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House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is it agreed?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed in today's order paper.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

March 5th, 2009 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

moved that Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking to Bill C-310 this evening, leading off on the first hour of what I hope will be a constructive debate.

I would like to begin by thanking Woodrow French, the mayor of Conception Bay South in Newfoundland, and Bruce Cran of the Consumers Association of Canada, who have been actively supporting the bill and have hit the road recently to promote it across the country.

We have been approached by a U.S. consumers group expressing interest in the bill, a group called FlyersRights.org run by its founder, Kate Hanni, who organized a press briefing in California regarding Bill C-310. She praised the bill as the best airline bill of rights legislation she has seen, and she will distribute copies to the U.S. legislators in Washington D.C.

Bill C-310 has been getting a lot of media interest, and with it, numerous responses from Canadians sending in their personal stories. Almost everyone from whom I received a response has been very supportive of the bill. There are always some people who are not, but most of them are supportive.

The bill is based on Private Member's Motion No. 465, introduced last year by the hon. member of Parliament for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte of Newfoundland and Labrador from the Liberal Party, and the resolution passed unanimously in the House, but the government did not bring in the bill promised in the resolution.

Instead, it introduced the voluntary agreement called flight rights, which had no effect in law, but did promise the tarmac delays, for example, would not exceed 90 minutes before people would be let off the plane, so we then had a recognition at that time by the airlines that 90 minutes was a long enough time to keep people cooped up in a plane on the tarmac.

What did the airlines do? They proceeded to keep people on the tarmac for six to eight hours just three months later. So much for flight rights and I think the Conservatives recognize as well that we need tougher laws to govern this area.

Just three days ago the airlines decided that they will put flight rights in their tariff, voluntarily letting the Canadian transportation agency enforce it, but where are the penalties if they do not follow through? They did not last time, why should they now?

In addition, the airline letter is full of falsehoods about the actual bill. In terms of the National Airlines Council of Canada, it sent us a letter called “reality check”, so I am responding in the same way, saying, “reality check”: I want to deal with the concerns of the National Airlines Council of Canada's March 2 letter to all members of Parliament and the outright factual errors in that communication.

It says the maximum compensation for denied boarding in Bill C-310 is two to three times higher than in the EU, when it is exactly the same. We used the EU figures in the bill.

It says it was not consulted. The reality of private members' business is that there is not a lot of time for consultation with external parties in the development of a bill. A member whose name is drawn near the top of the list has 20 sitting days until the completed bill must be deposited at the House of Commons Journals Branch.

In this case, however, I did speak to representatives from both the National Airlines Council on the phone, gave them complete details of the bill, and invited them to give me an email response before the bill was sent for translation. We were making amendments right up to the very end, and I received no submissions from either party, unlike the Consumers Association of Canada, which did come forward with valuable contributions right up to the last day.

The National Airlines Council claims that the fares will rise as a result of this legislation. I would like to ask, did the fares rise when the Air Canada president earned $26 million in 2007? That was a considerable amount of money that it expended at that time, and I do not think fares rose because of his salary. I do not really believe they would now either, because if airlines follow the rules in the bill, they would not pay any penalties. By our experience in Europe so far, it does not look like they are paying much in the way of penalties over there either.

The National Airlines Council says, “No jurisdiction has ever held airlines responsible for weather delays or cancellations. To do so is fundamentally incompatible with the safe operation of an aircraft”. Well, neither are we. We have taken the exclusion from the European Union bill and put it verbatim into our bill, giving the airlines the extraordinary circumstances exclusion, which they are happily using in Europe the last four years. This statement implies that Bill C-310 would make an air carrier responsible for weather delays and cancellations when that is not the case.

Bill C-310 does not require an air carrier to pay compensation to a passenger in respect of a flight that has been delayed or cancelled due to weather. A flight that is cancelled due to weather falls within the exemption, which I already explained, and is provided for in the bill.

If the air carrier can prove that the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken, under this subparagraph the air carrier is not required to pay compensation to a passenger whose flight was cancelled. This is the standard that has been adopted by the European Union and the cancellation due to weather clearly falls within this exemption.

All that an air carrier is required to do in a case of cancellation due to weather is: reimbursement, which is reasonable, or rerouting the passenger; meals and refreshments in relation to the waiting time, nothing wrong with that; hotel accommodation in cases where a stay of one or more nights is required; ground transportation between the airport and the place of accommodation; and a total of two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or emails. There is nothing here that is unreasonable for an air carrier to do.

The European Union commissioned a study two years into their bill, about two years ago, after the rules were in effect. While the airlines have been aggressive in using extraordinary circumstances arguments to avoid paying compensation, all stakeholders agreed that the extraordinary circumstances exclusion was still a good and fair balance between the customer's right to compensation and fairness toward the airline. The reason for that is because it is held up in court. We do not want to tilt the bill too much against the airlines because then they will take it to court and they will win their point.

The bill covers denied boarding due to overbooked flights and specifically trying to get people off the flight by agreement, not by forcing them off the plane.

I was on a Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis several years ago. It needed six people off the plane. It got the volunteers by offering free passes to get people off the plane. Everyone was happy with that result and I am sure they are still talking about it to this day. Happy customers are what the airlines need.

