This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #173 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was air.

Topics

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to be very specific with the country of the Philippines. The member talked about Japan, Korea and China. One of the other countries in Asia that I think needs to have more attention given to it is the Philippines where there are all sorts of wonderful opportunities to look at what can be done to enhance air travel between our two countries.

To what degree has the member advocated to open up and provide those types of air travel opportunities for citizens of both Canada and the Philippines, especially if we take into consideration that the Philippines today is Canada's number one source country for immigrants?

If the member wants to address some of the concerns that the previous questioner had, he should enable people from countries like the Philippines to come through visiting visas. The number of visiting visas that are being turned down, ultimately, does have an impact on the overall travel where we could have a lot more people travelling from that country to Canada.

I am interested in what the member would have to say on those two points.

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raises a number of important points.

We are negotiating these open sky agreements with countries throughout the world. I have the list here. Since the launch of the blue sky policy in 2006, we have negotiated open sky type agreements with 16 countries. We have expanded agreements with 10 countries. They include Mexico, Japan, Jordan, Singapore, Morocco, Cuba, Egypt, Algeria, China and, in answer to the hon. member's question, the Philippines. Under the blue sky agreement, there has been an expanded agreement with the Philippines.

I should also mention that, under our federal tourism strategy, the tourism industry is now at the table and is being very much consulted on its priorities before we negotiate new air service agreements with other countries. We are asking the tourism industry where its priorities are, where it is targeting and how we can work with it to ensure Canada is accessible to visitors from other countries.

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, Conservative policies are hurting air travellers, airports and the airline industry. They have been saying collectively that the Conservative government must stop charging huge airport rental fees, stop overcharging security fees and stop laying off airport screeners, which is causing long lineups in all Canadian airports.

Canada is losing five million air passengers to the U.S. every year due to uncompetitive prices. We need to keep air travellers from crossing the border to simply hop on planes. Canadian jobs in Canada have to be the first priority.

According to the Canadian Airports Council, Canada lost 11,000 jobs and $240 million in tax revenue because of these 5 million Canadian passengers going to the U.S. to travel.

Between 2002 and 2011, almost all countries posted gains in international arrivals, except in Canada. Around the world, almost all countries are getting more international arrivals. We are one of the very few countries that are getting less.

The number of tourists dropped from 20 million in 2002 to 16 million in 2011. This is at a time when more people are travelling around the world. There are more tourists out there. Yet in terms of international tourist arrivals, Canada used to be number seven in the world list, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. We are now placed at number 18. We have slipped form number 7, within the first 10, to number 18, close to 20.

Canadians love to travel abroad, but we are not attracting enough foreign visitors to Canada. Some of the Canadians who are travelling abroad, go to the U.S. to fly out rather than flying directly. Why? Because the fees are too expensive. The Canadian government has been gouging them.

Our travel deficit is exploding, increasing six-fold in just the last decade to almost $16 billion at the end of 2011. In this context, let us discuss a motion calling for more open sky agreements with other countries.

Since 2006, Canadian governments have signed open sky agreements with other countries. A more structured and branded approach was taken. We could call it blue sky policy or open sky, it is very similar, but 50 countries are collectively signed in different agreements, representing over 85% of Canada's overall international passenger traffic.

Agreements are already in place with large jurisdictions like the U.S. and the EU, as well as a host of smaller countries. However, the success of these agreements, especially since the introduction of the blue sky policy, has not been examined and the assessment has not been made accessible.

There is no serious attempt to seek out whether these open sky agreements have a positive or negative impact on Canada's airline sector, consumer pricing, et cetera. We do not know whether there is any net benefit existing agreements have yielded in terms of reduced air fare prices.

Passengers are seeing the air fares going up. They are not seeing them going down. Connections frequency, we do not know whether that has made it easier; GDP, or tax benefits or job creation. We are losing jobs because of the price the government charges airports and security costs such a high price.

Without a proper assessment of the existing agreements, the federal government should not go into signing even more agreements for which no clear business case exists.

Another concern is that there is not much potential left in terms of signing additional agreements. Yes, China and India are not signed in, but there are certain risks through state controlled or subsidized airlines.

There may be problems that we do not know about because it is not clear what precisely the business case would be. Would there be government subsidies offered to their airlines that would make it difficult for our Canadian airlines to compete?

What is also in question is whether Canada's carrier, especially Air Canada, would benefit from an additional open sky agreement. It is already beyond Air Canada's strategic scope and resources to exploit the opportunities offered through free access to a number of countries. In other words, Air Canada is not using the ability to offer direct flights to countries for which it theoretically has unrestricted access.

For example, we used to have a lot of tourists coming from Korea. However, now there are fewer because the cost of flying is just so high. Although there is the possibility of having direct flights, there are fewer flights due to fewer tourists coming to Canada.

