Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte for Motion No. 465, an airline passenger bill of rights.
Having attended meetings in his riding, I know very well the esteem in which he is held for his tireless work for all of his constituents. Indeed, it was my privilege as a graduate student in environmental studies to work out of Rocky Harbour at Gros Morne National Park. Those were the early days of site design and ecological inventory, and for me it was a great learning experience.
When we talk about air travel, my very first arrival in Newfoundland was at the same time as one of its most famous citizens was getting off the plane. The security people advised everyone that “he is coming”. Sure enough, to my amazement and delight, it was Joey Smallwood who stopped, shook my hand and asked if it was my first time on the rock and then told me I would love it, which, of course, I did.
I wish all air passengers had it so pleasant. There are two good times to plant the tree: one is 20 years ago, the other is today. This motion is for today.
As the past chair of the Subcommittee on Persons with Disabilities, I presided over hearings which heard from many witnesses who attested to their humiliating, degrading and disrespectful treatment by some of the larger airlines. I will immediately clarify this by stating emphatically that the personnel of these airlines should not be blamed. They are left with the very difficult and unpleasant task of telling the blind that their seeing eye dogs must go into a hold, of telling the wheelchair disabled that they will be carried into their seats because of a lack of proper ramping, of telling guardians and health care assistants that they must pay for a second seat.
The recent excellent news that such personal attendants will not be compelled to pay for their seats is a most welcome relief. I applaud the airline industry for understanding the reasonableness of this and understanding how much it adds to the dignity and self-esteem of the disabled.
In my riding there are numerous not for profit organizations that have long championed the rights of the disabled. These include: Persons United For Self-Help, the Handicapped Action Group, Human Rights Northwest, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the George Jeffrey Children's Centre, Superior Greenstone Association for Community Living, Avenue II and Wesway Respite Care, among many others.
Fortunately, I believe we are making progress. Thanks to the efforts of those and similar community-minded groups across Canada whose mottos invariably imply compassion and caring, the message of inclusivity is being heard. An accessible society is a healing society. An airline passenger bill of rights would be a fundamental enhancement to a society where no one is held back by their disability or disabilities, physical or mental.
Once a delegation from a foreign land came to visit Thunder Bay when I was the mayor. They commented facetiously on how poor the drivers must be because there were so many people that they saw out and about in wheelchairs, walkers and with canes moving about freely. When I explained that it was because we had set a goal to have Thunder Bay become known as Canada's most accessible city, they were justifiably impressed.
If a community can show such leadership, then certainly the airline industry can be accepting of a bill of rights for its valued customers.
By and large, I must admit that the airports with which I am most familiar, like Fort Francis, Thunder Bay of course and all of those served by Bearskin Airlines and Wasaya Airlines, the service is excellent. Truly, the number of negative incidents that I have personally incurred are very few.
The number of complaints that have come to my great staff in our four offices, which, incidentally, starts at the Manitoba border and stretches right here to the nation's capital over two time zones, are also few but, regrettably, those are valid.
For the record I will include the mention of a resolution passed during my past role as president of the Association of Municipalities and as an executive member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The FCM passed a resolution which states that the Government of Canada should prepare a national airline passenger bill of rights to be adopted into legislation by this Parliament. Support is coming nationwide for this. Indeed, Sam Barone, the president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada, sent correspondence recently that is worthy of including in the record. He states:
...if we are truly serious about addressing customer service challenges, everyone involved in the system needs to be part of the solution. Certainly air carriers do not control the airports, the navigation system, the security screening process or the various regulatory agencies that control passenger movements across borders and through the boarding process.
He goes on to state:
...members [of Parliament must] recognize and support the principle of the supremacy of ensuring safety as the primary aspect of all flight-related decisions. I know Parliamentarians would agree that delays or inconveniences caused as a result of compliance with safety regulations or considerations should not be subject to the constraints of this proposal. ...members [must] consider the impact of weather and other factors outside a carrier's direct control as matters for which the carrier should not bear financial responsibility.
I do not believe that was the intent of the motion, and as it is presented, we have a very balanced and fair motion before us.
In conclusion, I can only attest to the wisdom of hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte in designing such a conciliatory motion. I am quite hopeful that in the positive spirit in which this motion has been presented, it will find unanimous consent to pass this evening.