Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for bringing this motion forward. In principle, I do support the motion. Whatever we can do to strengthen consumer rights in Canada is welcomed.
I am also an air traveller. I travel every week to and from my riding, and I know what it means to be delayed, to sit on the tarmac waiting for a plane to take off.
I want to start by unequivocally stating that our government is committed to consumer protection for Canadians. Our country has a solid, effective and constantly improving consumer protection regime, and that applies to those Canadians who travel by air.
Canada's approach to air travel has always been to put the safety of the travelling public first. That is non-negotiable. That is why Canada is a world leader in aviation safety, as the member mentioned. Canada has even been cited by the International Civil Aviation Organization as having among the best safety standards in the world. Safe operation of our aircraft is our paramount consideration.
What about some of the other aspects of air travel? What about the comfort, safety and convenience of the travelling public?
The motion before us asks us to do a number of things. It calls upon our government to protect air passengers' consumer interests in a consistent and rules based way. It also asks us to provide adequate compensation to air travellers who experience inconveniences and delays on commercial flights originating in Canada.
The motion seeks to address those concerns by formally calling upon our government to implement a passenger bill of rights similar to the one in Europe and the one in the United States. Let us look at those models. Let us first review the situation in the United States.
As it turns out, the United States actually has no national passenger bill of rights. Although the state of New York tried to adopt a law which would have addressed health and safety concerns related to long delays on the tarmac, the U.S. Court of Appeals actually struck down the law. Despite past efforts, the United States has never been able to implement a broad passenger bill of rights to date.
Not only does the United States not have a passenger bill of rights, but it does not even have a complaints mechanism available to passengers. A discontented passenger is left to deal directly with the airline and has no other recourse for resolution aside from the courts.
Only Europe has a passenger bill of rights at this time, and it is appropriate for us to reflect on the particular circumstances of that bill of rights.
The fact that the European Union has some 20 different member states, many with their own air carriers, explains why the EU was so anxious to have a consistent set of rules and approaches to consumer complaints.
What was worse was that in Europe there were persistent challenges with congestion and overbooking, challenges which existed as early as the 1990s, which is approximately when the European passenger bill of rights was originally introduced. The European aviation industry was known to regularly overbook passengers, cancel undersold flights and make refunds very difficult.
Europe also faced serious challenges when its airline industry saw over 35 low cost carriers exit the market between 2003 and 2006. That in itself would have been a huge blow to consumer confidence in the European airline industry.
The European Union passenger bill of rights addresses specific situations where either boarding is denied by the carrier or flights are cancelled or delayed for a long period of time.
That bill of rights also requires each member state to have an enforcement body to deal with consumer complaints. Surprisingly, its enforcement process has many similarities to our Canadian approach. Just as in Canada, enforcement bodies in the EU provide recourse to passengers for complaints not resolved by the carrier.
However, European Union resolution of complaints is limited to the very issues I have already articulated: denied boarding, cancellations and delays. This is different from our system where our complaints enforcement body, the Canadian Transportation Agency, has a much wider mandate. The agency has the power to address a wide variety of air traveller complaints as reflected in the broad range of carriers' terms and conditions.
The EU passenger bill of rights does not address the concerns raised by the United States regarding lengthy delays on the tarmac, nor does it address the issue of lost baggage.
Let me elaborate further on the situation right here in Canada.
I would first like to address the unfortunate circumstances that have probably triggered the motion before us. Let us not beat around the bush. This last winter was a tough one for Canadians. It is easy for me to sympathize with those people who were victims of delayed and cancelled flights during the 2007 Christmas holiday season as a result of the winter storms in eastern and Atlantic Canada. I happened to be one of those passengers. Indeed, some Canadians rely on air transportation as their only means of travel. It is also regrettable that vacationers had their reading week and spring break trips cancelled or significantly delayed as a result of the massive storms that hit Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal on March 8 and 9. These were very unfortunate events that are a product of our northern climate.
I began my comments with the statement that we in Canada are fortunate to have strong consumer protection laws. Let me take a few minutes to remind members of what that regime actually entails.
In Canada, as in most other countries, the terms and conditions of carriage are set by carriers that compete aggressively with each other. They are not set by government. This approach is consistent with our privatized air industry framework which relies heavily on the competitiveness of the marketplace to ensure that terms and conditions of carriage are reasonable and fair.
In Canada, airline passenger rights are protected through the provisions in the Canadian Transportation Act. All carriers operating within Canada or arriving or departing from Canada are required to develop terms and conditions of carriage and to make them readily accessible to the public. The information contained in the carrier's terms and conditions of carriage is important to consumers because it sets out that carrier's obligations and commitments to passengers.
As my colleagues in this House know all too well, the Canadian Transportation Act was recently amended unanimously by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I am a member of that committee and I was part of that review process.
Bill C-11, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act, was passed and received royal assent in June of last year. It included enhanced consumer protection for air travel. These enhancements were in addition to existing consumer laws that we already had in place. I would like to list some of those improvements we made under Bill C-11.
Under that bill airlines are now required to prominently display and post their terms and conditions of carriage at the business offices of their domestic airlines. Bill C-11 also made permanent the informal and flexible complaints resolution process within the Canadian Transportation Agency. It integrated the role and functions of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner with the authority and day to day operations of the agency.
The changes introduced under Bill C-11 are improvements to an already open and transparent reporting process. It is also important to understand how the complaints process in Canada works.
Canadian passengers are first required to address their complaints directly to the airline. To me, that seems reasonable. They then have recourse to the Canadian Transportation Agency if they are not satisfied with the carrier's response. Consumers can also seek redress and file a complaint with the agency if an airline fails to follow its terms and conditions of carriage. As a result of the complaints process, the agency can then assess monetary damages, if appropriate.
When considering whether to introduce our own passenger bill of rights, we have to consider many of the elements that are already in place in Canada. These are terms such as those that lay out the obligations of a carrier when flights are cancelled or delayed, conditions that determine how lost baggage is dealt with, which does not happen in the European Union, and an existing thorough and comprehensive complaints process.
The bottom line is that Canadian air passenger consumer protection laws are much stronger than those in the United States, and they more than hold their own when compared to the passenger bill of rights in the European Union.
Let us wind up this discussion by simply saying that Canada should not sell itself short. We are doing a good job in the area of consumer protection. What I do not want to do is till soil that has already been thoroughly tilled.
While I do not for a moment question the motives of the mover of this motion, I am not yet certain that a new passenger bill of rights is absolutely necessary, but I am certainly open to hear his remarks and the rest of the debate on this motion. I am certainly open to having my mind changed on this issue.