We do not know what impact these kinds of open sky or blue sky agreements would have on Canadian aviation workers. We know that Aveos laid off 2,000 people, so Air Canada is obviously struggling, even though 85% of the countries around the world have already signed an open sky agreement with Canada.

It is very important that we work hard to protect Canadian jobs and shield Canada's air industry from unfair and uncontrollable foreign competition. Therefore, any new agreements have to be based on a strong business case for Canada with safeguards to prevent the creation of unbalanced and disastrous competition.

High airfare prices is the key reason why fewer tourists are coming to Canada. In the Tourism Industry Association of Canada's publication “Gateway to Growth”, which is its road map on global competitiveness, it did not talk about blue sky agreements. Rather it talked about creating a new success-based funding model to competitively fund the Canadian Tourism Commission and reviewing the aviation cost structure to restore Canada's competitiveness.

Right now Canada is not competitive because the Conservative government continues to charge huge amounts for user fees and levies on aviation, not because we are not signing blue sky agreements. For example, last year $850 million came from air passengers and airlines. On top of that $850 million cash grab, the Conservative government grabbed another $90 million by charging GST on that. The milking of passengers through excessive security charges and unreasonable airport charges has to stop.

Open sky agreements that would have a clear net benefit for Canadians through increased competition and lower ticket prices would be welcome, but to continue what the Conservatives have been doing, such as signing treaties left and right without looking at the effects on markets and job numbers, is simply irresponsible.

Therefore, let us focus on reducing airfare for Canadians and protecting Canadian jobs rather than focusing on blue sky agreements.

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, it makes me laugh a little to hear the members of the NDP talk about competition when they are always against free trade agreements.

We need to look past all the self-congratulation in the Conservative motion. The sky is blue and so they paint everything blue. In reality, the purpose of this motion is to encourage free trade and bilateral agreements.

It was our government that signed the first agreement with the Americans in 1995 when Doug Young was the transport minister. For our part, we are going to ignore all the hoopla, all the Conservative government's self-congratulation and talk of blue skies, and we are going to support this motion because we are in favour of free trade agreements. We are in favour of these bilateral agreements.

Unlike others, we think that this will have a positive impact on the entire economy, for customers and for the general public. Clearly, there will always be problems in terms of price.

The bottom line is whether we are in agreement with the bilateral agreement, yes or no. That is what the motion is all about.

As a Liberal, we were there in 1995. We are supportive of that. When I was minister of immigration, we were talking with the Chinese government regarding tourism and of course there is always a link between transport and tourism. There was an agreement eventually but we already started to negotiate at that time. So it is to open the sky, to open the market and it is good politics. It is not a partisan issue; it is a matter of what is in Canada's best interests. Are we going far enough? That is an issue we have to take a look at, but clearly I believe, and we on this side believe, that those accords and agreements are essential.

We could talk for hours and hours. There are always things that could be improved, but let us be realistic. This is not a law; it is a motion. As such, these are wishes. It may be wishful thinking, but this motion is a way for the government to say that it wants Parliament to indicate what policy it would like to have in the future. Once again, the member opposite, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and I—we should write this down somewhere—do not tend to agree on things, but we agree on this motion.

I would, however, like to share some key messages. Neither the U.S. Open Skies policy nor the Canadian blue sky policy should permit cabotage, under which a foreign airline may carry domestic traffic between two points in another country. This is something that should be examined later. The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities must take that into consideration when negotiating agreements if he truly wants to guarantee this procedure. At the time, Jean Lapierre, who was the transport minister, had already begun discussions and negotiations in this regard. I think that we need to take that into consideration.

We know that bilateral air transport agreements are negotiated jointly by Transport, Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Canadian Transportation Agency. We must also send clear messages not only to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, but also to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to ensure that what happened in the United Arab Emirates does not happen again. Because of problems caused by broadening the agreements, we lost Camp Mirage, which was supporting our troops in Afghanistan. These are important things that must be taken into account.

To the thousands of listeners stampeding over here to listen to my speech and other speeches—

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

People need to have a little fun every now and then. I have had a busy day, Mr. Speaker.

Most industry players, including the Canadian Airports Council, the Montreal Economic Institute, the National Airlines Council of Canada, as well as the tourism industry and the entire business community, support blue sky.

Our role is also to represent concerned citizens. I think that in that sense, I am helping my colleague and his motion. That can be taken into consideration. He is not alone. He may have used the word “blue” a little too much. Nevertheless, we are supportive of the “sky” part, at least.

All the same, there are some facts that must be taken into consideration. In speaking to this motion, there is an opportunity to send messages. Those who vote in favour of the motion must take into account the fact that the western provinces, especially British Columbia, are concerned about the lack of progress to date in relaxing restrictions on air services between Canada and major destinations in Asia, such as India. That must be taken into account.

A number of bilateral air transport agreements negotiated under the blue sky policy are not as liberal as those negotiated under our southern neighbour's open skies policy. That may have to be taken into account.