If airlines have to deny boarding to customers involuntarily, why should they not be paying compensation of $500, $800 or $1,200, based on the length of the trip? The same compensation applies to cancelled flights. Europe has been doing this for four years. Bill C-310 was inspired by the EU legislation which has been in effect since February 17, 2005.

Air Canada operates in Europe, so it knows all about this legislation. The airlines know that in the EU airlines try to use the exemption as often as possible to avoid paying compensation to passengers. Airlines fought the EU legislation in court and they lost. They know this legislation is sound and it will hold up in court, which is why they are mounting such a big campaign against it. They know it is going to be popular with the public when it is passed.

I have spoken to many MPs, and while they all like the bill, several have questions about the compensation to passengers. I tell them that they can vote for the bill at second reading because it shows they agree with the principle, just like they all did a year ago on the resolution. If they disagree with it, they can come to the committee to try and get it amended. If they think the penalties are too high, they can bring an amendment reducing it to a level that they think is appropriate.

I have even asked the National Airlines Council for amendments, but I got the “Dear Member of Parliament” letter instead, with all the misinformation about the bill. How can it amend the bill when it is clear that it has not taken the time to even read it?

In most cases, we copied the compensation levels of the European Union, and by the way, those compensation levels were doubled in the European Union four years ago because it had earlier legislation from 1991 which dealt with denied boarding only. It did not deal with cancellations and it dealt with scheduled airlines only. It did not deal with charters and it had penalties that were too low, so four years ago it expanded it to include charters. It expanded it to include cancellations and it doubled the penalties. The review panel, two years later, said the penalties were just fine the way they are. They are not too high and not too low.

Why should passengers not have the right to cancel and get a refund after a four hour delay? Why should passengers not get a meal voucher after a two hour delay? Why should passengers not get $100 payment if the airline misplaces their baggage and does not notify them within an hour after finding it? Will the $100 bankrupt the airlines or will it cause them to smarten up and stop misplacing baggage, and not notifying us when the baggage is found?

Why should customers not expect better service? Why should passengers not be informed of flight changes, delays and cancellations under penalty to the airlines? Why should the new rules not be posted at the airline counter to inform customers of their rights and the process to file for compensation? Why should the public not expect all-in-one pricing so they know the total cost of the flight before they click the buy button?

Because the EU carriers have fought the law so hard in Europe, it has taken the small claims court system in Europe to get settlements out of the system. There is no lawyer required. Passengers in Canada can still complain to the Canadian Transportation Agency, but as in Europe, the transportation agencies are not the bodies that are getting the payments. It is the small claims court. British Airways is a good, recent example where it received a settlement on behalf of a large number of claimants through the courts.

The bill would not solve all the people's problems, but it is fair to customers and the airlines. The airlines that follow the rules will not pay a cent. Airlines that claim extraordinary circumstances too often risk getting even tougher rules in the future. Bill C-310 applies to all Canadian air carriers and all air carrier operations that take place in Canada. Why should an Air Canada customer receive better treatment in Europe than in Canada?

In conclusion, I want to issue a call to action. I ask Canadians to not just sit there and say that this is a good idea and hope that it passes. I ask them to go to their computers, send their MP a message requesting him or her to support the bill and send me a copy so that we can keep track of their support. I ask them to send a letter to their local newspaper editor.

MPs listen to their constituents. It is how they get here in the first place. They will keep getting re-elected if they listen to their constituents' concerns. This is a free vote in Parliament and members are free to vote any way they want. The airlines are sending them letters and asking for meetings to try to convince them to vote against the bill. I want Canadians to help me even the odds and counter this special interest lobby that is working against their interests.

All the airlines have to do is keep fresh air and lights working, make sure the toilets are working, make sure food and water are provided, and allow for disembarkation of the airplane if it is possible to do so without risk to health or safety of the passengers. They are suggesting that we have an absolute in the bill that they are going to have to start paying their penalties after one hour no matter what. There is enough of an exemption in there to allow them a certain amount of leeway. If it is going to risk the safety of the passengers, they do not have to let people off within the hour. It is as pure and simple as that.

If they do not want to do these things, why should they not compensate the passengers? If $500 is too high, then bring in an amendment to lower it. However, if it is lowered too much, the airlines will keep the passengers locked up for hours without the lights, air, toilets, food and water.

The next time people are on a flight and things go wrong, they will wish they had emailed or written their MP. They will wish they had written a letter to the editor to support this bill and if that person is an MP, he or she will have wished they had voted for this bill.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am sure many of the people he was talking to out in the public would be in favour of an initiative like this, so I would like to congratulate the member and also the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte for coming up with this concept in the first place.

I am pretty excited about the concept, but I have a couple of questions. The success of any bill depends on the consultation with those who would be affected. I would like to ask the member, how many airlines has he talked to and what were their estimated costs? I am particularly interested in what Air Canada and WestJet said. What did they say this would cost them based on their experience? He said that those airlines have had experience in Europe already, so it should be an easy calculation. How much would the fares go up?

The second question is related to fairness. A lot of delays such lineups, de-icing and things like that are caused by the airport, not the airlines. I am wondering if, in his bill, the airport would have to pay that fee or would he unjustly put that fee onto the airlines when they have nothing to do with the problem?

