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House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was literacy.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, I suggest to the member across the way that he take a look at the main estimates. He could come to the veterans affairs meeting tomorrow afternoon to take a look. It is not a secret. It is $3.5 billion. Ninety per cent of the money in the budget goes toward benefits and services. It is no secret. It is right there.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for the invitation. Unfortunately, I have to attend the Standing Committee on Official Languages at that time. Otherwise, I would have been happy to go and examine the issue.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have debated the important issue of veterans all day. The hon. members for Sackville—Eastern Shore and Québec began the debate this morning. Evening has come and no one on the government side has clearly said whether the government will support our motion, which is designed to prevent cuts to services for veterans.

Mr. Speaker, I will go through you to ask these questions of all the members on the government side. Why are they so reluctant to support a motion that is just common sense? Why are they taking so long to clearly state that they fully support the motion, which requests that the same level of services for veterans be maintained in the budget? This is a legitimate question that must be asked. Why have they not answered? We have been debating this issue for eight hours and we have not received an answer.

On this side of the House, we are concerned. It is certain that veterans' families are concerned. People in veterans' hospitals, in families and in homes where veterans live are all surprised at the government's lack of clarity.

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore asked some questions in the House today. I am tempted to ask the Conservatives whether or not they support veterans. It is a legitimate question to which we still have not had an answer and that is quite worrisome.

It is not just the NDP that supports veterans. All the veterans organizations around the country, like the Royal Canadian Legion, to which a number of NDP MPs and I belong, fully support this motion and this debate today to support veterans. The union of veterans' affairs employees and the veterans ombudsman also support this motion.

Why is the Conservative government not prepared to support this motion after eight hours of debate? All they have to do is stand up and say they agree with the NDP that the services provided to veterans need to be protected.

Quotes were read earlier and I will also read one in these few minutes I have to devote to veterans. Patricia Varga, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion, said:

It is time that our federal leadership owned up to the moral debt they owe to the veterans and their families. They can do that by saying cut if you can but do not touch programs or operations that have any effect on Canada’s veterans.

Guy Parent, the veterans ombudsman, said roughly the same thing. He said that if the United States and the United Kingdom can exempt veterans' programs, Canada should do the same. He added that either the Conservatives should do the same thing or they should ensure that cuts are kept to a minimum.

It is very clear. There is consensus throughout the country, among the people watching today, in the NDP, and among all veterans' organizations. We must ask the following question: do the Conservatives support veterans or not? It is a fairly simple question.

I want to continue talking about the incredible moral debt Canadians owe to our veterans.

I grew up in a family that sent two individuals off to the second world war. My grandfather and my uncle are placed at the monument in front of New Westminster City Hall in my community of New Westminster. They both gave their lives for their country. As with so many Canadians, we feel deeply and profoundly about the debt that we owe the veterans who came back.

As the House well knows, war comes with huge physical, mental, often psychological consequences to our veterans. One cannot go to those kinds of situations and come back unscarred. These brave men and women who have served overseas in the second world war, in the Korean conflict, in multiple peacekeeping operations that Canada has undertaken or in Afghanistan deserve only the best that Canada has to offer. They put their lives on the line. Many of them gave their lives. Those who come back are entitled to the full support of our nation. That is why we find it so perplexing that after seven hours of debate here in the House today the Conservative government has not even signalled yet whether it is going to support the motion or not.

Every year on Remembrance Day I go before the New Westminster cenotaph--

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Burnaby--New Westminster. There is too much noise in the chamber. I would humbly ask members to carry on their conversations in their respective lobbies.

We will give the hon. member for Burnaby--New Westminster the floor.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am saddened that some members are not listening to this debate. I know that many Canadians and many veterans value this debate. Without our veterans, we would not be having this democratic debate on the floor of the House of Commons. We owe it to them to listen very attentively. We owe it to them to listen to their needs.

All of the major veterans organizations have come forward and said the government should be supporting the NDP motion, every single one without exception. They understand the contributions that veterans have made to building the country and to preserving the right to a democratic debate in the House of Commons. Veterans who have given their lives or have come back profoundly scarred, sometimes physically, sometimes psychologically, have the right to get the best possible services from a grateful nation.