I think that this is a step in the right direction. This is the right thing to do. We have to vote in favour of this motion.

The bottom line: Are they in favour of the free trade agreement or not? If they are against that motion, they are sending a clear message that they are against free trade. So we have to take that in order and that is the reason the members of this party believe in free trade. We believe in those accords. We signed the first one and we will be pleased to support our colleague from Fundy Royal.

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, my purpose in this place has been to expand freedom by reducing the obstacles that government puts in its way. There are a number of different freedoms that we have. There is freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression. There is also something called freedom of enterprise. It has proven to be the most powerful machine for generating prosperity and opportunity in the history of humankind. While we might speak about it in those grand eloquent terms, we must also remember that it is expanded through the grinding hard work of officials who daily remove its obstacles.

One way in which obstacles to free enterprise and freedom of trade can be removed is through more access to choice for air passengers and more access to markets for air carriers. That is what the blue sky policy does. That is why I rise today to support this motion and its consequential contribution to freedom and free enterprise in our country.

I would like to congratulate the motion's sponsor, the member for Fundy Royal.

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

The member is deserving of applause. Let me tell my colleagues that they should also feel comfortable interrupting my comments with their applause at any time throughout my remarks.

Let me talk about the success of the blue sky policy. So far, the government has negotiated 70 reciprocal air agreements that allow foreign carriers to provide choice to Canadian passengers and Canadian carriers to reach foreign markets. This means lower prices and more travel opportunities for Canadian vacationers. It means more job-creating and wealth-generating opportunities for Canadian airline companies.

Our government's policy approach to air transport negotiations with other countries has involved a proactive effort to expanding these agreements. It seeks to negotiate reciprocal open sky agreements when it is in the overall interest of Canada. We promote long-term sustainable competition in this important sector of our economy because it is when choice and options for travellers and shippers grow that the benefits flow to the Canadian people. The policy is therefore pro-consumer in its outlook.

Embedded in the policy are the particularities of the Canadian aviation system. We have a low population density and a large territory. All of our carriers are private companies. We commercialized our main airports and we are now liberalizing our relationships with international partners in an orderly fashion.

The decision by successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, over the last two and a half decades toward a liberalized, free enterprise, pro-market air transportation system has been an unmitigated success for the country. Our airports prior to this transformation were money sucking state-supported institutions that were dilapidated and had fallen behind. Now, if we look at the enormous success of our airports, they actually employ more people, provide far greater traffic and they are recognized as some of the best in the world. The Ottawa international airport, under the wise leadership of Paul Benoit, has been one such example.

However, the success in commercialization and liberalization should not stop there. We need to expand its reach so that the Canadian people can benefit from literally a world of choice when seeking air carrier options and Canadian air carriers can benefit from a world of consumer demand.

Canada is at the forefront of letting market forces determine the level of air services. This also means that we pay attention to situations that create an unlevel playing field for the industry. We have carefully and prudently analyzed country by country and we have managed to conclude that 70 countries are compatible with us for these air agreements.

In this context, the blue sky policy is not a one-size-fits-all approach to air transportation. We evaluate each on its own merits to determine how far we will go. We consider the commercial interests of Canadian carriers and airports; the likelihood and extent of new Canadian and foreign services, giving preference to early start-ups; the size and maturity of air transportation markets and potential for future growth; foreign governments' requests for negotiations; Canada's trading objectives; safety and security; and Canada's foreign relations.

Our policy puts a legal framework within which carriers make their own decisions based on their commercial considerations. We do not dictate which airline will offer service and where. Instead, we will negotiate an air transportation agreement and work closely with our partners to ensure carriers make use of the flexibility offered to them. In other words, we are unleashing the power of free market competition to create jobs for people who work for the airlines and choice for the passengers who fly on them.

The results speak for themselves. Canada is now at a point where 72% of our international passenger traffic is covered by an open agreement. Before blue sky, we had an open agreement with two partners. We now have open agreements that cover more than 43 countries.

In addition, Canada has concluded or offered open agreements to countries representing collectively 91% of our international two-way merchandise trade. This is proof that the implementation of the policy has supported our trade objectives.

The implementation of the policy has also benefited the tourism sector. All of the priority markets of the tourism commission have been added to the expanded air transport agreements. In 2011 alone, Canada expanded agreements with Brazil, Mexico, Japan and China, which will be the largest outbound tourist market in the world by the end of this decade. In the future our efforts will continue, with focus on Asia and Latin America.

The policy is consistent with a number of our economic action plan objectives. It expands trade, builds on the gateways and corridors initiative and reaches out to the Americas.

Stakeholder engagement is key to the implementation of this process. For example, aviation industry stakeholders are regularly consulted and they have been supportive and have formed part of the process.