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, there were many items in the member's question.

We have had a very difficult time trying to find out how much the airlines are paying in Europe, as did the study commissioned by the European Commission. In fact, almost all the airlines refused to give the information. There were only a couple that were very forthright about it.

We know from the history of the bill that the airlines claim extraordinary circumstances all the time, as many times as they can get away with it. It is up to alert passengers to say, “That is not true; that is not the case at all,” and follow through with small claims court actions.

We need a law, but the enforcement is a big issue. It is really up to the passengers themselves. They cannot take action if there is no law to protect them, but if there is a law, those passengers who are alert will take action.

I have answered this question many times about what it will cost the airlines. The truth is it will cost them nothing if they simply follow the rules. WestJet, for example, does not overbook, so it will pay nothing. As a matter of fact WestJet's criticisms are not very strong at all. I have been on radio shows with its representatives and they are not hostile to the bill, let us put it that way.

However, in terms of trying to--

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Questions and comments, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I was very happy to hear the member suggest to other members that before they vote on this piece of legislation that they read it first. I think that is a great concept.

My first question is, does that mean the policy of the NDP members will change for the next budget and that they will actually read it before they decide to vote against it?

My second question is, why did the member refuse to meet with the two major Canadian airlines when they asked to meet with him to go over the bill some two weeks ago?

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my speech, I spoke to the representatives of the airlines before we sent the bill for translation. They did not respond. They were given time. I explained the bill to them and they were given time to respond. They did not. The Consumers' Association on the other hand did respond. In fact, it did get a provision put in the bill because of its response.

I cannot account for why the airlines did not do it, but I received the letter addressed to members of Parliament just as the parliamentary secretary did and I am sure that I will be talking to them again very soon. They are on radio shows that I am on, so I have had occasion to talk to them.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill. It follows on the motion that we put forward in the House in the last Parliament that was endorsed unanimously, not only by members of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party, but members of the Conservative Party of Canada as well. The motion called on the government to bring forward legislated consumer protection with respect to the airline industry.

I have read the bill in depth. I agree with the concept thoroughly, as all members do and they voted unanimously for it. However, I was wondering if the hon. member would be open to amendments to his bill with perfections to create better legislation at the committee stage.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is the best question I have had all day. I want to tell the member that I would welcome his amendments. I have a half dozen myself.

I have been around politics long enough to know that even ministers when they bring in bills sometimes amend their own bills a half dozen times before they get through the process.

I would look for amendments from all parties in this Parliament to make the bill successful, and it cannot be successful unless everyone is involved.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on Bill C-310 brought forward by the member for Elmwood—Transcona.

Over the past Christmas season, severe weather wreaked tremendous havoc at airports across the country. I know that because I travel quite frequently. Being a member of Parliament from northern Alberta, I have the opportunity to travel on planes. I can assure the member and others in the House that if anyone knows what it is like to travel in Canada and enjoy the diverse weather across this country, it is members from the west because they have to do more travelling. I remember that bad weather forced many cancellations and delays, which obviously were beyond the control of the airlines. Unfortunately, too many people spent hours in airports lying across plastic chairs and getting snacks from vending machines. Some members in the House probably had that unfortunate experience.

Let me be clear. Protecting Canadian travellers is a priority for this Conservative government and will remain a priority for this government. We are committed to consumer protection and have taken measures to strengthen that protection.

In 2007, for instance, we brought forward Bill C-11, which improved transparency by requiring air carriers to publish their terms and conditions of carriage on their websites, a good step to put forward for consumers to understand what their rights are. The Canadian Transportation Agency was also mandated to continue its complaints process as a permanent program.

In 2008 our government introduced the flight rights program as a result of, in part, Parliament's wish to protect consumers more thoroughly. This is a campaign to inform air travellers of the rights and options available to them should they encounter difficulties when travelling.

In budget 2009, again we introduced measures to modernize the Competition Act and to better protect Canadians from price fixing and misleading advertising, things which are simply not acceptable. The changes that this government made will instill greater confidence in advertising and more meaningful penalties to deter misleading advertising and mass marketing fraud, again things which are unacceptable.

I would like to highlight a few key components of the consumer protection measures we as a government have put in place for air travellers.

Under the Canada Transportation Act, all carriers operating within Canada are required to have written terms and conditions of carriage readily accessible to passengers. These are often printed on the back of the ticket or agreed to when reservations are made online so that consumers will know their rights at the time they purchase their tickets.

These terms and conditions must reflect the carrier's policy regarding persons with disabilities, the acceptance of children, cancelled or delayed flights, lost or damaged baggage, denied boarding due to overbooking, and ticket reservations. These currently exist. They reflect the passenger's rights as a consumer and the carrier's obligation.

Carriers are actually obliged to live up to these terms and conditions and if they fail to do so, consumers can turn to the Canadian Transportation Agency for recourse. The agency can impose different measures, including corrective measures, such as a refund of expenses incurred by the passenger, and can also direct a carrier to change or suspend its terms and conditions of carriage.

