Mr. Speaker, I am saddened to rise in the debate on Bill C-7, which essentially is former Bill C-6, which the NDP stopped from being pushed through this House in June for the simple reason that this is clearly not in the public interest. I suppose that is why the government is pushing this forward on the eve of Halloween. This is just another way to scare Canadians, the unsafe skies act. The government is pushing forward legislation which inevitably, even though it may save some costs to government, is going to make our skies less safe.
The genesis of this goes back to the former Liberal government that was trying to do the same thing. The Liberals wanted to do the same thing to airlines that they did to the railways, and I will come back to that in a moment.
When the bill was introduced in the spring, Bloc members and NDP members voted against the bill at second reading. The bill went to committee. There was a whole range of amendments, pages and pages of amendments to fix this bad bill. As my colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence mentioned earlier, some amendments were adopted. There was some progress on the bill. We managed to fix about half of it. We managed to shore up two of the walls in this crumbling edifice that is air safety under the Conservative government, but the other two walls are there and are ready to fall at any minute.
For any member of this House to come forward and say that we have shored up two of the four crumbling walls, so we should fast track this bill through Parliament, I say that would be irresponsible. There are two walls ready to collapse at any time. The Conservatives refuse to fix the many bad aspects of this bad bill.
Regrettably, despite the fact that the NDP put forward the road map to actually get this bill to where the Conservatives purported to want to take it, half of those amendments that were proffered by the NDP, sometimes in conjunction with Bloc members or Liberal members, were rejected.
What we come to now is a bill that has some improvements, but under no circumstances should it be passed or fast tracked, because it has the major problems that the former bill had at second reading. The Bloc members voted against it at second reading, as did the NDP. To say that somehow this bill has been fixed I think would be trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the Canadian public.
Let us go through some of the problems with the unsafe skies act of 2007, Bill C-7. Despite the fact that the NDP brought forward very clear objections in this House, the Conservatives have decided to push the bill through. The Conservatives seemingly have the cooperation of the Liberals again. I do not know if the Liberals are going to vote or not. This time they may actually vote. They did not vote on the throne speech. Regardless, to vote for this bill would be irresponsible. Let us look at the major concerns.
I should mention that at the committee stage, major concerns and worries were brought forward by people who know the business better than anyone else. Justice Virgil Moshansky, who ran the Dryden crash inquiry, brought forward major concerns with this bill.
We had the inspectors themselves, the Canadian Federal Pilots Association. Who knows safety better than the inspectors themselves? They talked about the attrition and the downgrading of the key inspector roles in Canadian aviation, and I will come back to that in a moment in regard to Jetsgo of which many Canadians are aware. The fact that the Canadian Federal Pilots Association would come forward should be a red flag for any member of this House.
We had the Canada Safety Council and some smaller air operators that raised legitimate concerns about having to compete with other air operators that have lower safety standards. They talked about what that would mean both to their ability to deliver safety and compete in a marketplace where safety should be the first and foremost function of air operators.
The committee heard from Ken Rubin, the access to information expert. The committee also heard from the Canadian Union of Public Employees which represents flight attendants.
There was a vast array of objections to this bill. There was a vast array of concerns raised, and despite the fact that some of the amendments were adopted, we are still at this place where half of the edifice is crumbling.
We need to be very careful about pushing this legislation through. We need to know what the implications will be for airline safety in the next year or in the next two or three years. The decision we make at third reading of Bill C-7 will have implications for Canadians and we need to be very careful about voting for it. Each member needs to weigh what the consequences could be for Canadian families before they rush to vote through the legislation.
The first area of concern that has not been addressed is the whole question of safety management systems. This is an area of huge concern because we have seen what happened to Canada's railways when safety management was turned over to them, Canadian National being the best example with its CEO Hunter Harrison. He has simply put into place a system that, according to many observers, is fast-tracking profits at the expense of safety.
In British Columbia, we know this perhaps better than Canadians in any other part of the country. We have seen an escalation of derailments, some involving deaths, many involving property damage and environmental devastation, and that has happened since safety management was turned over to the railways. The minister simply does not have the tools to ensure that our railway system functions in a safe way.