Several foreign airlines have either entered or expanded their services into Canada. For their part, Canadian carriers have increased their total number of outbound international flights by 56% since 2006 and the number of direct international destinations by 11%. These are the results of an open, free enterprise, global trading economy that we are building in this country.

I will close by pointing to the conclusions of this evidence. Free enterprise competition expands choice for consumers, opportunity for investors and jobs for employees. We must always look for opportunities to knock down the barriers of government, to expand freedom for Canadians and to allow the prosperity that always comes with freedom to bless our land.

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Conservative Motion No. 387 is to further liberalize international commercial air service through a new open sky agreement with other countries. The goal is to further open up the Canadian market to foreign passenger airlines, which will supposedly result in a net benefit for Canada.

The government's blue sky policy is commonly referred to as an open sky policy elsewhere in the world. I will therefore refer to it as the open sky policy for the rest of my speech.

Generally, open sky agreements lead to greater competition and expanded air services around the world. Deregulating commercial aviation is not a new phenomenon. In the 1970s, several countries including the United States began negotiating bilateral agreements in order to further liberalize international commercial air service.

When the government introduced its blue sky policy in 2006, this provided a framework for subsequent open sky agreements. The goal was to approach things in a more structured way, compared to what had been done in the past by other governments. This led to the negotiation of a number of new bilateral agreements regarding air transportation, including with the United States and members of the European Union.

It is important to note that agreements represent 87% of all international air traffic in Canada. Other agreements have been reached more recently with a number of other countries. However, the policy that led to the bilateral agreements negotiated since it was adopted is rather protectionist. We simply have to compare it to the American open sky policy and it soon becomes clear that it does not go far enough and it is not as liberal.

What is important is that this not hurt our aviation industry or Canadian consumers. We must ensure that foreign competition is fair, balanced and manageable. How can we have that assurance when Motion No. 387 does not provide for any measures in that regard? In fact, the motion does not mention any concrete measures. Nor has any assessment been done since the blue sky policy was introduced in 2006. We have no idea if deregulation has had any positive spinoffs for the Canadian economy.

Before we go any further, we need to know how successful the government's policy has been since it was implemented. This motion only calls for more bilateral agreements. It does not call for the adoption of more specific measures. And it comes from a backbench Conservative member, which says a lot.

Furthermore, this motion reveals a strange paradox, since the member who moved it does not have an international airport or an airline in his riding. We have to wonder where he suddenly got this idea that signing more bilateral agreements should be a priority for the government, at a time when there are much more serious issues before the House.

We know that for purely ideological reasons, the Conservatives want greater deregulation of the Canadian air market. The question is why this motion is being debated now. There is no reason for the government to put it before the House, and it seems to be another tactic to distract people from other more important and pressing issues.

What is important to know is whether this will truly lead to lower fares and an increase in the number of passengers flying out of Canada instead of the United States. But we have no idea. There is no analysis of the commercial gains this will entail for airlines. There is no evaluation showing what kind of effect open sky type agreements have had on the Canadian airline industry and the prices paid by consumers. We need proof and studies confirming the effects of previous agreements before we open up the market even more.

Since 87% of international air traffic is already covered by such agreements, is there any real potential here? I should point out that the only main exceptions are China and India. These are emerging powers with large markets, but in recent years, bilateral agreements have been signed with much smaller countries.

We are talking about opening up the market to Chinese airlines that enjoy significant state subsidies. These emerging countries are important players, and this kind of foreign competition could have long-term negative consequences for a market like ours and for our airline companies. This would become a problem if they were in a position to offer lower fares, which would affect the market.

In the past, we refused to open the market to the Emirates airline, which receives considerable political and financial support. I do not see how the situation is any different today. Moreover, Air Canada does not have the same means to operate in other markets. Thus, these agreements would lack so-called reciprocity.

This motion is also being introduced at a time when we know very well that the government is abandoning stakeholders in the aerospace sector. We must protect the workers in this sector and defend our aerospace industry.

Canada also has its share of problems in the commercial airline industry, such as air security, poorly serviced rural communities, wait times and the exorbitant prices that consumers end up paying. These are the consequences of the Conservatives' policies, budget cuts and layoffs.

These policies adversely affect both consumers and airlines. We believe that the integrity of our airlines and jobs in the sector must be protected, while ensuring that consumers have access to competitive prices. In that regard, we know that Canadians travel to the U.S. to take cheaper flights. A recent report released by the Conference Board of Canada indicated the extent of the problem. Approximately five million Canadians cross the border to fly out of American airports because it is much cheaper.

This situation is not sustainable for airports or for Canadian carriers. According to the Conference Board of Canada, changes to Canadian policies could alter this situation significantly and bring back two million passengers to our airports.

The decrease in Canadian passengers could have other serious consequences such as less frequent flights, higher travel costs and, inevitably, inferior service for all Canadians.