Every Remembrance Day I go to the George Derby Centre in Burnaby and visit the veterans. I listen to their stories. I see what has happened over time. It is a slow but steady deterioration in the funding that is allocated to that veterans hospital and other veterans hospitals across the country. It is clear and unmistakable. That is why we brought forward the motion today. We understand that the slow, steady and insidious cuts to funding cannot be permitted to continue. We have to provide full support for our veterans, wherever they are in Canada. We do this today with the full support of those veterans organizations.

As members know, in the estimates there were cutbacks. The government would say that it only cut back certain categories, but unmistakably, and we have raised this in the House of Commons, there were cutbacks of millions of dollars in funding to Veterans Affairs. The government is aware of this. It has said even further that it will be looking to make major cuts in ministries, including the Ministry of Veterans Affairs. We could be talking about tens of millions of dollars.

How does that translate? That translates into fewer services available to veterans. It translates into fewer services available anywhere veterans are now receiving the support of a grateful population, whether that be the George Derby Centre in Burnaby, British Columbia, or Ste. Anne's Hospital in Quebec. We will draw that line in the sand to stop further cuts. We want to maintain those services. We want to put forth a motion to the House of Commons that unambiguously states that the cuts, as insidious as they may be, shall stop now, and that the next budget will provide full funding for veterans. We are standing up for veterans in the House of Commons because we can do so. We can stand in the House of Commons and debate because of their sacrifice.

Today we are asking for support from every single member of Parliament to say yes to veterans, to say no to cuts, and to say yes to maintaining the funding for our veterans who have given their lives and often their physical health for this country. They are owed that debt. We owe them no less than full funding in the next budget and no cuts.

We hope that all members of Parliament will support this motion.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, as someone whose uncle, “Smokey” Smith, was the last surviving Victoria Cross holder in Canada, and whose father was a prisoner of war, I have listened very carefully to this debate. I know there is a lot of truth in what the hon. member said. Certainly, my father returned with what I would say are psychological scars. The fact that he carried on a very successful life and was a hero to me and a lot of other people does not take away from that sacrifice.

At the same time, I would ask the hon. member to consider the following and answer the following question. Of course veterans are near and dear to the hearts of most Canadians. Apart from that, is he excluding the possibility that there may be savings in that department as there are in other departments? In times of austerity, we have to look at making those savings so that we can support our veterans in a more effective way. I would put to my hon. friend that this is not to take away from our veterans but to stand up for the very values that they care about. We need to preserve the treasury so that we can serve them and all Canadians better in every possible respect.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. Certainly the members on this side of the House share his family's sacrifice and contribution to Canada's roles overseas.

That being said, I must say as a former financial administrator that I am beside myself with the priorities I see being advanced by the government and where it wants to spend money. The F-35s were untendered. They have grown from a budget of $9 billion to $30 billion, perhaps $40 billion. We have no idea. No one on the government side or the opposition side of the House has any idea of how many tens of billions of dollars those planes will cost. They were not even tendered. The prison agenda put forward by the government at a time when the crime rate is falling has been evaluated upwards of $19 billion.

Those are expenditures we believe can be cut back on. Those are expenditures that we believe have to be fine-tuned, certainly re-tendered. There should be a tendering process for the F-35s, the F-18 replacements. That is what needs to happen. However, we are unalterably opposed to cutting back on services for our veterans.

I believe the member is in good faith. We hope that he will vote in favour of this motion that we are bringing forward in the House tomorrow.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague mentioned the hospital in his riding. Here is something that the Conservatives have yet to admit, but it is a fact. When the last Korean overseas veteran dies, the 10,000 contract beds in the hospital the member spoke about will no longer be available for all those veterans from 1953 onwards. Ste. Anne's Hospital, the last federal veterans hospital, is being transferred to Quebec. There go 1,300 federal jobs--gone. Plus, an estimated 500 jobs will be gone.

We have thousands upon thousands of veterans who will be requiring long-term care. What will happen? The government, although it will never admit it, will download that responsibility onto the backs of the provinces. So when the government says that it is not cutting, that is simply not true.