What has been the fallout from that? In the Fraser Canyon of British Columbia, Cheakamus River and Wabamun Lake in Alberta, we have seen environmental devastation and deaths.
Bill C-7 essentially turns over safety management systems to the airlines themselves. For some airlines that may be no problem at all. There are many responsible airline operators in this country and they will ensure that the highest possible standards are maintained, but that will not be the case for all air operators.
I would like to read into the record one of the articles that came out last year in the Toronto Star, the Hamilton Spectator and the Kitchener-Waterloo Record about one particular air carrier. The headline reads:
Jetsgo problems ignored; Probe into death of the discount airline last year reveals major shortcomings of Transport Canada
National regulator was slow to take action as safety problems continue to climb, investigation shows
Transport Canada stood by while thousands of Canadians boarded Jetsgo planes amid a growing list of safety problems at the discount airline.
More than a year after the death of Jetsgo, Transport Canada insists it did the right thing in keeping the doomed airline flying and has not changed its procedures in light of the Jetsgo experience.
Jetsgo, which offered tickets as low as $1, had repeated mechanical breakdowns, shoddy maintenance practices, inexperienced pilots and midair mishaps.
Transport Canada, which is mandated to keep Canada's skies safe, knew of the problems, but for 2 1/2 years dismissed the troubles as the growing pains of a start-up operator.
Only after a near-crash in Calgary in January 2005 did it take tough action, but even after a special inspection the next month revealed serious trouble, the regulator continued to publicly tout the airline as “safe”.
Interviews with former employees, incident reports filed with Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board, and internal government documents paint a picture of an airline so badly run that some considered a major accident inevitable.
The Jetsgo experience underscores some of the major findings that are part of an ongoing investigation into aviation safety by The Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator and The Record of Waterloo Region. The probe has found a system struggling to keep up with the demands of higher passenger traffic and a disturbing number of mechanical problems.
It goes on to talk about the problems of Jetsgo itself. It reads:
Problems emerged early. Three months after the launch of the discount airline, sloppy maintenance forced an emergency landing in Toronto. The pilots noticed they were losing the hydraulic fluid that helps run aircraft systems.... Mechanics had installed a temporary hydraulic line with the wrong pressure rating, and it failed within two flights.
The article goes on about other incidents: leaking hydraulic fluid; engine failures; and a clogged engine oil filter that forced an emergency landing in Winnipeg.
The engine had been left in storage and didn't get a proper check when it was installed, according to a Transportation Safety Board report.
The article talks about flames coming out of an engine on a Jetsgo plane that had just left Toronto for Mexico. It goes on to talk about emergency landings and about organizational problems within the airline.
This one article alone should be a cause for alarm. Why are we turning over safety management systems to the airlines themselves when right now the system is not functioning properly and another Jetsgo could arise?
What we are doing with Bill C-7, if the Liberals and Conservatives get their way, is turning over safety management, as with Jetsgo, to the airline itself. What is wrong with this picture? How many Canadians would vote to have an airline like Jetsgo, with all those problems, repeated safety violations, have responsibility for its own safety management system?
In other words, let us keep cutting back on federal flight inspectors and let us keep the attrition rate high so we will gradually empty those positions out and we will not have the same safety oversight when the airline takes care of itself. What is wrong with this picture? How many Canadians would vote for this? Virtually none of them because they certainly would not want to see a system where their loved ones are in increased danger.
Instead of going for lower safety standards, we should be looking for higher safety standards. Absolutely nothing in Bill C-7 guarantees a higher level of safety, not one line.
Some amendments take some of the most egregious aspects of the former Liberal legislation and current Conservative legislation out, but there is nothing that indicates a higher level of safety when we have SMS, when we have airlines like Jetsgo that are essentially given a blank cheque to run their own safety management.
Clearly there are many reputable airline companies in Canada that will maintain a high standard but there are companies that clearly will not, which is why the NDP will not support Bill C-7. We do not believe we should be playing with the safety of Canadians. We do not believe in an unsafe skies act. We do not believe that the federal government should try to cut costs through attrition of simply not replacing federal flight inspectors, but that is okay because companies, like Jetsgo with repeated mechanical problems, can simply run themselves. It is simply not okay. That is only the first of the three egregious aspects.