As a result, we must be sure to provide our Canadian airline industry with adequate support in order to make it effective, safe, prosperous and viable. We need to know the net benefits that the agreements entered into under the policy may have yielded since the policy was implemented in 2006. But we do not. We do not know what effects the policy may have had on job creation, income, GDP growth or the reduction in airline ticket prices.

I can guarantee that any open sky policy that clearly demonstrates that Canadians will obtain a net benefit, such as a decrease in the cost of airline tickets for consumers, would be welcome. However, right now, there is no study or assessment to demonstrate that such is the case. We do not have any guarantees from the Conservatives with regard to existing jobs and routes. How can we know that the increase in competition will not affect certain routes, which will then be deemed to be non-competitive?

I am opposed to this motion for all these reasons. The government must conduct an analysis of the performance of the agreements that are already in place before making new ones. For now, the government should focus on resolving existing problems in our air services and our aerospace industry.

The NDP opposes the motion for many reasons, particularly because it pushes for a more open Canadian passenger airline market without providing for any measures to protect Canadian consumers or the aviation industry and without any evidence that previous deregulation was good for the Canadian economy.

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned the party's position on how important it is that we establish air transportation and its many different benefits, both for Canada and other countries, as we move forward and look at possible agreements. There I was pleased to hear the presenter of the motion talk about countries where there has been some progress. He referred my question about the Philippines, which I do appreciate.

I want to highlight one of my pet peeves. The New Democrat member talked about how the number of people visiting has actually gone down significantly over the years. This reminded me of the many issues with temporary visas that I deal with as citizenship and immigration critic. All members of Parliament hear of the great frustration of people abroad who want to travel to Canada, but who are required to get visitors visas to come to Canada, many of which are rejected for a wide variety of reasons. It is a multi-faceted problem that we face when looking at trying to increase the number of people coming to Canada through our airline industry. Part of that increase is through visitors. If and when we see visas rejected, ultimately family members in Canada go to those countries as opposed to their family members coming here. I want to emphasize that point.

Having said that, Winnipeg has a brand new international airport and CentrePort, an initiative that the provincial government, in co-operation with Ottawa, planned for what we believe is a wonderful economic opportunity for the province of Manitoba. The airlines, both cargo and passenger, are absolutely critical to the success of CentrePort. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. We are talking about the future of thousands of jobs for the community of Winnipeg and beyond. Ultimately when we talk about these types of jobs and numbers, all of Canada benefits as a result.

For CentrePort and the Winnipeg International Airport to prosper in the future and for us to realize its potential, it is critical that we look at the ways we can enhance air travel and cargo. For decades, I remember Gary Filmon, a former premier of Manitoba, talk about Winnport. Winnport used the idea from the east coast of an airline transporting fresh lobster from the east coast to Europe in a 747 aircraft.

I recall the debate in Manitoba about why we could not export some our merchandise in a much larger fashion. I remember people saying “Why not even look at pork products and having fresh pork products?” That was back in the 1990s.

Winnport never really got off the ground, but CentrePort has. In essence, it is the same concept that we talked about in the 1990s. The difference now is that multiple or different levels of government have invested millions of dollars to ensure—

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

I do not mean to interrupt the hon. member. However, there is really too much noise in the chamber. I am sure that other hon. members wish to hear the member for Winnipeg North. It is awfully difficult to hear at this end of the chamber.

The hon. member.

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, what I am saying is that this multi-million dollar investment, which includes all different levels of government in one way or another, is an attempt to try to say to the rest of the world that Winnepeg is open for business. When we talk about the potential of air cargo and passenger business into the future, it is phenomenal.

Therefore, I was glad when my colleague stood as the critic and a member of the Liberal Party's Quebec caucus and talked a bit about the history of where the Liberal Party has come from in recognizing the importance of this. In dealing with this motion, we want to deal with it in an apolitical fashion, believing that it does have the support of at least two political entities inside the House of Commons. However, more importantly, by passing this motion pass we would really be encouraging economic development in an important industry.

I know that Manitoba is not alone. There other provinces, Saskatchewan in particular, and the province of Ontario through the Toronto international airport. My colleagues will talk about the province of Quebec and other jurisdictions as well, but particularly the Montreal airport and its potential.

I think that we underestimate the potential. That is why we find many of my Liberal colleagues talking about the importance of the air cargo and passenger business because the potential for job creation is there, the potential for generating additional GDP for our country is there. Both of those are very real, which I just wanted to have the opportunity to emphasize.

Blue Sky PolicyPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

As he may wish, the hon. member for Winnipeg North will have two minutes remaining to resume his speech when the House next considers the question.

The time provided for 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.

Fisheries and OceansAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to talk about a question that I asked on June 19 about the Rio+20 conference and the Conservatives' catastrophic record.

May 22 was the International Day for Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, issued this appeal: “Rio+20 must galvanize action to improve the management and conservation of oceans.”