I would like my hon. colleague's comments on that please.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to praise the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. There is no stronger advocate for veterans in this country than the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. He proves that every day. He proved it again today in question period and in his presentation in the debate. He is aware of how insidiously we are seeing the government cut back.

When I go to the George Derby Hospital, I see those men and women who have given so much for this country. I see the insidious ways that things are gradually deteriorating, how things are gradually being cut back. I say that the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore is absolutely right, there are more cuts to come unless members of this Parliament take a very clear decision to tell the government that we do not want any more cuts. We want to preserve services for veterans. They deserve our respect. We owe them no less than providing those services each and every day.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate. I do not know, but is there some sort of irony in the fact that we are debating cutbacks to veterans in the middle of the so-called robocall scandal? If we were to ask veterans why they went to war, what the point was of going to war or what were they trying to achieve, the greater likelihood is they would say that they went to war to preserve democracy. What is more core to a democracy than a legitimate vote, not a suppressed vote but a legitimate vote? It strikes me as highly ironic that we are having a debate about cutbacks to Veterans Affairs in the context of, arguably, the biggest vote fraud scandal in our nation's history.

If I were a veteran, I would be asking myself how my sacrifice contributed to the preservation of our democracy and therefore the preservation of our vote. A vote is a genuine expression on the part of a citizen to elect his or her representatives. We all know what a sham vote. We saw that happen in Russia this past weekend, where no impartial or fair-minded observer would ever say that vote was a genuine expression of the citizens of Russia.

I do not want to get too high-minded, but the suppression of a vote by misdirection is a fraud perpetrated in the name of Elections Canada. I was very pleased to hear over the course of the weekend senior Conservative officials saying that they were as upset as anybody and that they wanted to get to the bottom of it as much as anybody. I would like, as would all members of the House, to take those words at face value. It is kind of hard to square that with the way in which Elections Canada is constantly marginalized, why its own budget is being reduced and its resources being cut back.

At this point, 31,000 people have filed complaints with Elections Canada. We can only imagine that is the tip of the iceberg because there are literally thousands of Canadians who have either forgotten or did not make note of these calls on election night.

We are now debating a motion on veterans, whose sole purpose of putting themselves in harm's way was to preserve our way of life, our democracy and, central to that, the vote.

Let me share an anecdote. I am sure that your office, Mr. Speaker, as have many other MPs' offices, has been inundated with emails, telephone calls and various other communications from people saying that they now remember getting telephone calls and thinking it was a little strange at the time. In fact, there was—

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

At least say the word “veteran” once in a while.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Thanks for that assistance. Indeed, I am sure veterans have said that they, too, received telephone calls on election night. When they received these calls, they obviously did not take note.

The point is that these calls were received. One woman told me that she and her husband had already voted and after supper received a call from so-called Elections Canada—

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I really think it is a stretch that the speech somehow relates to the topic we are debating today. By his smile, I think the member recognizes the fact that this is not relevant to our debate.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same point of order. We are debating veterans services today and I think the member knows his remarks are not relevant to the discussion we are having. I would ask the Speaker to call him to order and that his remarks be relevant to the debate.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Members will know that it is important to ensure their comments remain pertinent to the question before the House. At the same time, members are given an abundance of freedom to express their points with the view that they will eventually become pertinent to the question that is in front of the House. I am sure the member was coming around to how his comments would be relevant to the motion.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for that caution, but I would point out that had my hon. colleagues, who chose to intervene, listened to what I was saying, they would have realized the vote that we as citizens have is because veterans paid the sacrifice for that. Any interference with that vote is an interference with our democracy and nothing could be more offensive than the suppression of that vote by any means.

I want to finish with the anecdote, which seemed to get hon. members upset, but I am about to get them a little more upset because this woman did describe the situation where she had voted. She and her husband came home, received a so-called Elections Canada call and paid no attention to it whatsoever. Nine months later, with all of the publicity that has recently been generated, she realized that she too was almost a victim. Then she contacted my office, as I am sure other members have also been contacted. She was very irate.

