Airports Authority in 1997, was $900,000. After the Winnipeg Airports Authority improved the airport, Ottawa wanted it to pay $7 million in rent in the year 2007. There we go again. The government turns it over and gets its fee. The local airport authority operates it right, then Ottawa says “Gimme, gimme, gimme”. It is so typical. Then the consumer fees have to be increased sevenfold to pay for that.

Let us just go through a couple of other issues in this bill. If a passenger fee is imposed to finance a major capital program, infrastructure covered by an agreement referred to in paragraph 8 of clause 124, for instance, gives the following criteria:

--the annual financial statements must disclose, on an annual and cumulative basis from the year in which the fee is established, all expenditures made in respect of the program or infrastructure and all revenues from the passenger fee and any other fee orsource of revenue or funding received by the airport authority for the program or infrastructure.

What this essentially says is that if an airport has a capital program and it gets revenues from fees to fund that capital program, it has to go through a whole litany of reporting procedures for the federal government. I find it ironic that when a private authority raises money through revenues and undertakes a capital project, it has to go through so much reporting, yet the government blows away billions of dollars a year with virtually no reporting. When private industry or any private organization gets revenues, runs decent projects, makes efficiencies, it reports all to the government and that way it gets its fees. However, when the government takes fees and spends it on projects, it blows it away with no accountability. Does that tell us something about the government? Does it tell us something about a philosophy that is absolutely wrong?

The bottom line is that when private industry and private organizations work and when they raise their own funds for efficiencies, the government ought to stay as far away from it as possible. Our experience with government, at least since the Liberal government has been in, is that it can blow money one heck of a lot faster and irresponsibly with no accountability than an airport authority can.

I must say this about any government intervention in these organizations. One reason why we wanted airport authorities in the first place was to get out of government-run airports because it did not run them right. Now that we have implemented that process, government wants to get back in because it sees what is going on. It sees that these airports are running right.

There is one other thing that I must say I have observed going across the country. This whole issue of airport improvement fees, I believe, started in Vancouver where they charged $10.

Ironically enough, when coming through the Vancouver airport the other day, I was in a lineup with 300 people to pay a $10 improvement fee. I would like to advise Vancouver airport that if it is raising $10 per person from people going through it, the least it could do is have enough people available to collect the money so we are not standing in line. Does that not make sense?

Not only in one airport do I have to stand in a line of 200 or 300 people to pay the fee, but a few months back I went to another airport in this country and it also was collecting a $10 fee. This airport has maybe two or three planes a day going through it, but it has the same $10 airport fee that Vancouver has, and it has no improvements. In fact, I doubt whether it needs any improvements or has even had any improvements in the last 10 or 15 years.

This is not an improvement fee. This is a tax.

Whilst I say that government should have got out of all of this, I would like to tell these airports that if they need improvements they should try to fund them out of the dollars that they currently get. If they cannot and must charge a fee, they should raise the money they want and then do away with the fee. The fee should not be charged if the airport has not been or is not going to be improved. Otherwise these guys will be back in there wanting a cut of the fees and wanting to increase the fees. Eventually, if they cannot get their cut and the airport is profitable, these guys will take away the airports.

The bottom line is this. One airline in this country, WestJet, has proven to be efficient and has proven to be a good means of transportation. It is community friendly. Clientele are dedicated to it because of its attitude. WestJet does not need government fees, taxes, licences and on and on to ruin it for the travelling public.

Those are my comments on Bill C-27. I wish we could get one bill in any one instance where the government does not stick its damn feet in where they do not belong, but that is not to be. I have been around here for 10 years and every time I get up to speak to a bill I am always asking why the government has interfered or once it has interfered why it cannot do it right. That goes right from justice to health care and so on.

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11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for a well delivered speech. He expressed the same frustration that we all hear over and over from Canadians in all walks of life.

Really, the Liberal government is an oxymoron. Liberal means freedom. It comes from the same root word as liberate. Yet we have a Liberal government that has its tentacles of control on every aspect of our lives. Here it is, micromanaging airports in Bill C-27, right down to the little nitty-gritty of flying flags and putting up signs. It is ridiculous to have that kind of thing in legislation.

This government is really a control freak and a tax collection freak. That is all it wants to do. All the Liberal members in the House should be howling in protest at my statement if they do not agree with what I have said. They are really the worst kind of control freak tax grabbers and we need to stop them.