Rio+20 was held in June 2012, the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit. Two very important environmental proposals were on the table, but unfortunately, the Conservatives fiercely opposed them, which angered Canadians and the people in my riding of Drummond.

The first environmental proposal on the table at Rio+20 was to eliminate over $1 billion in subsidies that the Conservatives give every year to fossil fuel companies—both oil and gas companies. The people in my riding are sick and tired of seeing their tax dollars subsidize billion-dollar oil and gas companies. Unfortunately, at Rio+20, the Conservatives opposed that proposal.

The second environmental proposal was to better protect marine biodiversity in extraterritorial waters, as called for by Ban Ki-moon. Instead of protecting our environment and our health, the Conservatives have another agenda. They are continuing the destruction that they began with Bill C-38. Let me remind the House what that bill included: the Conservatives withdrew Canada from the Kyoto protocol; they eliminated the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy; and they abolished the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

With Bill C-45, they can do more of the same by attacking the Navigable Waters Protection Act this time. For instance, only 97 lakes and 62 rivers in all of Canada will now be protected. That is unbelievable. This means that 99.7% of lakes and 99.9% of rivers in Canada will not have any protection whatsoever. On top of all that, of the only 97 protected lakes, 89% are located in Conservative ridings, which is even more shocking. Of the remaining rivers, the one that runs through Drummond, the Saint-François River, is not protected. People from Drummond are calling me and asking me what the repercussions of this will be. They are shocked to learn that the river will no longer be protected.

Furthermore, I would like to come back to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and more specifically the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, located in Mont-Joli in the Lower St. Lawrence, which has experienced some cuts. This is another example of the vague budget cuts imposed on Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Near Rimouski, more than 120 scientist jobs are affected, including about 30 that will be eliminated altogether. This important institute is one of the main francophone marine science research centres in the world. As I was saying, it plays a very important role, not only here in Canada, but also around the world.

My question is the following: how can the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans claim that the federal government oversees the sustainable development of the oceans, when it is shamelessly cutting anything to do with the environment, whether it is with Bill C-38 or Bill C-45? Can he show us that he truly cares about protecting the oceans?

Fisheries and OceansAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to inform the hon. member about our government's approach to protecting marine biodiversity in Canada's oceans, as well as in international waters.

Canada remains committed to the sustainable development of the oceans, both domestically and internationally. We continue to make progress in the responsible management and protection of our oceans. The government ensures that our national waters are protected and preserved through our strong regulatory regime that governs responsible resource use and development, and ensures high standards of environmental protection. We will continue to collect the scientific information necessary and provide advice to support informed decision-making regarding the issues of greatest concern to Canada's oceans.

Integrated ocean management plans have been completed for two ocean areas and three more are nearing completion. These plans provide a basis for decision-making, recognizing the importance of natural ecosystems while balancing the needs of resource users. There are currently eight Fisheries and Oceans marine protected areas and seven additional areas that are under active consideration as potential marine protected areas. In fact, among federal, provincial and territorial governments, 810 marine conservation and marine protected areas have been established to date.

Our government will continue to work together with the provinces, territories, aboriginal peoples, industry and all of our stakeholders in developing Canada's network of marine protected areas. We have made significant progress in implementing a strategic approach to oceans management in collaboration with other levels of government and stakeholders. We have worked together with our partners to deliver results, increase surveillance of marine pollution through acquisition of specialized equipment and the provision of emergency and safety services to local operators.

Internationally, we are taking our domestic experience and approaches and working collaboratively in global processes to protect the biodiversity of the world's oceans. Canada is an active member of the North American Marine Protected Areas Network, a Canada–U.S.–Mexico project to advance the development of an effective system of North American Marine Protected Areas Networks, to enhance and strengthen the protection of marine biodiversity.

Last year, with the support of the United Nations General Assembly, we endorsed an expert process to assess the best tools and mechanisms to ensure the long-term sustainability of the world's oceans. Canada participates in a United Nations working group established to deal with these issues and looks forward to contributing to analysis of the best options. Developing networks of marine protected areas, as we are doing with our North American partners, is one example of an effective tool.

We believe it is important that existing agreements and mechanisms be implemented and a thorough analysis of options be conducted before a new international treaty is negotiated. We prefer to take a pragmatic and practical approach that can lead to action sooner rather than later. Canada does not want to abandon the agreed upon United Nations process that will build global understanding of this complex issue.

Fisheries and OceansAdjournment Proceedings

October 31st, 2012 / 7 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would simply like to remind the hon. member that the Conservatives collected fossil awards at the Rio+20 conference. The Minister of the Environment's shelf holds a collection of environmental fossil awards. It is thus difficult to say that the Conservatives have done what is necessary for the environment.

