Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to contribute to the debate on the private member's bill introduced by the member for Elmwood—Transcona.
This government shares the member's concern over travellers' best interests. We understand there are sometimes stresses associated with air travel, particularly around holidays. The combination of an increased number of travellers and the harsh winter weather can often cause grief for travellers, airlines and airports alike.
This past winter, weather-related delays were all too common for far too many. That said, in a winter country such as ours, it seems unfair to punish airline companies for factors beyond their control. That is what this bill would do.
At the outset, before the member becomes too excited, let me share with him some good news. There is a high degree of support for the intent of this bill. No one has spoken against the desire to continue to improve consumer protection. In fact, I commend the member for his passion in that area, and I commend the member for bringing this debate forward, as well as other members who have done the same.
At the same time, several members, as I just pointed out, in the last Parliament unanimously passed a motion by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte on similar issues. There is a strong degree of consensus from all members that something needs to be done.
With that in mind, during the first hour of debate on this bill many members have also indicated they have some reservations about this bill. For example, the Liberal member for Eglinton—Lawrence said:
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?
These are all good questions from my Liberal colleague. They are excellent questions, in fact, but I would suggest they should be raised in the broader context of looking at the different experiences around the world. One, for example, is the European system, on which I believe this bill is to some degree modelled. The problem with it is that its penalties go beyond those in the European Union.
The Americas, I would remind the House, have no such penalties for delays or other passenger inconveniences. Under the open skies regime that has been in place for several years now, consumers have enjoyed greater choice. More U.S. airlines have increased their service to Canada and Canadian cities.
However, if this bill were to pass, we could expect to see the number of American carriers serving in Canada decrease. They would have to weigh the costs and the benefits of serving the Canadian market and the risks that would certainly increase as a result of penalties included in this bill. Is that what we want for Canadian consumers, to reduce competition and therefore consumer choice?
On this side of the House we want better service, but with this bill we risk decreasing the competition that can lead to that better service.
These are just a few of the concerns that come to mind when we remember the excellent questions posed by members opposite.
On this side of the House, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities pointed out that it is not only airline industry stakeholders that have strong reservations about this bill, the tourism industry has the same kinds of reservations. They both believe this bill is too narrow and punitive and that it could have serious impacts on the overall economy.
There are many potential pitfalls in this bill. I do not believe it has been carefully enough debated at this point, nor do I think that the advice and input of stakeholders is contained in the final product. We need to listen to consumers, to the industry and to experts on travel and tourism as we move forward.
We want to do more to protect consumers, and I believe the hon. member who sponsored this bill does want to do more.
There should be appropriate consultations with industry and consumers. This would ensure a good balance between a strong consumer protection regime on the one hand and continued viability for the airline industry on the other.
The fact is the measures put forward in Bill C-310 raise some serious concerns for Canadians. They have the possibility to hurt airlines in our country and put Canadian jobs at risk. We need to be mindful of this in a time of economic uncertainty. Punitive measures, like the ones outlined in the bill, will not solve the problem. Paying the passengers $500 for every hour their plane is stuck on the tarmac does not get the plane up in the air any faster. It seems especially punitive when we consider that many of these delays are associated with weather and are outside the control of the airline or the airport. It is not fair to risk air carriers and put them out of business because Canada happens to be a country where we have severe weather conditions.
I know this legislation is based upon the model put forward in Europe. However, solutions like these may be appropriate across the ocean, on a different continent, but not in a country that gets blizzards and severe thunderstorms in summer, as we do. Not only is our weather severe, I am sure the member and his colleagues opposite would agree, it is also fairly unpredictable in Canada.
I know all members in the House would like to find ways to promote air passengers' rights. We have all heard the horror stories. In fact, we have all lived these horrors stories. As members of Parliament, we are all travellers, by necessity of our job. However, at the same time, we have to ask ourselves whether the bill before us is the best way to deal with the problem.
Our government is open to suggestions on how to improve air travel for Canadians. I am looking forward to hearing the ideas that are brought forward in this debate.
Earlier this week, we saw the four major airlines, Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz air and WestJet, through the National Airlines Council of Canada, come forward with major changes to increase airline passenger rights in our country by leaps and bounds. This proposal follows the flight rights program that was introduced by our government in 2008. It takes the voluntary codes outlined in the program and makes them a binding part of the tariffs. This is a good first step, and I think all members would agree that that is a good first step.
We are encouraged by such positive action taken by the industry. It is always good to see an industry or a private company step up to the plate and take the necessary action to fix the problem. We look forward to working with the airline industry and with airports to ensure that these are enforced and abided.
Although the member for Elmwood—Transcona should be commended for his dedication to protecting the Canadian air traveller, a bill with such wide-reaching implications for the travel industry and our economy should require further consultation with stakeholders.
I hope members will join with me in voting against this bill in particular. I urge them to join with me in working toward a better system for passengers' rights.
Once again, I will reiterate that our government is very much interested in hearing additional thoughts from the member for Elmwood—Transcona. He has clearly put a lot of time and effort into the subject. Though we have come to different conclusions than has he, I believe he has much to contribute to this debate. We thank him for advancing his bill.