My hon. colleague has expressed very well some of the objections to Bill C-27. I would like him to perhaps enlarge briefly on the subject of the Liberal government's ingratiating control of everybody's lives and every little detail of our lives.

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11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will do that, but looking around to see how many Liberals are in the House, it is a little difficult for me to stand here and talk to the converted in opposition. I really question whether having one member of the Liberal Party in the House is the right thing to do. This is a bill that the government tabled and it is a bill that is important to this nation.

Mr. Speaker, can you see a quorum in the House? I ask for a quorum count. I am not going to speak while there is only one--

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The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford.

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Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is somewhat of a principled thing, as this is a piece of legislation from the government. I heard one of the members over there saying I am wasting people's time. Can anyone imagine a government putting a piece of legislation like that in the House--

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12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Beaches—East York.

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12:05 p.m.


Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. With all due respect, I was referring to the fact that the member was calling quorum when he knows full well a good number of the members are in committee and have had to be dragged out of committee to come here because he is unnecessarily calling for quorum. With all due respect, that was not acceptable.

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12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Again, respectfully to the member, this is not a point of order but more a matter of debate.

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12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thought you might see it that way. They are not all in committee, by the way. They are eating on the other side.

The point that I want to make on my colleague's comments is that I think there are two things that are relatively minor to the government, I would say, and those members should not go too far or I will call quorum again. There are two items. One is that the government wants to tell the airport authorities to have a Canadian flag. Every airport authority is going to have that, but for a government to say there must be a flag it makes one wonder how much authority and autonomy it actually wants these airports to have, as if they could not figure that out themselves.

The other thing is that in clause 101 the government is saying that it requires the minister's written consent for an airport's name to be changed; so much for having an airport named after anyone but a Liberal. If the Abbotsford airport wants to change its name, it should have the right to do so. We have no intention of coming here to Liberal land and obtaining approval from the government to put a Liberal name on what is basically a Canadian Alliance community. Politicians notwithstanding, that kind of stuff is a load of hogwash. It just goes to show how much autonomy and authority the government does not want these independent airlines to have.

I want to thank my colleague for that question. I do invite questions from the Liberals who tabled this legislation and are supposed to have enough members in the House to have a quorum.

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12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is good to be able to rise today to put some comments toward the debate on Bill C-27. The problem with the bill is that it does not address the issues that face many airports in Canada. It addresses a select few airports across the country. There are many more airports that have serious issues. I want to get into some of those issues that affect the airport in my riding in Lethbridge and ask why those issues were not addressed in the legislation.

One of the things that we have constantly brought up about the airline industry in this country is the fact that if the airport fees were reduced, the security tax on flights eliminated and the fuel excise tax forgiven it would help all airlines. This would help the operation of all our airports. Consequently, we would see more people flying.

Essentially what we must do is encourage more involvement in air travel. If the government taxes everything that moves, everything that uses fuel and every passenger, it does not create that atmosphere that we need to encourage more air traffic.

I would like to say that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain.

One of the issues that is not addressed and needs to be addressed regarding the airports across the country is CARs 308. That is going to create a problem for many smaller airports. I know that when the airport authority in Lethbridge took over the airport from the federal government the issue of having emergency responders on site was forgiven and the ability to service that emergency situation from existing fire departments was fine at that time. If that burden is now put back on the local airport, it will be a burden that I think will almost take the airport down. We cannot have that. That is not addressed in the bill and it needs to be.

Recently a group from Lethbridge came to Ottawa to deal with an issue facing our airport and almost two dozen airports across the country, I believe, which after September 11 lost their airport of entry status. This allows international flights to come in from across the line, mostly, and land at these sites and be greeted by a customs officer and have people to go through customs. Taking that away has been an absolutely devastating issue for the airport in my riding. I have talked with other airports affected across Canada and it is an issue for them also.

I have been told by other airport authorities across Canada that they are having trouble getting this issue resolved. So I have to hand it to the committee from my riding, the chamber of commerce, the airport authority, the business community, the mayor and council of Lethbridge and all the surrounding communities and municipalities that got together and supported this group that came to Ottawa to lobby the ministers across the way to get this airport of entry status reinstated. To date it has not happened. I believe the committee requested that some time be given to the ministers for them to come up with something. As of today I am not aware that anything has happened.

