Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for talking about what is so important and so essential about this bill we are looking at today, Bill C-7.
I want to start by talking a little about my community of London—Fanshawe. There is a wonderful airport in London--Fanshawe, the London International Airport. It is certainly not as grand as Pearson or the airport in Vancouver, but it is a remarkable little airport inasmuch as it has an impeccable safety record. The people who work there take great pride in keeping the public safe and doing their job in an exemplary way. They have remarkable community relationships and have made it very clear that safety is first and foremost when it comes to London.
We have heard about the experiences of my colleague in regard to the tragedies that have ensued for the people of her community. We most certainly do not want these kinds of tragedies to proliferate across the country. That is why the New Democratic Party is opposing this bill. That is why our critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, has been so very clear and so very vociferous about the concerns here.
When we read through the flaws that he sees in Bill C-7, I am sure that all members of the House will agree that we need to take a careful look at this bill. We need to consider very carefully before we proceed.
According to my colleague from Vancouver, the bill is seriously flawed and still needs amendment. Among those flaws are those having to do with the new safety management systems, the immunity from prosecution for airlines that violate safety rules under certain conditions, the heightened secrecy and less access to information on the safety performance of airlines, and the fact that this information is out of the reach of the Access to Information Act.
That should send chills down the spines of everyone who has ever boarded an aircraft in this country or who is contemplating boarding an aircraft in this country. We cannot get the access we need to the information we need to know that we are indeed safe.
The irony of this, of course, is that we now have a government that is so determined to cuddle up to George Bush that it is willing to allow no fly lists. The government is willing to allow the Americans to have access to information about passengers who are boarding Canadian aircraft, but the government is not willing to look at the planes themselves. The government is not willing to say to the companies that they have to make sure the mechanics of the planes are absolutely safe, that the nuts and bolts and the things that truly reflect safety are in place.
As I have said, we oppose this bill. We have been remarkably fortunate in Canada, but the time is coming, if we allow this bill to go forward, when we will not feel nearly so safe and we will not be nearly so fortunate.
I want to give some sense of the background here. Bill C-7 constitutes what my colleague calls a revolution in how aviation safety will be addressed in Canada for years to come, not just right now and not just in the next few months, but for years to come. It enshrines aviation safety management systems, SMS, as part of Transport Canada's agenda to implement SMS in all modes of transportation, sometimes with disastrous effects, as is the case with rail safety management.
We know about the numerous derailments since the privatization of rail safety. We constantly hear about them in the news. We know that the effect is not only a human effect, but an environmental effect. We hear of trains going into rivers and trains derailing. The cost in terms of the environment and human life is simply not acceptable.
We have experience with the privatization of rail safety, but apparently that is not enough. We cannot seem to learn from that. We now need to take the next step and risk safety in the air. As frightening and as dangerous as a train wreck is, it is on the ground. It gets a whole lot scarier at 30,000 feet.
The SMS is also designed to help Transport Canada deal with declining resources and high levels of projected inspector retirements. I find it interesting that apparently we need at least 100 additional inspectors to ensure the safety of our airlines. I guess the Conservative government cannot be held solely responsible here. It is very clear that the Liberals had a whole lot to do with cutting the service sector of Canada and crippling those who provide services to Canadians, underscoring the fact that apparently the Liberals were not concerned about the kind of services that Canadians receive, including safety on our railways and safety on our airlines.
We need these inspectors and nobody seems to be prepared to ensure they are there. If they are there, then we do not need to rely on the industry itself being the arbiter in terms of what is safe and what is acceptable.
I would like to give the House a little history on the bill. Originally, it was a Liberal bill authorized by former transport minister Jean Lapierre. Apparently, after a 45-minute staff briefing, the Conservatives and the Liberals were initially willing to let Bill C-6 pass without further amendment. However, that raised a lot of alarm bells. There was growing concern and opposition to Bill C-6 from a wide range of witnesses who appeared before the standing committee over a series of many months. These critics, and this is significant, included Justice Virgil Mochansky of the Dryden crash inquiry; two Transport Canada inspectors; unions; the CSPA; the UCTE; the Canada Safety Council; some smaller air operators; Ken Rubin, an access to information expert; the teamsters and CUPE representing flight attendants; as well as the IMAW.
The criticisms from those witnesses focused on the unprecedented and unacceptable decline in regulatory oversight by Transport Canada and the greater ability for the industry to set and enforce its own safety standards out of public sight and scrutiny and away from the critical eyes of our community. That is at the centre of all of this.
The airlines get to determine what is safe and what is not safe. It is kind of like bean counting. A corporation assesses how much it will cost to meet certain safety regulations compared to the lawsuits that would ensue as a result of accidents. If the corporation deems that it would be less expensive to simply allow the accidents to happen and face the lawsuits compared to the maintenance and safety costs, it opts for the bean counting, it opts for allowing the suits to go forward.
I would suggest that in a country where we pride ourselves on the restrictions, the controls and the oversights that keep our people safe, this is simply not acceptable.
In the face of this widespread opposition, the government was forced to make some amendments. In other cases, the three opposition parties united to force these amendments on the government.
We saw a number of amendments in the detailed clause by clause. The new legislation required the minister to maintain a program for the oversight and surveillance of aviation safety in order to achieve the highest level of safety and a new legislative obligation for the minister to require that aeronautical activities be performed at all times in a manner that meets the highest safety and security standards.
There were many more amendments. An amendment was added to ensure that the Canada Labour Code would prevail over the Aeronautics Act in the event of a possible conflict. An amendment was added ensuring employees and their bargaining agents would be included in the development and implementation of SMS, something that is certainly not happening today.
After extended debate, the government was compelled to introduce those amendments, as well as a form of whistleblower protection for employees who report to Transport Canada that their employer is violating the law.
A new definition of the safety management system was put into the legislation, emphasizing a reduction of risk to the lowest possible level, rather than just accepting or tolerating these risks to ensure the industry does not accept other higher levels of risk in its day to day operations.
The government then tried to kill this bill in committee. It wanted none of it. If we look back at these amendments, they make perfect sense and yet the government was quite willing to kill the bill to get rid of these amendments, instead of having the concern it should have for the people of our community.