Mr. Speaker, Mont Tremblant and its ski resort are the region’s economic driver. Indeed, deeply affected by the forestry crisis, this region of Quebec is counting on its tourism industry for its survival. All stakeholders joined hands to find a solution, and they found it. They chose to diversify their economy with tourism development.
The tourism industry is now firmly established in this region. The Mont Tremblant Ski Resort attracts international visitors, particularly Americans. This year, we learned that, while Canadians were getting warmed up in Mexico, Mexicans were coming here to experience winter and ski at Mont Tremblant.
Also, the region has an airport providing fast and easy access for foreign tourists. Mont Tremblant International Airport, the third largest in Quebec, is a major economic development tool for the Hautes-Laurentides region.
It was under the Liberals in 2004, more specifically under the then Minister of Transport, the hon. Jean Lapierre, that the Mont Tremblant airport really got under way. As early as 2002, the stakeholders in the file had collectively decided to acquire an airport by rehabilitating the old military airport of La Macaza, located in the region’s geographic centre.
Still under the then Minister of Transport, the hon. Jean Lapierre, a company was formed: the Aéroport international de Mont-Tremblant inc. This company includes the municipalities around the airport, the CLD and CFDC development agencies, the municipality of Antoine-Labelle, and also a few small shareholders from the private sector.
The community’s involvement and its motivation to develop the economy of this sector are not new. The decision by the Canada Border Services Agency makes this an even harder pill to swallow. It is actually indigestible.
I would like to tell you about some of the action taken by the partners in recent years: they have restored the runways; they have built a superb terminal; they got certification from Transport Canada to allow the operation of regular commercial flights; they got an air security designation from the federal government; they got a designation from the Canada Customs Agency recognizing it as an airport of entry to Canada; they got financial support from Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions so that infrastructures could be put in place; and from CATSA they got the implementation and operation of a security checkpoint with X-ray equipment—entirely at their own expense.
The people of the community have done their job and they have done it well.
To digress, if I may, CATSA agreed to provide services for free. Unlike the Minister of Public Safety, this authority understood that the Mont-Tremblant airport is an international airport.
Despite all the goodwill of stakeholders, the appreciation of the Canadian dollar has deeply affected the regional economy. And now, this government wants to make things even worse.
The Canada Border Services Agency is demanding that the Mont-Tremblant airport pay for customs services for international passengers. It is the only airport in Canada that has to pay for these passengers.
In 2006, the daily cost of customs services was $374. It stands now at over $1,100, and it is an unbearable financial burden.
The Minister of Public Safety does not want to do anything to help this area that got together in response to the severe impact of the forestry crisis. We do not need anybody to make the situation even more difficult. But that is exactly what the government is doing. It will not listen. It does not want to understand that Mont-Tremblant will be less appealing as a tourist attraction if it loses its airport.
I want to remind all my colleagues that the Mont-Tremblant airport is the only airport with regular commercial flights in Canada that has to pay for customs services. When private jets from New York or San Francisco land there, customs clearance charges will apply. But if there are charges for commercial flights, they will have to be paid by the airport, because it would be irresponsible to try to pass them on to passengers or carriers.
These customs charges would have a considerable negative impact on tourist visits to the region.
Approaches have been made to the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. I have consulted the website of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, and there I found out about the program they call Community Diversification. Do you know what one of that program's objectives is? I quote: increase communities' capability to attract tourists and skilled individuals. How can the minister encourage communities to develop their tourism sector while his government is knocking the feet out from under that very same sector?
Is this government aware of the extent of the loss this represents in terms of economic spinoffs if the Tremblant airport is forced to close? Yes, the Mont Tremblant airport may have to contemplate closing down if the Minister of Public Safety refuses to resolve the problem of the Canada Border Service Agency custom charges.
The Mont Tremblant airport is an essential component of the region's tourism-based economy. You only have to look at all the revenues generated by visitors using the Mont-Tremblant airport, all the related jobs, all the related income tax, all the sales tax collected on tourism dollars, compared amount to what the Canada Border Service Agency is demanding, to realize that the decision to make the airport pay custom charges makes no sense. It is a bad decision, and very close to being a ridiculous one.
The Mont Tremblant airport is developing in the same way the Vail-Eagle airport in Colorado did. There are a number of parallels between the two. Both service major ski destinations and so their specialty is tourist travel. This type of development forges a synergistic partnership between tourism companies. The partners in developing the airport, the ones who created the program then played the role of catalysts, attracting the attention of consultants, churning up interest by hotels and seeking the support of surrounding municipalities.