There are many issues that need to be and should be addressed and affect many airports across the country. These issues affect hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people and have been completely left out of the legislation. We need legislation that would do this and it has not been forthcoming.

In order to round out what this means to southern Alberta, I would like to read excerpts from the executive summary of the document that was brought to Ottawa by the committee from my riding of Lethbridge. Some of the issues that were stated are as follows:

Southern Alberta is a vibrant, productive, economic region with a trading population of over 275,000 people. At the core of this region is the City of Lethbridge, the third largest city in Alberta with a population of 73,000 residents. It is the closest metropolitan area to the United States border, located 120 kilometres away.

The bottom 100 miles of the southern boundary of my riding is the 49th parallel. The summary continues:

This region is most famous for agriculture and livestock production using leading edge technology in crop and animal science as well as irrigation. Lethbridge is home to two federally operated Agriculture Research Centres which employ nearly 800 employees (85 PhD-level scientists) and is just completing a 26 million dollar retrofit and expansion to ensure that Canada remains on the mandate of promoting innovation, maintaining the security of the food system, and protecting the health of the environment.

The region is also growing quickly in agri-food processing and manufacturing with companies such as Pratt & Whitney, McCain's and Lamb Weston investing heavily in the region. The City of Lethbridge is home to two publicly funded post-secondary institutions. The University of Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Community College, with a combined student population of 13,000.

Lethbridge is also blessed with a full-service airport owned and operated by the County of Lethbridge and located in the centre of the region and five minutes from downtown Lethbridge. Thanks to the leadership of the Federal Government--

--it is giving some bouquets here that I might not have done--

--the Lethbridge County Airport has recently completed a 3.3 million dollars infrastructure upgrade to ensure the efficiency and safety of flight operations. This investment by the federal government demonstrates a vital interest in the region and its economically viability.

With that investment and that agreement in place, the federal government then came in and took away the airport of entry status.

The coalition of individuals, organizations, institutions, businesses and local governments of Southern Alberta are distressed by the recent decision by the federal government to remove the Airport of Entry (AOE) status. The loss of AOE status in 2001 was the second reduction in customs service over a five-year period. The original customs office based in Lethbridge was removed in 1996, at which time the region was assured that customs service would continue at the Lethbridge Country Airport.

The decision to remove AOE and customs service has had a detrimental effect on the region. Many regional, national and international corporations have felt an immediate, negative financial impact as a consequence of this decision. These businesses have depended on customs service for the timely and efficient transportation of goods and key personnel. Now these businesses are losing sales, losing opportunities, experiencing increased costs and are seeing a decrease in their ability to compete.

That pretty much sums up that particular issue that is of grave concern to the entire community of southern Alberta. With 275,000 people that are served by that airport and international businesses that have located in the area, it is absolutely critical to the economic growth of that region that that status be reinstated. I have raised the issue in the House a couple of times with the minister to no avail. A strong delegation that came here was promised something and as of yet we have not heard anything.

Hopefully, somewhere in the near future this will be addressed and the airport of entry status will be reinstated. This will allow the businesses and the economy of southern Alberta to continue to grow and prosper because of the ability of international flights to land there.

The entire issue of tax, tax, tax; the fuel tax that airlines have to pay, the security tax that travellers have to pay, and the airport fees that airport authorities have to pay, when all of these are added up they become quite a detriment to the operation and viability of a region.

There is one more point I would like to make. To me it is absolutely ridiculous that the airport operators face increased rents when they improve the airports. A case in point is the Winnipeg airport authority. When it took over the operation of the Winnipeg international airport, its first year's rent was $900,000. After the Winnipeg airport authority improved the airport, the government decided it should pay $7 million in rent by the year 2007.

The local people are improving their airport. They are putting money into it, creating business and creating an atmosphere where business can thrive. Then the federal government increases the rent on that facility from $900,000 to $7 million when it had nothing to do with improving it. That does not make a lot of sense. It is absolutely detrimental to development. It puts a strain on travellers. As was mentioned earlier by my colleague, whether the airport user fees are $5, $10 or $15, we bump into them as we travel across the country. The airport authorities are having to charge those fees to help pay a bill like the $7 million assessment from the federal government.

There is a lot that is wrong with the bill. There is a lot that it does not address. Hopefully after this debate and after more questions in the House, the government will get the idea and put into this legislation the things that Canadians need.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to enter the debate. What I have to say very much pertains to my personal experience and to my province.

