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.