Traffic at the Vail Colorado airport increased rapidly, and the figures for the first year of operations at Mont Tremblant are similar to the ones for Vail in 1989-90. In 1989-90, Vail handled 5,956 passengers. In 1997-1998, this figure rose to 172,634, an amazing jump. If Mont Tremblant airport progresses at the same rate, the regional economy will be really healthy as a result.
Airport status is a complex thing, it must be understood, and has not got any less complex under the Conservatives. Many people are calling for a thorough review of airport policies, but the Mont Tremblant airport cannot wait for its status to be reviewed.
Mont Tremblant International Airport has two separate contracts with the agency, one for 15-passenger aircraft and the other for 50-passenger aircraft. The proposal is to continue to pay customs charges for small planes and to ask for a revision of its status for large planes from recovery to non-recovery.
To clarify; they are seeking to have the customs charges dropped for commercial aircraft only. Some other airports in Canada are calling for changes to the number of hours allowed. This is not the case for the Mont Tremblant airport.
I was told that a change of status application had already been submitted. That application is based on the fact that: first, the airport has already accommodated over 100 flights with 50 passengers; second, its infrastructure complies with the agency's requirements; third, the return of American carrier Continental Airlines has been confirmed, and two new carriers, namely American Airlines and Mexicana, may also begin to provide service there; fourth, tax revenues alone far exceed the costs generated by the agency, and; fifth, Quebec is lagging far behind Ontario, in terms of the number of airports that can accommodate aircraft with 50 passengers.
We are convinced that stakeholders involved in the Mont Tremblant airport issue have made very significant progress, both for the airport and the Upper Laurentians.
Not only is the decision to charge compensation fees at Mont Tremblant airport bad, it is also unfair.
It is unfair to all stakeholders who got together to save their region's economy. It is also unfair to employees of that airport and to their families, because they are adversely affected by it.
The Mont Tremblant airport is experiencing a major boom. It handled over 1,000 commercial flights over the past year. In fact, the number of flights has doubled every year since 2004.
Since last winter, Continental Airlines has had a daily service between Mont Tremblant and Newark, close to New York City. Let us not forget that the contract with Continental Airlines was signed before customs charges were imposed. While it is true that stakeholders at the airport signed this agreement, it must be realized that they did it with a loaded gun to their head. They had no choice.
This new requirement by border services is jeopardizing the signing of other contracts with carriers from other countries. The Conservatives threatened to seize the airport's bank accounts to pay customs charges. They jeopardized the airport's survival. With the unanimous support of the Quebec National Assembly, the Quebec minister of economic development, innovation and export had to plead with his federal counterparts to have Revenue Canada lift the order for seizure. Is this the Conservative government's idea of economic development?
The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security has studied the issue and tabled its third report, which contains the following recommendation:
That the Committee recommend that the Rivière Rouge Mont Tremblant International Airport (YTM) be recognized as an airport of entry into Canada, without customs charges being imposed for regular commercial flights, as is the case with the airports in Montreal and Quebec City.
Elected representatives from the Laurentian region at all levels of government strongly support the Mont Tremblant International Airport in asking Ottawa to exempt this airport from paying customs charges. My colleagues will agree with me that the site and facilities at Mont Tremblant are exceptional. This destination attracts a prestige clientele and has found its place again as a high profile international tourism destination.
Recognizing Mont Tremblant as such an exceptional destination, the Government of Quebec has announced that it would open a casino on the site. Is the federal government pulling the rug out from under its provincial counterpart by maintaining its decision to have the Mont Tremblant airport pay customs charges?
The Conservatives are showing once again that they have abandoned the regions of Quebec. In a region affected by the forestry crisis, the Mont Tremblant airport is an essential economic driver, particularly for the tourism sector.
The economic survival of that region is based on international tourism, and future infrastructures must meet the expectations of that clientele. It all depends on the airport being able to survive. Without the airport, there is no salvation.
Therefore, I am asking all my colleagues to support the third report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The decision to have the Mont Tremblant airport pay customs charges is unfair and a serious threat to the economy of the entire region. Good common sense must prevail. The Minister of Public Safety must cancel the decision to impose customs charges to the Mont Tremblant airport.