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.