Let us go on to number two, which is corporate CEOs, for example, of the aforementioned company. They get a get out of jail free card with no consequences for actions that are irresponsible or detrimental to the public interest. Essentially it is a get out of jail free card.
We spoke out very clearly about Bill C-6 in the House at second reading, at third reading and in committee that we do not believe corporate CEOs should be let off the hook when the public is in danger. We cannot provide a get out of jail free card to a corporate CEO. However, that is what Bill C-7 does.
We have talked about the safety aspects and about this get out of jail free card for corporate CEOs. Perhaps the most egregious one is the whole aspect of access to information, the access to information that is in the public interest.
We just talked about some of the problems around Jetsgo. This came out after Jetsgo stopped flying but these were problems that Canadians needed to know about. When Canadians put their loved ones on an air carrier they need to know that air carrier is being run responsibly and it is being run with all due attention to safety. That is of fundamental importance.
We have problems now with access to information in terms of flight safety and knowing which companies are acting responsibly and should be patronized, the airlines we should be putting our loved ones on because we know they are being run properly, responsibly and safely, and we need to know which companies are being run irresponsibly.
We can imagine how deeply felt it would be to lose a loved one and to know that the government knew about those safety issues and safety problems but did nothing about it and simply withheld that information from the public.
In Bill C-7, we now have an extension of more than seven areas on access to information, the flight attendant, the mechanic. The consumers will no longer be able to get that vital information on the safety of the air carrier from which they are purchasing their tickets. Perhaps that is the most egregious aspect of Bill C-7. What we have now is less safety and more secrecy.
When the Conservatives ran for election in 2006, they pretended they would run things differently, that they would somehow be a new government and it would be more responsible. They said that there would be a higher level of safety and less secrecy.
In Bill C-7, we are seeing the same old same old. We are seeing a continuation of the old Liberal agenda that covers up safety problem, that hands over direction for safety issues to company CEOs, and now, perhaps most strikingly unfair, it give those same company CEOs a get out of jail free card if they choose to diminish passenger safety.
Those three fundamental elements are not areas that the Liberals and Conservatives were not in favour of amending and that somehow we have a bill that is almost right. That is simply not true. This bill is fundamentally flawed and wrong. It puts Canadians in more danger. It keeps Canadians from knowing the truth about the airline they are putting their loved ones on and then, at the end of that whole process, it gives the company CEOs for those companies that choose to be irresponsible to increase their profit line, a get out of jail free card.
For those reasons, we simply cannot support Bill C-7. I would ask members in all four corners of the House to really reflect upon the legislation itself, not the political spin but what this would do to our airline industry. This continued agenda to offload costs from the federal government and put them on somebody else's back is not really in Canada's interest. Is it really in the public interest? We say that it is not. We cannot pretend it is in the public interest. We cannot pretend that less safety and more secrecy is in the public interest, no matter how we slice it.
The issue is quite simple now. We have here, in a very real sense, tragically, since the throne speech, a functional majority government. The Liberals have simply given up any opposition to the Conservative agenda. In fact, in most cases, if not all cases, it is a former Liberal agenda that has just been adopted by the Conservatives.
Nothing has changed in Ottawa. We still have the pushing forward with the support of lobbyists for things that are clearly not in the public interest. However, individual MPs still have the power to say no to their leaders. When it is not in the interest of the public, MPs, whether they are Conservatives, Liberals or Bloc members, can say no, that they will not vote for Bill C-7 because it is not in the public interest. They do not need to give in to this functional majority, where we simply allow in any piece of legislation, no matter how badly flawed and no matter how it makes the edifice of important elements, like air safety, crumble, and vote for it.
I would ask, on behalf of the NDP, that members in all four corners of the House vote down this legislation because it is not in the public interest. They should vote it down because it calls for more secrecy and because it is patently unfair. A CEO who breaks the law gets a get out of jail free card. They should vote it down because it essentially gives over the whole question of air safety to the company itself and takes the federal government out of ensuring passenger safety on Canada's airlines. That is wrong and that is why the NDP is voting no.