Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act.
While this bill certainly has some elements that could prove interesting, we must take into account the current situation.
I seem to recall that not all that long ago, barely a few months ago, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages to discuss Air Canada's situation and its obligation to provide services in both official languages. This includes Air Canada as well as its subsidiaries and affiliates.
However, to my great surprise and to the surprise of my Liberal Party colleagues, many factors appeared to be overlooked by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and therefore by the Conservative government, factors that are essential to ensuring that official languages policy is respected by Air Canada and its subsidiaries.
We were surprised to hear the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities tell us that Bill C-29 would not be sent to the Standing Committee on Official Languages but to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The only thing not mentioned in the title of Bill C-29 is official languages.
As we know, the connection between Air Canada and official languages is important. This is not a transportation issue, even though Air Canada is in the business of transportation. We must look at the overall situation. If Parliament is to ensure that Air Canada and its subsidiaries comply with the Official Languages Act, the Standing Committee on Official Languages must be able to hear witnesses, examine evidence, give recommendations and make the required changes and amendments in order for this bill to be acceptable and in order to continue to defend the official languages throughout Canada.
The Conservative government is doing the exact opposite. We need only look back a few weeks to when the former chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages decided to cancel a committee meeting with just two minutes' notice. That was already an indication of what we would be facing.
Today it seems that the Standing Committee on Official Languages will not even be able to study the bill. It is a shame that the government is not giving this committee the opportunity to debate the bill and make the necessary amendments. It is true that the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities can do some work. I am convinced that the members of this committee can do a good job. However, this is not just about transportation, it is also about official languages. Matters pertaining to official languages must be dealt with by the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
In the next few days we will see if the government backtracks and reinstates the committee. The government may be tired of losing face with regard to official languages and official language communities outside Quebec. That may be the case.
I can hear people opposite who do not agree with me, but that is still the reality of the situation. The Conservative government has lost face on the official languages issue. Since I am still hearing them, I have to conclude that what I am saying does not suit them. Nevertheless, it is the truth. Official language communities are saying that the government should be ashamed of itself for not having replaced the chair of the committee so that we can continue our work.
What I am saying is important because the government is applying the same logic in trying to prevent the Standing Committee on Official Languages from studying Bill C-29. That element should never be shunted aside.
Let me be clear: the Conservative government says a lot of nice things. It talks a good game, but when the time comes to take action, it gets a failing grade. This government is good for nothing when it comes to official languages.
Members of the government can go ahead and laugh at what I have to say, but I can tell you that official language minority communities do not think this is funny. They do not think that the way they are being treated is funny. Official language minority communities have never been treated as badly as they are being treated now. Who is responsible for treating them so badly? The Conservative government, the government that is now in power. Thank goodness it is a minority government. If it were a majority government, one would have to wonder what would be left of official language minority community rights. Probably not all that much.
When we say that Air Canada must offer services in both languages, we are not just saying that for fun. In the not-too-distant past, Air Canada belonged to the federal government. Then it was privatized and Air Canada became a private company. Even so, it was not exempted from its obligations and had to keep offering bilingual services to the Canadian public. Not just part of the Canadian public. Not just anglophones. This was to ensure that francophones would also receive adequate service.
When Air Canada merged with Canadian International, I remember that, at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, some people from the company were rather unhappy, because of me. I even received some mail from people who were very upset about some of my comments. I will repeat them here today.
When Air Canada decided to merge with Canadian International, certain conditions had to be met. For instance, the new entity had to comply with the rules of the Official Languages Act and had to provide services to all Canadians in both official languages. People made up excuses, saying that they were in the process of restructuring, that they were nearly bankrupt, that they were having problems and that we should not be forcing them to provide services in both official languages.
I told them those were the rules of the game at that time and that they had not changed. It was a deal or no deal situation, as it were. Since the company decided to merge with Canadian International, it also had to accept the deal, which meant that the new entity had to provide services in both official languages. Yet it is still hard, even today, to get service in both languages. Many people have made comments about this, not just me.
In his 2006-07 report, the Commissioner of Official Languages said that most of the complaints received regarding service to the public had to do with Air Canada and its inability to provide services to its customers in both official languages. The Commissioner of Official Languages said this, but let us be clear. This refers only to those who filed a complaint, but there are many people across the country who are very discouraged by the service they receive. Ultimately, however, they wonder what good it does to file a complaint, because the service never gets any better.
We are not just talking about person to person service, because sometimes flight attendants will provide service in French, but there are also machines on board that give instructions in French and English. And then there is the written word. The other day I was travelling with Air Canada and I saw things that should not even be possible in this day and age. Everyone would be frustrated to see some of the written language on airplanes.
When we look at the situation, we see that some people are not happy about the fact that Air Canada employees are unable to offer bilingual service. Nonetheless, it is not up to the Conservative government to decide that Air Canada will not offer bilingual services. It is up to us, Parliament, to do so. We have said that Air Canada is required to provide bilingual services.
What do we now see in Bill C-29? The government does not want to consider the present or the future. We cannot discharge Air Canada from its obligation—which also applies to its affiliates—to respect the official languages.
If we do not take action today, it will be too late in the future to try to repair the damage.