Many people may get the idea that when we are talking in the House about this particular bill that the government has put forward that we are attacking the people who work for the institutions of the airlines. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I want to share a very interesting story that I experienced the first week of this month. I was trying to get out of the Maritimes, out of St. John's and my ticket indicated that I would go from St. John's to Toronto and on to Regina. I was informed that because Air Canada had not purchased sufficient supplies of de-icing equipment I was to stay where I was at.

Can anyone imagine that Canada's largest airport, and it is still April, forgetting about the fact that it would still need to de-ice, it did not have any de-icing fluid. Like a national tragedy in its attempt to save money, Canada's flag carrier stranded people all over Canada.

With the cooperation of the staff at St. John's airport I was fortunate to get on stand-by to Montreal. From Montreal I got on stand-by to Ottawa. Eventually I got back to where I stay here.

That night I got a ticket to go to Toronto and then on to Regina and guess what. Air Canada had de-icing on the Friday night. I got the ticket and went to Toronto. The first message I heard was that all passengers would have to go downstairs on flight so and so to belt 26 because there are no flights out of Toronto. Air Canada had purchased some de-icing fluid but it had used it all up.

With tremendous cooperation from the staff I had to take a taxi, go down to VIA Rail, had a chance to ride on the rail and another taxi home. That is all because of mismanagement of our flag carrier. It made a lot of people angry.

I want to say this to the staff of our airlines. I know when I get on the plane in Regina, when one has a face that only a mother could love, people remember. They always speak very kindly. It is not the airline staff that is at fault. It is the operation of the airline. It is the operation of Canada's flag carrier.

I mentioned earlier in a question that I asked one of my colleagues that within days after 9/11 the Government of Canada injected a huge amount of cash into our flag carrier. What did it do? It brought in low cost airlines to compete with WestJet which was already giving western Canada good service. They are still staggering about that over there.

As I have said before, my constituency represents the largest number of ports of entry into the U.S. of any constituency in Canada. We have had in the past only one airport of entry status, just one for the whole province of Saskatchewan. The government has chosen to close it down.

I can understand that in the early days after the towers coming down. However with the chamber of commerce in Estevan and with the local people we have tried and tried to get that recognized again because people use it. Companies use it. Companies that are now mining diamonds east of Prince Albert will land there as a point of entry and will go on directly to the plant.

The reason we have been given is a wishy-washy cost factor idea that makes no sense, none. A private plane or mining plane with geologists, map makers or whatever coming into Prince Albert from the United States has to go all the way to Winnipeg and then fly all the way back. Can anyone believe that?

In comparison, most MPs, a high percentage, are home within two hours of flying time. There should be no complaints. It takes much longer for those who live in the remote areas and we understand that. If the demographics put an MP in a remote area of Canada, hospital and health services and plane fares are not going to be as good as in the larger population centres. That is understood, but the government seems not to understand it. It forgets it.

As my colleague mentioned, we had a port of entry at Lethbridge which was closed. We sweep all across the 49th parallel and keep on going until we hit Highway 75, I think it is, and there is not one service entry for private aircraft to come in which would be a legal entry. It is a national disgrace that for virtually three big provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba we have but one airport of entry status.

This is hurting. It is hurting me, not personally, but it is hurting my area. People who for a generation have used it because of its airport of entry status can no longer do it. The lodges that fly in the hunters, fishers and so on with their own planes are out.

Is the government so determined to only serve the populated areas that it will stand in the House and tell the three prairie provinces we can have one airport of entry status despite the cries from across Canada? I hope something can be done about that.

I want to thank the people of Estevan in particular, the chamber of commerce and the work that they have done to try to get this business back, not just for the community but indeed for the sake of the province which I am proud to call home.

We are not complaining about having only the two major airports at Saskatoon and Regina. Most people outside those two cities will probably have an average flying time of two to three hours to get to those airports. We never hear complaints about that.

What we are asking for is recognition that in fact we do exist and we need these entry points. Once we get to Regina or Saskatoon we are not complaining about the service. We are complaining about the lousy taxes that have been put on that nobody can justify.

I will go back to Bill C-27. It is high on material and everything, but it is low on accountability. When we read it, we have to use a magnifying glass to see the amount of accountability. My area was left out and I am disappointed.