The most recent budget cuts found in the two mammoth budget bills, Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, show that they have not. These bills make radical cuts to the environment and there is nothing in these bills to protect our marine areas. On the contrary, the Navigable Waters Protection Act has been completely gutted. Canada has also take a major step backward in terms of environmental science. As I mentioned, the Conservatives are making serious cuts in this area. This will do nothing to help protect our oceans. Oceans cover a large portion of our planet. They are the very essence of life. Water is the essence of life, and that is why we must protect it.

According to the hon. member, if the government has done everything it can, why was it given so many fossil awards?

Fisheries and OceansAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, we continue to make progress on our responsible management and protection of our oceans, using high environmental standards and a strong regulatory regime. The integrated ocean management plan provides a basis for decision-making, recognizing the importance of natural ecosystems while attempting to balance the needs of resource users. In addition, we are pursuing the development of a network of marine protected areas.

We prefer a practical approach that could lead to action sooner rather than later. Canada supports current efforts within the United Nations to build global understanding of this complex issue which needs to be done before a new international treaty is negotiated.

Aboriginal AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to revisit my question from last June on the subject of mercury poisoning and the plight of the people from the Grassy Narrows and Whitedog First Nations.

At the time of my question, a Japanese study had just been translated into English that was an update to an earlier study. It showed how the health effects of mercury poisoning still ravage these communities a full 50 years after the contamination that initially poisoned the food supply began.

The studies were published by mercury poisoning expert, Dr. Masazumi Harada, who passed away this past summer. Dr. Harada's recent work in Grassy Narrows revealed that 59% of people tested had mercury poisoning and 34% of those tested would have been diagnosed with Minamata disease. Of those people tested between the ages of 21 to 41, 44% were affected by mercury poisoning even though none of them were alive 50 years ago when a pulp mill in Dryden dumped about 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon River.

Incredibly, Health Canada studies in the 1990s showed that 0% of patients examined were deemed at risk due to the levels of mercury in their system. Needless to say, Dr. Harada's update gave completely different results.

Worse, Health Canada issued a statement declaring that poisoning due to methyl mercury contamination in these communities was a “minimal risk”.

As recently as 2010, when I raised the issue in the House of Grassy Narrows mercury poisoning, the Minister of Health stated that the mercury levels were safe. We now know that was simply not true.

We do know that Canada has yet to acknowledge a single case of Minamata disease despite acknowledging the waterway that fed these first nations communities is polluted.

Despite all of Dr. Harada's research to the contrary and his significant reports that were released in English in 2005 and 2012, if people were only to listen to the Canadian government, they would hear that there has not been a single case of Minamata disease in Grassy Narrows.

What may be worse is the way that clear-cut logging is complicating the problem and adding to the risk of mercury poisoning. Science shows us that clear-cut logging causes boreal land to shed its mineral load into its waterways. This increases mercury levels in boreal fish and yet clear-cut logging persists in the Grassy territory despite clearly stated and consistent opposition from the community.

In fact, this December 2 is the 10th anniversary of the Grassy Narrows logging blockade, which has been led by mothers and young people trying to protect their treaty rights to hunt and fish in the face of industrial clear-cut logging.

Grassy Narrows recently won its court case at the Ontario Superior Court after a decade of legal wrangling. Now Canada is appealing. In doing so, it is arguing against the treaty rights of Grassy Narrows to fish and hunt. Having their own government appeal their victory can only be seen as piling on the people of Grassy Narrows.

Dr. Harada is on record saying that even if the pollution itself could come to an end, the impact on the health and socio-economic life of the people throughout the area is immense.

Despite pushing ahead with licences for clear-cut logging, Ontario is moving forward on the issue of mercury poisoning and has formed an inter-ministerial committee to deal with the phenomenon. Canada and Health Canada have been invited to join them at the table but they have refused. The government also refused to comment to the CBC when it was reporting on developments in the story in June of this year. Why is the government silent on this?

Why will the government not admit that there is an ongoing problem with mercury poisoning, admit the existence of Minamata disease in Grassy Narrows and Whitedog and then get to work on dealing with the problem?

Will Canada come to the table to resolve ongoing mercury issues?

Aboriginal AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to the question from the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. Let me assure the hon. member that the health of first nations communities is an absolute priority for the Government of Canada. Addressing the concerns of mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows First Nation is no exception. Our government takes the issue of mercury poisoning and its potential health effects seriously.

The Government of Canada continues to work with the Mercury Disability Board and the Government of Ontario to support the work of the board in addressing the issue of mercury contamination. The board was established in 1986 in response to mercury poisoning of the English-Wabigoon River system. The board supervises administration of the fund from which benefits are paid to claimants whose health may have been affected by mercury contamination. Since 1986, Canada has contributed more than $9 million in compensation to Grassy Narrows First Nation, which was affected by mercury contamination.