The Conservative government is trying to repair damage in several areas. For months, the only thing it has been able to do is repair the damage it has caused. It can blame others, but it should take a look at itself before criticizing members from other parties. It keeps repairing the damage that it has caused. It is not the Liberals who are to blame. It is the Liberals who are waking them up. It is the Liberals who are defending the public so that it is well served, whether in terms of official languages or in terms of student initiatives, etc. That is a fact.
It is thanks to the work of the Liberals that the Conservatives can wake up. As I was saying earlier, it is a good thing this is not a majority government. Indeed, we would be able to wake them up, but they would be able to carry on their little dictatorship. We are here to ensure that the Canadian public has the services it deserves.
It is astounding that this government refuses to acknowledge that a company could purchase existing entities and not be subject to the Official Languages Act. Can you imagine Air Canada being snatched up by a foreign company? The Conservatives would celebrate because they love it when foreign companies buy Canadian companies. They love it when foreign companies take over Canadian businesses and lay off employees. It is just astounding. We can only imagine what it would be like if the official languages policy were also to disappear from Air Canada. The Conservative government does not even want to make the decisions needed to deal with these situations, even though they are so important that they cannot be disregarded.
These are issues that the Conservatives should be examining. They should also look themselves in the mirror and tell themselves that, if they truly want to protect official languages, they should stand up in the House and say that there is nothing to worry about because Air Canada companies, present and future Air Canada subsidiaries, will be required to provide services in both official languages no matter their organizational structure.
Mr. Speaker, try to find a travel agency in your neighbourhood. You used to be able to find one almost everywhere. You could easily find one, whether you lived in a city or village, and buy an Air Canada ticket. Today, their numbers are dwindling. There will be even fewer if this continues. We also have Air Canada Vacations and Aeroplan. Why is it that if you want to make reservations or obtain certain services, Air Canada Vacations is not required to provide service in both official languages? Why does Bill C-29 not address this? Why is Bill C-29 not moving in that direction? Why does the Conservative government not want to have the bill cover this? It is not magic, it is not complicated. If the Conservatives do not wish to include official language provisions in the bill, it is probably because they do not believe in official languages.
Aeroplan is a loyalty program. It enables clients to do more business with the company. In return, the company offers gifts or points exchangeable for more trips or gifts. This also affects online reservations. If we take Aeroplan as an example and if we want to exchange our points for a vacation service, but Aeroplan is not obligated to respect official languages, how will people be respected? How will official language communities be respected? This does not make sense. We cannot say that part of the company will do it and the rest will not. The entire company must do it, all of its current parts, and all of its future ones. Why is it so hard for Conservatives to understand that we are obligated to respect official languages? Why is it so difficult for Conservatives to ensure that official languages will be respected in the future?
I do not want my children, and I hope, my grandchildren and descendants to have to fight like we have had to against the Conservatives in order to be respected with regard to official languages. This is a reality that the Conservatives want to hear nothing about. If the government allowed a free vote on the official languages bill, I would like to see the reaction of members from the other side of the House and to see how many Conservative members would vote against official languages, because many of them do not believe in them.
The Conservative Party does not believe in the entire official languages issue and is not looking to ensure official languages are respected in communities outside Quebec. This is not something new; history is repeating itself. The current Prime Minister or the members of his party have made comments in the past. They should not think that because they are now prime minister or in government that history will be forgotten.
What did they say? Whether they said it a month ago, a year ago or 10 years ago, if they said it, it is too bad, but it is because they believed it. If they believed it, they said it and it continues. They are just trying to win votes. It is really unfortunate. We can tell the Conservative members and the Conservative government that official language communities across the country no longer believe in the Conservative government and no longer believe what the Conservatives are saying.
I am happy because sometimes reality reappears. The Conservatives helped francophones outside Quebec and all official language communities realize that the Conservatives were not able to keep their word and that they were not in a position to truly defend and respect official language minority communities.
As I said earlier, we must look towards the future. The future must be certain, not uncertain. A future that is certain would mean that the government must wake up and make the amendments deemed necessary. First of all, they should refer Bill C-29 to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. If they also want to present it to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, that would not be a problem. However, they must at least show enough respect for official language minority communities to let the Standing Committee on Official Languages have the opportunity to examine the situation, and make the necessary recommendations and amendments.
I am pleased that the other members of my party are supporting me in this file, because this is the reality. We do not see any Conservative members applauding this matter, because the Conservatives do not believe in it. They absolutely do not believe in services in both official languages.
It is sometimes interesting to see how things unfold. On February 21, 2002, members of the former Canadian Alliance, who were also members of the committee at that time, presented a minority report. They felt that the official languages issue should be removed from the Air Canada Public Participation Act. We are currently experiencing the first step. The Conservatives come along and limit the implication of official languages in the Air Canada Public Participation Act. I am convinced that they are dreaming of the day when the official languages obligation regarding Air Canada public participation will just disappear.
This makes no sense when we look at a situation like this, but we must look at the reality. Some say that this makes no sense, but nothing has made any sense for the past 16 months, ever since we have been dealing with this Conservative government, which has no common sense when it comes to official languages.
The Conservatives are going to come along and try to buy people with—