I exchanged correspondence with her and asked whether I could use her story. She initially said “yes” and then 24 hours later, she said “no”. The reason was that her heritage was from a Soviet country and this was the kind of stuff that went on in the country from which she originated. She was very concerned that somehow this information would be used against her.

We can all say that is just paranoia, and let us hope it is, but on the other hand, it is from these kinds of small things that if we do not protect democracy, it will in some manner or another disappear. Our veterans have made the strongest sacrifice they can possibly make in order to protect that vote, that democracy and that way of life.

I have the great honour to be the Liberal Party's defence critic and, as such, I have had quite a number of opportunities to meet senior military officials, junior officers and enlisted people in a whole variety of settings. This summer I was on a frigate and spent some time with officers and the enlisted on the frigate. Indeed, I have even ridden on a helicopter at CFB Greenwood, as the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore well knows. I took that flight from CFB Greenwood, not from a fishing camp. I have ridden on search and rescue planes, the Aurora, the Hercules, at Camp Wainwright, RMC and a variety of other settings at formal and informal events.

Without doubt, we are served by some of the finest people I have ever had the honour to know. No military is without its flaws, but the personnel I have had the honour to meet is truly exceptional.

It is regrettable that I have to move to the end of my speech because there are a number of points I wanted to raise even from today's correspondence, one of which was from Michel Estey, a retired sergeant, who said, “The New Veterans Charter, seriously, is a bureaucratic nightmare, laden with red-tape and hoops, I genuinely feel sorry for my brother and sisters in arms who are being nickeled and dimed under this new charter...[the Minister], [the Prime Minister], VA doesn’t need cuts, it needs restructuring, use priority hiring to hire your injured and released Vets”.

I apologize that I was not able to get to the meat of the speech.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 6:35 p.m., pursuant to an order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, March 6 at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

March 5th, 2012 / 6:35 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to pursue a question that I put to the Minister of the Environment in November of last year and it has only now come forward for adjournment proceedings. I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue the matter that I raised at the time, although some time has passed.

The matter relates to the composition of government delegations to international conferences, in particular to the 17th conference of the Parties that took place in Durban, South Africa at the close of 2011 under the framework convention on climate change. Members may recall that there was a change in government policy and a decision was made to exclude members of the opposition from the delegation that took part in COP 17 in Durban.

Given the passage of time, I am hoping that I will be able to determine from the parliamentary secretary what the position of the government will be in relation to the composition of the delegation to COP 18 when it occurs in Doha. I am particularly interested to know whether, at this point, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment can confirm whether Canada plans to participate in COP 18 which will also include negotiations relating to the Kyoto protocol.

The reason for this question will be obvious to those who have been attentive to this issue. On return from Durban, the hon. Minister of the Environment announced that Canada had no intention of participating in the second phase of Kyoto and that we also intended to legally withdraw.

There has not been sufficient attention to the fact that when the Minister of the Environment made this announcement he did not legally withdraw Canada from Kyoto. That is not possible In one fell swoop, so he sent a letter to the UN secretariat on climate change. The effect of that letter was to give a one year notice of Canada's intent to withdraw. This creates an interesting dynamic for the Privy Council in that the legal withdrawal from Kyoto will not take place until after the conclusion of COP 18 which is taking place in Qatar in the city of Doha.

I want to explore a couple of future prospects that I am hoping the government has considered. Will we participate in negotiations relating to the second phase of the Kyoto protocol, as we did in Durban, undermining the progress that other nations intend to make in that second commitment period? Will we stay home from Doha? If we attend Doha at COP 18, will we return to the practice of decades, not merely of a previous Liberal government or a previous majority government or a previous minority government, but going back in time, at least as far as the government under former Prime Minister Trudeau, certainly the practice of former Prime Minister Mulroney and so on through the decades, until we find ourselves in a situation where opposition members for the first time were excluded by the current government?

Will Canada be participating in COP 18? Will members of opposition parties be included? If we participate in COP 18, will we have the effrontery to participate in negotiations under the Kyoto protocol when we have already signalled our legal intention to withdraw?

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to speak to my colleague opposite's questions this evening, because there are a lot of mistruths in her statement.

First, I will address her question with regard to the composition of the delegation leading into Durban. Our government has been quite clear in our approach to priorities, that we have a strong mandate to ensure that our economy continues to thrive and that we see job growth in this country. From that, I think in the lead-up to Durban, we felt it was very important for our government to speak with one voice at Durban, because of the varying positions that would be in violation of, or in a dichotomy with, that initial principle.

When we look at the NDP, they actually have worked against the interest of the country by going to the United States and lobbying against our jobs in the energy sector. The Liberals have a track record of complete inaction when it comes to climate change. The former Liberal government signed on to Kyoto with no plan to implement it. We also saw greenhouse gas emissions rise under its tenure. My colleague opposite's party has been varied in its policy stance on how to approach environmental stewardship while balancing the need for economic growth.

By contrast our government has been very clear. We have said that we need to ensure that we take real action with regard to greenhouse gas emission reduction, but we also need to do that in a pragmatic way to ensure that our economy retains a competitive advantage.

That said, we felt it was very important to have our country speak with one united voice at Durban, including a recognition of the fact that we are taking strong action here at home domestically. We are leaders. The International Institute for Sustainable Development said in a recent report that our government's policy is a good start. We are making actual progress with our sector by sector regulatory approach. We have seen regulations come into place in the transportation sector. We are now looking at the coal-fired sector. We have plans for other sector reductions and regulations as well.

Thus, number one, we have had a strong domestic approach. Number two, our government has said that the Kyoto protocol is not something we should just be standing still on with regard to an international approach to greenhouse gas emission reductions. We need to see all major emitters come to the table.

My colleague opposite has to acknowledge that the Kyoto protocol now includes less than 20% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions at present. Therefore, we need a new agreement. We need to have all of these countries come to the table and sign on to an agreement with binding targets.

We did not feel that the opposition parties had that stance. As such, because we are proud of the approach we are taking and because we want to see real action, our government was proud to go to Durban and take that message forward.

With regard to some of the other questions the member asked, we do have a very clear position. We have been very transparent. We withdrew from the Kyoto protocol because it does not work. The international community needs a new agreement to see real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Therefore, we will continue on the good work that was started in Copenhagen and continued in Cancun and in Durban this year toward that new agreement, but we will also continue with our pragmatic, balanced action-focused approach, a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while ensuring that our economy is not competitively disadvantaged while we do that.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have to confess that although I have great personal regard for the hon. parliamentary secretary, I am disappointed that she did not answer any of the questions I put forward in my initial statement.

Certainly there were no mistruths, as she characterized them, in my statement. We still do not know from her statement if Canada plans to go to Doha, and what the composition of the delegation will be.

I do need to correct a few things she said. The idea that a delegation of the Canadian government can only include members of Parliament who agree with the government position is absurd. In the past I can recall that the Liberal government took along a terrific guy, Bob Mills, a former member of Parliament for both the Reform and Conservative parties. Bob did not happen to agree with the Liberal Party policies, but he was part of government delegations because in international fora we are a country. We are international and not just one party.

The Liberal climate plans were late, but they were good. They were cancelled by the Conservatives. We do need to have more countries in Kyoto, and the way to do that is to participate in the second phase of Kyoto.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, to address my colleague's comments, first of all, it is important to speak with one voice. That is not necessarily one party's voice, but it is one unified voice on something as important as climate change.

Our government feels quite strongly that the approach we are taking to global greenhouse gas reductions is an action-focused one. It is one from which we will see real results over the next few years. I certainly hope that we can work together to refine that approach, because I also have regard for the hon. member.

That said, it is important to note the following about the Kyoto protocol as it stands right now. The hon. member just stated that if we signed onto it or signed on for a second commitment period, we would see action. We would not. Major emitting countries do not have binding targets under this agreement.

Contrary to what the hon. member says, we do have as a country the legal right to withdraw from this, and we also have an obligation as a country to ensure that we have an agreement where all major emitters come to the table to see real action.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we proceed to the next question, I just remind hon. members that during adjournment proceedings members are invited to sit wherever in the chamber they wish to be, in close proximity perhaps, to the parliamentary secretary or minister whom they may be questioning.

The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina.

Airline SafetyThe EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, without a doubt, air travel is an important means of travel for Canadians to bridge the vast distances in our country and to connect us to the rest of the world. The rising number of passengers shows the central role that aviation plays in connecting family members and business partners alike. In rural areas, air services provide crucial links to isolated communities. Airports are there to enable transport and mobility, for example, for people to see doctors or access jobs. A number of strategically located airports also increasingly serve as hubs for intercontinental connections.

Sadly enough, the commercial importance of air travel for Canadian citizens and companies is not reflected in the policies of the Conservative government. Like their Liberal predecessors, the Conservatives have been dragging their feet in implementing vital safety measures and in ensuring that air carriers are properly certified and monitored in their contributions in order to make plane travel safe.

Let me give three examples. First, the Canadian Federal Pilots Association has urged Transport Canada to hire more inspectors to check more aircraft for their airworthiness. What did the ministry do? It actually reduced those inspectors by 10%.

The Auditor General, in her 2008 report, pointed out severe flaws in the way deregulated air safety was being handled and that it was being offloaded to the air carriers under the name of the safety management system.

Over the years, the Transport Safety Board has heavily criticized Transport Canada, and I will give the House one concrete example of that. The terrain awareness and warning system has been recommended since 1995. Unfortunately, for 13 years the Liberals did nothing and for six years three Conservative cabinet ministers also have not done much.

We have seen a study showing that terrain warning systems prevents close to 100% of accidents. The U.S. and the EU required all planes to have these warning systems years ago, and since 1997, 35 planes have been flown into the ground, leading to the death of 100 people and 46 serious injuries. Many of these lives could have been saved.

To give another example, in 1998 the U.S. made installation of this system mandatory. In 2003, the International Civil Aviation Organization recommended that all its members do the right thing. Unfortunately, even though the current government made an announcement recently, it is asking for new rules to give airlines five full years to implement the change requiring them to have TAWS in their planes.

My question is what will happen in the five years before these regulations are enforced? I ask because we know that with the terrain awareness warning system, lives can be saved. After all these years of waiting, it should be implemented immediately.

Airline SafetyThe EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by pointing out that the government, through Transport Canada, NAV Canada, and the system of airports large and small, national airports and regional airports, has collaborated to instill the highest safety standards and the best methods of protecting passenger, crew and pilot safety of any country in the world. We continue to build upon that success throughout the operation of our program.

The member's original question, from which this intervention today emanates, was regarding the fleet that we operate as Transport Canada. Our fleet is maintained by the department and its maintenance engineers. It is operated by the department's inspectors, who provide safety oversight for the civilian aviation industry in Canada.

Transport Canada has a robust program in place to verify the safety of air transport companies. We dedicate more than 80% of civil aviation safety resources to oversight activities like inspections. Our surveillance procedures include planned and unplanned inspections to verify compliance with our aviation regulations. These inspections involve on-site interviews with staff in order to review the company's safety practices.

The reason pilot inspectors use the Transport Canada fleet is to conduct inspections in the following two ways. First, this allows transportation support for oversight activities to occur in certain locations, for example the Arctic, where there is no direct commercial route or daily service. Without the existing aircraft within our fleet, this would result in extended travel times, which would be an inefficient use of resources.

Second, the government has contractual agreements with its pilot inspector union to maintain its current pilots' operating hours. Inspectors are required to maintain their qualifications, which in the case of pilots, means maintaining their pilot licence and instrument rating. Flying these aircraft also provides departmental inspectors with exposure to the national civil aviation transportation system. This is important. If someone wants to be an inspector of the system, he or she should know how it works and have some practical, hands-on experience with its operation. Additionally, the aircraft fleet may be used under certain circumstances to carry government officials.

The hon. member's original question criticized the expenditure on this fleet. It should be pointed out that following an expenditure review, Transport Canada is reducing the aircraft fleet from 42 to 27 aircraft. In the process it will save millions of dollars in both capital and operating costs. This is an example of how, while we continue to believe in the necessity to have a Transport Canada air fleet, we also work to reduce the burden that that fleet imposes on the Canadian taxpayers who fund it.