It should be noted that in the United States consumers must actually turn to the courts instead of an agency like the Canadian Transportation Agency when carriers fail to live up to their commitments. We all know that turning to the courts is very expensive and time consuming and, quite frankly, not acceptable to Canadians.

Countries in the European Union are required to have a complaints process, but the complaints processes in the European Union actually vary in their effectiveness and are more limited in scope to what we currently have in Canada. In Canada we have a consumer protection regime that ensures that the terms and conditions offered by carriers in Canada are not only reasonable but that carriers actually stand by them and stand up for consumers.

These terms and conditions are determined by international norms of practice, normal travel practice and healthy competition, which is so very important in today's global economic crisis. They are the carrier's commitments to its clients.

It is easy to understand the frustrations of passengers because, let us face it, many in the House are very frustrated by travel from time to time. The people who experienced the frustration of flights being delayed or cancelled over the Christmas season were, quite frankly, unhappy. Everyone travels hoping to arrive at their destinations on time. However, we live in a winter country. We live in a huge country, approximately 1.2 people per square mile, the lowest population density in the world. Given our climate, inevitably there will be unfortunate delays and inconveniences in travel, particularly in our harsh winters, our large snowfall and our dispersal of population.

Over the last couple of weeks I have heard from many industry representatives. I have had an opportunity to meet with representatives from WestJet, Air Canada and from other airline carriers that service our country. Let us talk about what they think. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada stated that it shares the concerns raised by the NACC, the National Airlines Council of Canada, regarding many aspects of the proposed legislation and does not believe that the highly prescriptive and punitive measures such as Bill C-310.

This sentiment was echoed by the Canadian Airports Council and the International Air Transportation Association. It represents 230 international carriers around the world, including all major airlines in Canada. The National Airlines Council of Canada said that while Bill C-310 claims to safeguard consumer interest, the proposed measures would in fact exacerbate delays and add a new layer of traveller inconveniences and costs.

It is also important for us to try to understand the operational realities of running an airline in today's competitive environment. For instance, bad weather in Vancouver will cause delays in Toronto. It will cause ripple effects across the country, especially during the busiest time of travel and especially during the harshest part of winter. We must also be mindful that safety must be the primary concern for our transportation system.

The Air Transportation Association of Canada in a letter dated March 4, 2009, states that it will lower passenger safety in Canada by encouraging more risk taking.

Yes, it will lower passenger safety in Canada by encouraging more risk taking. There is nothing more important to this Conservative government than the safety of Canadians and we are going to make sure that they remain safe while they travel. Safety must come first.

We can and must learn from other countries. We must review the United States' legislation, the European legislation and look at other options. We must also be mindful that Canada's weather and geography are truly unique and these realities must be taken into consideration when we think about what must be done to enhance consumer protection legislation and ultimately serve those whom we all serve in this place, Canadians.

I look forward to working with the member who introduced this bill and all members of the House and the committee cooperatively to find solutions that will protect Canadian consumers without punishing Canadian carriers for factors beyond their control.

We must ensure during this time of economic global downturn that we protect Canadians' interests and at the same time make sure that airlines remain competitive. It is a balancing act and we as a government will do the best job for Canadians.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was almost encouraged by what I heard the parliamentary secretary say a moment ago. He talked about co-operation in this House and having governments reflect what the people actually want, especially when they have expressed it in this House.

Last June, not that long ago, 240 members of Parliament from all parties stood in their places and unanimously supported a motion by my colleague from Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, who said that what we need to do is respond to the needs of Canadians when they are consumers of a service that we in Canada have come to take for granted as part of the lifestyle and the standard of living that is demanded by a nation of our size in our part of the hemisphere.

What would a responsible government do when the unanimous voice of the people is expressed in a bill that is reflected in my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona today?

One would expect results immediately.

The parliamentary secretary speaks of all those indications, those motions, those brochures. In fact, some of the initiatives of his government resulted in a paper going forward as a recommendation to the airline industry in September.

That was in September. What did the people in the airline industry do? Well, in September they heard voices of elections, so they said, “Let us wait”. They waited and they waited. The member for Elmwood—Transcona can hardly be blamed for the lack of action on the part of the government.

We could be in an entirely different place if the government had taken the initiative given to it by the authority of a unanimous vote in the House and had said that this was what the public wanted.

There were not penalties of the nature that our hon. colleague calls for in Bill C-310. Now we are talking about making a comparison with what happens in the United States, what happens in the EU, and what the economic and financial implications are for individual companies, collective organizations, airport authorities and tourist organizations.

We would not have to be in that kind of discussion if the government had just done what the parliamentary secretary said it would do.

Is it any wonder that members of Parliament, whether longstanding members of Parliament like my colleague from Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte or new members of Parliament like my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona, fill in the need because the Canadian public wants action?

What do we do? We agree in principle with the implied contractual arrangement that is inherent in this legislation. I say the “implied contractual arrangement” because someone who is providing a service wants a contented client, and that client wants a service for which he or she pays. Otherwise, there are consequences. Either there is delivery of service or there is an alternative.

The last motion in this House talked about that contractual framework. Our colleague, newly elected in October, said that we would like to put something else into this contractual arrangement. Nobody is doing anything on it. If it comes across now as being tough on the airlines or tough on the industry, it is because people are looking for an arbiter.