Health Canada has made progress on addressing contamination issues by working with willing partners to achieve tangible results. Through the First Nation and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada monitors the exposure of first nations to environmental contaminants, including mercury. Our government knows that for communities like the Grassy Narrows First Nation, access to safe water, land and contamination-free traditional food sources is of utmost importance.

The health, safety and security of all Canadians and the environment are important for our government. That is why we, along with the Province of Ontario, first nations, scientists and industry, are working together to invest in initiatives to monitor the effects of mercury contamination on the environment in the English-Wabigoon River system in northwestern Ontario.

We are committed to the health of first nation communities. We are working with our partners to ensure that first nations and all Canadians across the country have access to a safe environment, which in turn results in long-term prosperity for us all.

Aboriginal AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member talks about the fact that the government is very concerned and its priority is the health and well-being of first nations. I have to ask whether her practical approach is with respect to ensuring that waterways, such as the English-Wabigoon River system, which has not made the very short list of mostly cottage-country rivers and lakes, will receive the protection of the new navigation protection act. Whether that is a practical approach or not, is fighting a court decision that would stop pollution of these lakes and rivers what she would call a practical approach?

When I talked about Dr. Harada, his life's work was making sure that the well-being of people was being addressed. Obviously, the government is not addressing that. When will the member stand up for the people of Grassy Narrows? When will Conservatives admit that there is Minamata disease, and when will they stop appealing the decision?

Aboriginal AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I said, our government takes the health of first nation communities seriously. That is why Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch has funded a number of research projects at Grassy Narrows and nearby communities over the last decade. The research examines the current levels of mercury contamination in the environment and wildlife, as well as human exposure.

We also continue to work with the Mercury Disability Board established in 1986 and the Government of Ontario to address the issue of mercury contamination. Understanding and minimizing the effects of mercury contamination are essential to ensuring the health of all first nations communities affected by contamination. Along with our partners, we are committed to supporting the Grassy Narrows First Nation with the aim of improving the long-term prosperity and health of all community members.

Border SecurityAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Independent

Bruce Hyer Independent Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will speak to a hugely worrisome and important issue that has unfortunately received little attention. In June, I asked a question about the government's leaked plans to “ease Canadians into the idea” of U.S. agents operating on Canadian soil as part of a sovereignty sharing perimeter security deal with the United States.

Tonight is Halloween. Imagine the fright ordinary Canadians would get if they are at home and all of a sudden their door bursts open and U.S. drug enforcement agents storm into their house, arrest them and abscond across the border with them, where they can be charged with things that are not even crimes in Canada.

That is exactly the horror show that the government is bringing to Canadians. It might not just be the DEA. It could be the FBI or U.S. customs and immigration agents or the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms or even the CIA. We cannot be certain of who all would be involved because the government is keeping Canadians, and the House, largely in the scary dark.

Who needs due process and extradition treaties when they can just waltz into another country and arrest whoever they want? Marc Emery would see the problem with this scheme.

This is all part of the “beyond the border” initiative, which will hugely expand the nature and scope of joint law enforcement operations and information sharing.

One of the dozens of non-budget items in this year's omnibus budget was changes to permanently allow for U.S. agents to operate on Canadian soil. The shiprider program has crawled out of the water and onto the land.

Cross-border co-operation between law enforcement to stop crime is a laudable goal. However, it must be done in a way that respects Canadian sovereignty. After fiascos like the FIPA, the Canada-China foreign investment protection treaty, it is clear that Canadians are skeptical about closed door agreements being negotiated that impact Canada's sovereignty. These plans must respect the rights of Canadians.

A joint resolution from the federal and provincial privacy commissioners urged transparency and respect for Canadian privacy standards regarding this initiative. It was very apt, considering the severe consequences Maher Arar suffered because basic standards were not followed. The resolution said:

Any initiatives under the plan that collect personal information should also include appropriate redress and remedy mechanisms to review files for accuracy, correct inaccuracies and restrict disclosures to other countries; Parliament, provincial Privacy Commissioners and civil society should be engaged as initiatives under the plan take shape; [i]nformation about Canadians should be stored on Canadian soil whenever feasible or at least be subject to Canadian protection; and [a]ny use of new surveillance technologies within Canada such as unmanned aerial vehicles must be subject to appropriate controls set out in a proper regulatory framework.

They mention aerial drones because it has emerged that they could be part of this cross-border initiative. Do we really want to have U.S. predator drones flying deep into Canada, spying and carrying out missions at will?

None of this is being discussed in the House because the government is not following the privacy commissioners' directives. Parliament is not being engaged or informed about this cross-border law enforcement scheme.

Questions remain. Will the private information of Canadians only be stored in Canada? How will disclosures to other countries be restricted, or files corrected for inaccuracies? When violations occur, what redress or mediation measures are being put in place under the beyond the border plan?

I know the plans are currently on hold as legal—

Border SecurityAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. The time has expired for the hon. member.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety.