Mr. Speaker, after having heard that and the government's position, I can only suggest to you and to anybody who is watching that one can craft words in order to deprive consumers of their rights. One can shape arguments so as to prevent them from moving forward. Indeed one can fabricate facts to support those who are in a position of authority and power against those who would be served by the companies that are mandated to provide a service.
This bill is about protecting consumers against unscrupulous behaviour by service providers who care not a whit about them, and more importantly, it is about reflecting the will of this House.
Keep in mind, and you were here, Mr. Speaker, that on June 12, 2008, by a vote in this House of 249 to 0, there was unanimous acceptance of a motion by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, which mandated the government to come up with a list of rights for passengers not only on scheduled flights but on chartered flights. The House will recall as well that this concern had been raised as a result of some unscrupulous and rather dismissive behaviour by some operators that kept passengers on a plane, on a tarmac, for 12 hours.
We are trying to work with the airline companies to provide a service that would be acceptable, and indeed I say humane, for all those who pay for the privilege of flying from one place to another. All this business about the weather in Canada and the business model of all of these companies is mere hogwash, because the government members accepted, as part of that 249-to-0 vote, that the government would be obligated to come up with a bill of rights, not legislation.
We were all in the mood to work with the companies, and the government took until September of 2008 to come up with a flights rights bill. It was nothing more than a recounting of all the rights that a consumer has when he or she buys a ticket, and it referred to the websites of the appropriate companies. It was laughable. The only reason the government was not laughed out of this House is that it prorogued Parliament and went to an election.
Subsequent to that election, to his credit, the member for Elmwood—Transcona introduced Bill C-310 in February of 2009. He did it following what that motion indicated, that the will of this House was for the government to come up with a model. It was not that difficult. It was provided by legislation in the European Union and in the United States that said these are the rights a passenger acquires once he or she buys a plane ticket, elementary service considerations. We want those for our Canadian passengers on Canadian routes and on routes that go from Canada to elsewhere.
Every single consumer who embarks upon one of these flights in Europe already has the protection of legislation that has been operative in the European Union for 10 years, by the same companies that came before the committee. No, I am sorry, they did not come before the committee. They went first to the minister's office and said that he could not do this to them. It would destroy their business model. It would make them less competitive. It would increase their costs. They could not operate in Canada because they would not be able to offer service to those remote communities. All the members of his caucus who come from remote areas would never get another flight there again. They begged him to understand what this meant.
The government understands the word “fear” really quickly. We heard the parliamentary secretary say that the government was concerned about security. Notice that he did not say “service”. He said “security”, and then he said “safety”, because now the fault is all about those pilots, who might do something irrational like take off in the middle of a situation that clearly calls out danger. For example, in the last several weeks, a cloud of ash came out of volcanic eruptions in Iceland. Pilots said they could not travel, that they would not put passengers at risk.
The government is going to blame pilots, then an economic model and then consumers for wanting the service they paid for. The airline companies went to the minister's office and asked the government to fight back against this thing because they would come up with something. They said they would come up with some sort of accommodation in their tariff structure. They promised that, as long as this bill would not go forward.
Imagine a private company going to the Government of Canada, thanks to the minister, and saying it does not matter what Parliament comes up with and it does not matter that there is a piece of legislation that could be improved. It said nothing good could come out of this legislation or the process of debating, second reading, going to committee, garnering some amendments, trying to reach a compromise, making accommodation and trying to see the interests of business and how they are coincident with the interests of consumers. The companies came to the government and asked it not to do that, and the government said yes, aye aye, ready.
That being said, this bill still passed second reading and went to committee, where we were looking for amendments. Then the companies, especially Air Transat, said we could not do this. I have to mention names because the parliamentary secretary started to name some. They said we could not do any of this because it would be unfair to the companies. Imagine this, that the companies and the Government of Canada are now in bed together to destroy any chances of service the consumers might have. That is great.
We had an opportunity to present some amendments to address their issues. For example, notwithstanding section 1, the amount of compensation under the section would never exceed the total amount paid by the passenger for the flight in question. That means that, no matter what happened, the company would be off the hook beyond the actual cost of that flight segment.
We also wanted to propose amendments that would keep the companies safe, harmless, in the event that conditions were precipitated by circumstances beyond their control, such as decisions by the airport authority or by NAV Canada, or the weather. It is the same sort of things Europeans abide by. It is the same sort of thing these same companies abide by when they travel to Europe or the United States. But no, they could not have it in Canada because consumers in Canada who are using Canadian product do not deserve the same level of service as consumers in Europe and in the United States from those same Canadian companies.
Imagine the audacity and the insolence of those companies and the subordination of the Government of Canada to those kinds of presumptions. We were deprived of the opportunity to present amendments that would strengthen the bill, because the government accepted lock, stock and barrel the position of the companies that said this bill should not go forward because it was unacceptable to them. The companies said that we could not amend it or make it better and that the only people who could make it better were the companies.
They went on to promise that, if we killed this bill, they would do something. They have not done anything for a year and a half. The Government of Canada is aiding and abetting the total insolence of companies that hold consumers to ransom and then deny them the rights to the service that they should have and that they do enjoy everywhere else those companies operate except in Canada. Shame on the government for accepting such tripe as that which was enunciated a few moments ago by the parliamentary secretary on behalf of the companies and against Canadians.