Who is that arbiter? The arbiters are right here. Members of Parliament from the other side are looking for the authority we had already given them in the last Parliament, but the last minister of transport chose not to act.

The current Minister of Transport may choose to act. A private member's bill is here before him. It has, I think, the same kind of support, unless a vote proves otherwise, that was shown for the last motion that was before this House.

A responsible and accountable minister would say that these ideas come not just from opposition members, but from a unanimous expression of the public view in the House of Commons of Canada.

Do we expect members of Parliament to do anything less than transform the frustration of citizens into a positive suggestion for change? Surely we want all stakeholders, all providers of that service to be at the table and work with members of Parliament, who are not the enemy. They are the carriers of the voice that cries for a service and a contractual arrangement that must be honoured by both parties.

Is the European experience the one to follow? Is the American experience the one to follow? Is it one that would nurture the business that would stimulate the Canadian economy and at the same time ensure we enjoy a level of service that everyone should take for granted?

We have demonstrated as consumers a willingness to pay. Perhaps we pay too much. For that willingness to pay, even the willingness to pay more than others, we expect a level of service commensurable, but no. We expect perhaps at least what everybody else gets for less, and I have become an editorialist when I say that.

The only editorializing that a member of Parliament should do in this place is to recall for all members that a unanimous expression of the House asked the airline industry, the business of travel, to respect what everyone in the country had already said was desired, was needed, and in fact should have been done.

Whom shall we blame for this lack of obligation? We cannot blame it on the weather. That is a hot topic today because the weather is blamed for everything. We have to blame it on the government.

The minister has a responsibility to the House and to everybody in Canada to come forward with regulations that would reflect the will of the House. He has a responsibility to put in place a system that would supervise the implementation of those regulations. He has a responsibility to put in place a system that would follow whether any breach of that relationship was modified.

Some would say that perhaps we are building a bureaucracy unnecessarily so, and I would agree. There has been a rupture of the goodwill that was expressed by a unanimous vote in the House. The industry saw that and the government realized it needed to have a working relationship. That goodwill was broken.

When that goodwill was broken, people came forward with compulsion. If people will not work, we will make them work. If they do not like the conditions, we have to come up with the reasons. Who needs that? A good business operation does not need that. A good business model that wants to be successful does not need that.

We used to have a quasi-monopolistic approach to the way the airline business was conducted. We have opened it up, and some people would say that we should not have done that. We have opened up the opportunity to engage in a contractual agreement freely and that the recourse to government, when it comes with a unanimous view of the entire House, is that partners to that contractual arrangement depart from consensus at their own peril.

What the member for Elmwood—Transcona, through Bill C-310, is telling the minister is that he should start fulfilling his obligations to the public. He should start being responsible and demonstrate the accountability about which he so frequently boasts. He should get busy because the House has already given him one chance.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-310, the private member's bill put forward by our NDP colleague.

Those who are watching will have understood in listening to the speeches that members' positions can differ somewhat. It is important to get to the heart of the matter on this air travel issue.

It is important to avoid creating an imbalance in order to secure an election victory. The Bloc Québécois wants to act responsibly on this issue. We are therefore going to support the bill so that it is sent to committee, but in its current form, it is not very persuasive. I listened to the member who proposed the bill say that he was open to changes and amendments. But proposing amendments to a bill does not mean they will be accepted. It is a bit more complicated than that.

This is a private member's bill, and an amendment that would change the nature of the bill would not be in order. There is some chance that, at the end of the debate, this bill might not pass as written because it could not be amended. I am not making any assumptions. I just want to give all of the options a chance. That could happen, but it would not be for lack of trying.

I understand the Liberal member's position. He pointed out that we were made all too aware of the issue because an incident occurred. In the spring of 2007, passengers were confined to a Cuban Air plane for some 10 hours because, apparently, the company did not pay the fees. The story remains unclear. I wrote to all of the authorities, but nobody wanted to take responsibility. I do not get the feeling that the bill, as written, will solve the problem either.

This situation happens in Canada, and not just with airlines. Governments, both Liberal and Conservative, created and accredited organizations known as airport authorities. These are para-governmental bodies, but they are not private entities. They rent airports; they lease them. They are made up of boards of directors, people from the sector, but they answer only to their boards of directors.

That makes it hard to figure out who is responsible. It may not always be the airline's fault. That is an important thing to understand in a country like ours, where we sometimes have more months of winter than of summer.

That is our reality, one that many European countries do not have to deal with. We have to be responsible and study the situation carefully. We must also avoid compromising the already tenuous situation of some airlines.

The National Airlines Council of Canada is an organization made up of the four largest airlines, but it is brand new. It was part of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), but it withdrew to create its own association. Things are not that simple in the wonderful world of aviation.

The goal is not to shut down airlines. That would only create monopolies. At any rate, it would not benefit consumers. Fares will increase when airlines are eliminated one by one and only a single airline remains.

Thus, we must be able to create this balance and I am not sure that Bill C-310, as presented, does that. However, we in the Bloc Québécois have sufficient knowledge of the problem to discuss it in committee and call all witnesses, including the government.

