Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the House today at third reading of Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act.
The Aeronautics Act has been in place since 1919 and last underwent a major overhaul in the mid-1980s. Many of the amendments made at that time were aimed at enhancing the compliance and enforcement provisions of the act, including the establishment of the Civil Aviation Tribunal, which was later converted into the multi-model Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada.
The act was further amended in 1992 to authorize the making of interim orders by the transport minister, the making of agreements with provincial land use authorities for airport zoning, and to further enhance the compliance provisions of the Act. Other amendments were also made to enhance aviation security.
It has now been more than 20 years since the Aeronautics Act has had a substantial review and it is considered important and timely that the act be updated at this time to mostly improve the safety of the travelling public and to reflect the current needs of the aviation industry in our country. That is the goal of the government and that is the goal of the act.
Canada has the sixth largest aerospace manufacturing sector, the second largest population of licensed pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers and the second largest civil aviation aircraft fleet and over six million aircraft movements in Canada every year.
More than 1,000 air operators carry passengers and accommodate the needs of some of the most isolated places in the world. The aviation industry connects dozens of mid- and small-sized cities and towns in the country to the vast grid of worldwide air travel.
The aviation industry is also part of our competitive advantage in this global economy. To remain competitive globally, the industry must continue to improve its safety performance. While Canada is recognized worldwide as having an excellent safety record, in fact one of the best in the world, this enviable safety record does not mean that we can sit back and rest on our laurels and be complacent. In fact, we must move forward aggressively with better safety compliance.
In today's challenging and rapidly expanding world of aviation, the government is always looking for new ways to achieve a higher level of safety by improving the sound regulatory base on which the system currently operates.
The department has a responsibility as well to have the tools and the guidance in place to actively improve on the safety performance of an already very safe industry in Canada in anticipation of further growth and increased activity, while taking advantage of continuously evolving technology.
Allow me to summarize the various legislative steps through which the bill has already passed. The bill was introduced in the House on April 27, 2006, and second reading began shortly thereafter in May. During second reading, members in the House heard that the amendments proposed to update the Aeronautics Act would provide for a modern and flexible legislative framework that would enable a number of aviation safety enhancements over the next several years. It is very important to move forward with safety for Canadians, and the government is taking action on that front.
Members also heard that the bill placed emphasis on managing safety from an organizational perspective and expanded the enabling authority to facilitate the implementation of management systems as well as provided the protection provisions required to obtain safety information.
The bill also proposes increases in penalties that may be imposed under the current act. These penalties have not been increased for a number of years and the increases are intended to deter non-compliance to not allow violators to have business as usual and to pay and to live on a fine system.
A new part 2 of the act was also added to allow Canadian Forces investigators to have legal authority to investigate accidents involving civilian military personnel that were comparable to the authorities exercised by the Transportation Safety Board investigators in civilian accidents.
A number of housekeeping amendments will also clarify some relationships and ministerial authorities between the act and other acts, such as the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act and the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act.
It is a very complicated issue, and it took our committee much time to deal with it at that time.
Consultations began on the amendments in 2000, first by Transport Canada and then continued when the bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. for review in February 2007.
The committee heard from key transportation representatives from the private sector, all of whom share a commitment to aviation safety, as well as private individuals representing the public interest, officials of Transport Canada and, of course, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities who works so hard in the House.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the committee who worked with myself on this particular legislative initiative, especially for taking the time to hear more than 30 witnesses during this session and for conducting such a thorough review of the bill.
I am very pleased to comment on the improvements to Bill C-7 that were made by the committee. Committee members provided valuable input during consideration of the bill resulting in several refinements of the bill itself. Certainly the committee itself was seized with the issue of safety for Canadians as being our utmost concern. We believe the bill now addresses those issues.
Although there was broad support for passage of the bill, many witnesses requested some improvements to be made. The committee has considered these requests and a number of changes were made that will improve the regulatory framework, therefore benefiting all Canadians and, ultimately, the safety of all Canadians.
The enabling authority for safety management systems regulation is valid and authorized under the existing Aeronautics Act. Bill C-7 proposes amendments related to the management system to maximize their effectiveness and to further facilitate the implementation for certificate holders.
The amendments allow, in part, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to require by order certificate orders to enhance their safety management systems or take corrective measures when these systems are considered deficient.
SMS regulations are necessary to increase aviation safety. Safety management systems is not about self-regulation as was brought forward by at least one witness and it is not about deregulation. Rather, it is an additional layer over and above what we currently have in Canada, a layer that is considered to produce more safety for Canadians.
The role of the minister in the oversight of aviation safety was further clarified by an amendment stating that the minister shall carry out inspections of the aeronautic activities of holders of Canadian aviation documents who are required to have a management system.
With respect to the designation of organizations to certify certain segments of the industry, this new authority in the Aeronautics Act will not allow the minister to abdicate his oversight responsibility to an industry body. Indeed, these designated organizations will be allowed to monitor the activity of a specific segment of the industry if it represents a low risk level in relation to aviation safety.
The key is that the committee looked at the safety of Canadians and took it forward as the primary concern that we have.
An amendment was adopted at committee l to clarify under what circumstances organizations, whose activities relate to aeronautics, may be designated by the minister.
With respect to the reporting of safety information, the protection afforded by the proposed amendment will help nurture and sustain a safety culture, which is so important from the mechanics, to the baggage handlers, to the very pilots. This culture must be enhanced and encouraged and we would suggest that the bill goes some way in doing that. Employees can confidentially report safety deficiencies without fear of subsequent punitive action.
Amendments found in Bill C-7 provide for protection of those reporting information through a safety management system.
However, additional protection was introduced at committee after much discussion to clarify that a holder of a Canadian aviation document shall not use information disclosed by an employee under a safety management system process requiring or encouraging disclosure of information to take any disciplinary proceedings or take any reprisal adversely affecting working conditions against that employee who disclosed the information, provided that certain conditions are met.
It should be made clear that safety management systems do not relieve operators from compliance with any of the current Canadian aviation regulations and standards. It also does not eliminate the taking of enforcement action when necessary, including fines and/or suspensions.
On the contrary, the regulations actually add an additional layer of requirements for operators to establish integrated risk management programs aimed at taking proactive action before the issue of safety actually arises in a more serious way and to address safety issues before they develop into a more serious incident or accident.
I am also very pleased that during the report stage debate the House decided on motions following a fulsome discussion on this issue. While most of the motions that were accepted are editorial in nature and do not affect the substance of the bill, they do serve to improve the intent of the amendments.
An updated Aeronautics Act is absolutely essential to continue to advance aviation safety while respecting the continuously evolving operational environment in which operators find themselves.
I would, therefore, at this time encourage all members to vote to pass the bill so that our colleagues in the Senate can start the process of reviewing the bill without delay and we can keep Canadians safe.