I have a message for the government: the time has come, as we send this bill to committee, to consider tabling a bill that would establish that balance and make airlines and airport authorities accountable. Thus, it would be very clear and travellers would know full well that airlines do have a certain responsibility.

Some airport authorities look after traffic control and are also often responsible for providing services. We should realize that, because of our winters, certain operations, such as de-icing, must be carried out. In some airports, de-icing can take as long as two and a half hours. With a bill such as the one before us, if passengers were disembarked after an hour and a half, what would it mean? It would mean that we lose our place in the departure line. That results in an undue delay. It is not easy.

The committee will have to take care to call all of the witnesses and take all the time it needs. If the committee can improve this bill, it will. However, if that is not possible because of the legislative framework, perhaps the government will have to consider drafting its own legislation to send to the committee. I am opening that door because we need to solve this problem. My Liberal colleague is right: this has gone on too long.

However, is a private member's bill the right way to do this? Once again, this has not been discussed with the airlines, and that is all we can find fault with. It is all well and good to try to pass a private member's bill at all costs, but if two airlines were to be put out of business as a result, things would be worse, not better. We would not have solved anything. The only thing we would have done is achieve a personal victory at the expense of all Canadians, and that is not the goal.

As I said, Bloc Québécois members will vote for this bill so that it can go to committee, and we will be there throughout the process. We will try to bring in all of the witnesses we need to shed light on the complex issue of airline passengers' rights. I am reaching out to the government. It needs to understand that the legislation we are considering is important. Now is the time to resolve the issue of protecting airline passengers, and maybe it should introduce a bill that would make airlines and airport authorities take responsibility, because they are the ones responsible for any problems that passengers might experience. That is where things stand.

If we do that all together, this will be a collaborative effort. The member who proposed the private member's bill will be proud to say that legislation came out of what he suggested in committee. Obviously, we are open to that. The important thing is to achieve our objective. That is the result. The important thing is not to score a political victory, where one side wins and the other loses. The important thing is to work for travellers who are fed up with the air travel problems they have to deal with. Airline tickets are expensive, so if we can bring the industry in line and that takes a bill, then we need to have a bill. If we can improve this bill, so much the better. If another bill is needed, then I hope the government will understand, and we will support it. Our promise to users and consumer protection associations is that they will have a voice, they will be heard in committee. We all need to have a clear understanding of the issue.

I personally have a soft spot for airport authorities. I would like to know what is happening with the Cubanair file because, two or three years later, I am still in the dark. No one wants to take responsibility for having kept passengers locked in a plane for more than 10 hours without food or access to toilets. That is the harsh reality. The bill will not fix this because the higher the fines are, the more the airlines will go to the courts to contest them. That means delays. We will not fix the problem, and the lawyers will collect their profit, but travellers will not benefit.

Once again, I am reaching out. We will support this bill so that it can be discussed in committee. If we can improve it in such a way as to satisfy passengers, airlines and those who are responsible for the problems, we will do so. If a new bill is necessary, we would encourage the government to please send it along for the committee's approval.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be the seconder of the bill and I am pleased to speak to it tonight.

All air passengers deserve a bill of rights. Consumers have tolerated subpar service with no recourse for far too long. It is time to have legislation to protect consumers.

Let me illustrate this point with an example. When a person buys a car, which many people cannot do at this point in time because the banks are still charging consumers up to 10% for a car loan, but that is a discussion for another night, it comes with a warranty. There are also various safety and other standards the car must also meet when it is purchased. If anything is not as advertised and promised, consumers have a way to remedy the situation.

Another example is buying groceries. The same principle applies when one buys a loaf of bread. If it is stale, it can be returned. One will either be fully refunded the cost or get a new loaf of bread in exchange. The supermarket will be apologetic and will not demand proof that the bread is stale.

All of these principles seem to go out the window when consumers purchase an airline ticket. If we buy an airline ticket, which in some cases can cost the same amount as a small car, we almost have no rights at all, not even a guarantee that we will get the service for which we paid.

If our seat is broken on a long flight, or if the airline does not have our first choice of meal or if anything else goes wrong with our flight experience, we are unlikely to get fair compensation.

What is worse, if consumers voice their irritation with the poor service they receive, they run the risk of being accused of air rage, being arrested or, worse, banned from certain airlines for life.

The airlines currently have it all their own way. The power should be in the hands of the consumer. Right now, passengers are often trapped on aircraft that remain idled on the tarmac for several hours at a time.

Should this proposed legislation come into effect, airlines will have to pay compensation of up to $1,200 to travellers stranded when their flights are overbooked or cancelled all together. Flights delayed more than two hours will force the airlines to provide passengers with food, drink and access to a telephone.

Passengers are also misled by airline companies that advertise cheap rates only to find out later, after they have booked their ticket, that the cost of their ticket has skyrocketed with administration fees, more taxes and other surcharges

Should the bill come into effect, airline companies will have to advertise their rates honestly and include the applicable surcharges and additional rates.

The current reality is that consumers have little sway with the airlines. This is why consumers need a passenger bill of rights. Airlines currently benefit from bad behaviour, since passengers have little say in how services are delivered and no real recourse for poor treatment. Airlines can often act in ways that perhaps they should not, ways in which they would not act if commitments to passengers were upheld.

An example is cancelled flights. I am sure that almost all of us here have had a flight cancelled at one point in our lives. In addition to the inconvenience, cancellations often force passengers to miss important events, meetings and/or holidays.

This practice, highly unfavourable to passengers, can often serve as a cost saver for an airline because it will not need to pay compensation to its inconvenienced passengers.

New systems could drastically reduce the amount of luggage that goes missing and speed up its tracking and return. Many a time I have had to borrow one of the hon. member's suits and they seem to sag every once in a while, so I like to get some of my luggage back every once in a while. However, airlines are reluctant to invest in new technology. If the cost to the airlines for allowing bags to go missing or to get completely lost were to increase, then airlines would quickly improve their luggage handling systems.

The present situation encourages and rewards bad behaviour on the part of the airlines. Surely it is better to put in place a system that encourages and rewards good behaviour and that penalizes bad behaviour. This is also why we need a passenger bill of rights.

If airlines are required to generously compensate passengers for service shortcomings, this will selectively add extra expense to airlines with poor customer service records. All airlines these days are necessarily obsessing with cutting their operating costs. Currently, customer service is often seen as a cost, but if there is a potential penalty associated with poor customer service, then improving this will be part of their operation.

We, as fare-paying passengers, still have every right to expect service as promised without delay, cancellation or compromise no matter whether the airline is profitable or not. Consumers would not accept any compromise on safety and neither should they compromise on service. If an airline cannot afford to operate at a minimum standard of safety, it is not allowed to fly. Why should the same rule not apply to service?

This legislation is not suggesting that airline passengers receive extra rights above and beyond what is reasonable. Rather, consumers should have the same expectations as when buying other goods and services and if there is a problem, they will be fairly compensated, the same as all other consumers.

Adding an airline passenger bill of rights is not a precedent-setting new form of intrusion into the commercial relationship between a supplier and a purchaser of service. It simply creates some underlying basic principles of fairness in line with those already in place for most other consumer purchases and it is badly needed to fill a huge gap in our consumer rights.

The establishment of a passenger bill of rights will not require a new government department to manage or control it. All it does is establish a legal framework within which airlines are expected to operate and to specify minimum compensations levels which airlines must provide when they fail to provide their services as described and promised.

Airlines are still free to set their own pricing and policies any way they wish within the framework of the passenger bill of rights. Other countries are already doing this. New legislation now in effect in the European Union obliges airlines to pay compensation for delayed or cancelled flights. This legislation took effect on February 17, 2005 and gives passengers cash compensation of £250, £400 or £600, depending on if the problem flight is under 950 miles, between 950 and 2,200 miles or over 2,200. That system is established. Compensation is awarded for delayed flights, cancelled flights, denied boarding or being bumped, as it is called, or for baggage problems. Additional compensation, such as meals during delays and overnight accommodations, can also be earned depending on the circumstances.

Assistance must be provided even when the delay is caused by a factor outside the airline's control, such as severe weather. Other issues are also covered. For example, if someone is downgraded from first class to coach class, the person receives compensation based on a specific formula.

One of Canada's airlines, Air Canada, is already operating under European laws on overseas flights. Two other airline providers have already adopted some of the proposed changes. WestJet and Porter Airlines do not overbook flights.

In conclusion, it is time that the power was put back in the hands of the consumers. Travellers have been at the mercy of airline carriers for too long. Canada has a chance now to borrow the best of existing measures and to create a world leadership role in air travel fairness.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, in the short time remaining, it is very important that the House recognize the work the government has done on this issue.

After having been in government for two short years, we introduced the flight rights Canada code of conduct for Canada's airlines. The previous government had 13 years to do something, but unfortunately the Liberals did nothing.

We consulted with stakeholders, the airlines and consumer groups because this issue is not only about consumers, their rights and their comfort on airlines, but it is also about the viability of the airline industry in Canada.

It is important that we truly consult with all stakeholders. These are not just punitive measures, measures that will hurt one sector. They will truly benefit not only the airlines, but all Canadians.

With flight rights Canada we ensured that passengers have a right to information on flight times and schedule changes. We have ensured that passengers have a right to take the flight that they paid for. If a plane is overbooked or the flight is cancelled, the airline must find the passenger a seat on another flight operated by that airline, or buy the passenger a seat on another carrier. This is important and as I said, after two short years in government we introduced this and we are proud of it.

Passengers also have a right to punctuality. All of us in the House have travelled. Those members who have been in the House longer than others have travelled much more than some of the new members, but travelling is part of what Canadians do.

I am proud of the work we have done. We need to continue to work together, but we must consult all stakeholders on this matter.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights.Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I asked the Minister of Transport a question a couple of weeks ago that was not well answered. In fact, his answer was very dismissive. I asked about the seven out of seven infrastructure projects that had been announced in British Columbia that were all in Conservative ridings and suggested there might be a bit of pork barrelling going on. The minister responded that it is not surprising to have all of the projects in Conservative ridings given how many Conservative ridings there are in British Columbia.

I would like to give the Minister of Transport an arithmetic lesson. Counting up the number of Conservative ridings, it is actually 61%. I hope that the minister is not someone who would get 61% on an examination, and go home and tell his parents and friends that he got 100%. There is a large gap between those two numbers and to justify all of the announced investments going into Conservative ridings on that completely misleading and fallacious basis is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, I am seeing in the House a decaying of the tone that we were setting. After prorogation, the Prime Minister appeared to have learned the lesson that this is a minority government that actually needs to work with its colleagues in the best interests of Canadians. There is an economic crisis that needs us to band together and think about why we are here as members of Parliament. We are not here to spend government money. We are here to serve taxpayers and think about their well-being.

I remind the Minister of Transport that the funds we spend are the taxpayers' funds. They are not the government's funds. As such, they have to be handled with the utmost transparency and integrity, not with arrogance and duplicity. Unfortunately, the tone of cooperation that we saw in January has severely eroded. We are getting back to the kind of non-answers to questions that were so prevalent when I was first elected and, to my shock, found that this was a House where the government members could taunt rather than answer.

Not only do we have concerns about the targeting of infrastructure to Conservative ridings, we also have the situation of a $3 billion fund that is being put aside. There is a complete and utter unwillingness to be accountable for that money. That is a betrayal of the trust of taxpayers and it is simply not acceptable. The Prime Minister and his team do not do justice to the trust the taxpayers and voters put in us. The basis of our democratic system is that trust. We need to rebuild it, not undermine it.

6:20 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I can tell the member that neither I nor any member Conservative government will take any lessons from a Liberal member on how to spend taxpayers' money. We know what taxpayers' money is and what it is for. It is for the benefit of Canadians, and we are going to make sure that Canadians get that benefit.

In fact, our government has demonstrated that we are committed to repairing and improving infrastructure from coast to coast to coast for all Canadians in all ridings. Budget 2009 invested an additional $12 billion above and beyond our $33 billion building Canada fund, the most for infrastructure revitalization this country has ever seen.

This infrastructure plan is helping provinces, territories and communities of all sizes stimulate their local economies, create jobs and support Canadians. That is our purpose in this House. We are entrusted with that, and we are taking care of that for Canadians.

This extra investment will actually provide $4 billion for an infrastructure stimulus fund to help provinces and territories start projects as soon as possible; $2 billion to accelerate construction at colleges and universities nationwide in all ridings; $1 billion to create a green infrastructure fund, because we have listened to Canadians and green is important; $500 million to support construction of new community recreational facilities under the program RInC for hockey arenas and things like that, which Canadians want; accelerating existing provincial and territorial based funding to all provinces so that they get the money today at their choice.

Recently Canada's Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, together with Ontario Minister George Smitherman announced over $1 billion--that is right, $3 billion--for almost 300 projects all across Ontario. These projects across the province will create jobs, will stimulate the economy and will improve the lives of all Canadians, especially Ontarians. It is great news for Canada.

Even more recently, Canada's Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway announced $175 million for 41 projects across the member's own province, British Columbia. That is great news for the province of British Columbia. In fact, British Columbia's transportation and infrastructure minister, Kevin Falcon, had this to say about the announcement:

The B.C. Government has been working with the Government of Canada to get these dollars flowing quickly into communities across the province. Not only are these great projects important improvements to local infrastructure, they're an important stimulus to local economies, and it's estimated that this investment will create 1,750 direct and indirect jobs.

We understand that in these challenging times we need to act quickly, and we are acting quickly. We hope those members will support our stimulus plan and get the $3 billion in emergency funding out quickly so that we can create jobs across this country, so we can support Canadians in their initiatives.

We all agree that we need to work co-operatively in order to get shovels in the ground, in order to cut red tape, in order to get money flowing to Canadians. That is what this Conservative government and the Prime Minister are doing.

It is time for that party over there to get on board and help this government create jobs, create stimulus and get a better quality of life for Canadians. This government is acting quickly, and now it is time for those members to show that they too can act quickly for Canadians.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, that self-congratulatory tone over there is a little rich considering it was our former leader who announced a major infrastructure spending program as a response to this recession at a time when the members opposite were still pretending that Canada was in a surplus situation.

We are all in agreement that infrastructure needs to flow. The Evergreen Line is a very good project for British Columbia, but I will remind the member opposite why there was not any press coverage of that announcement, or virtually none. It had been announced and reannounced so many times with no cheque ever being cut, just like so many other projects.

The tone of arrogance and hostility does not help in this House. I call on the members opposite to work co-operatively with the Liberal Party to serve the needs of Canadians.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is rich coming from the member, because the reality is this is the government that funded the Evergreen Line. Yes, good news should be repeated. Canadians want to know what is going on with the economy, and we are getting it done.

It comes back to the same issue. Those members keep saying, “We are not going to let you have the $3 billion in order to stimulate the economy”. That is Canadians' money. It is under the rules of this place and they are tight rules. This is not a blank cheque. We do not authorize blank cheques, and we could not even if we wanted to.

It is time to support this government and our initiatives to fix the economy in Canada, to cut red tape and to get it going. That member and the Liberal Party need to support us in that, because without that, our economy will be in shambles. We on this side of the House are not going to let that happen.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:26 p.m.)