Mr. Speaker, I am speaking to Bill C-49 today. I am opposed to this bill because of a number of issues with it, but in particular I want to speak to section 14 of the bill.
Section 14 concerns the review of arrangements involving two or more transportation undertakings providing air services. In other words, section 14 involves joint ventures between two airlines, joint ventures that allow airlines to co-operate in terms of sharing routes, frequent flier programs, and revenue-sharing and cost-sharing.
This is not an insignificant section of the bill. This is a major change to competition law. Section 14 of Bill C-49 makes major changes to the Competition Act.
I want to take a step back and explain why I think this is so concerning. The Competition Bureau is a very important organization. It ensures fair competition in Canada. It ensures that Canadian consumers and Canadian companies operate in a marketplace where they can prosper, a marketplace where there is sufficient competition, and a marketplace that delivers lower prices and more choices for consumers and companies.
Canada has long had a strong legal tradition and strong framework legislation in the area of competition law. We introduced competition law before the United States did in the 19th century, and throughout the last 150 years we have continually strengthened that competition law in order to ensure that we do not see anti-competitive behaviours in the marketplace.
I remember in 2004 when the then-minority government of prime minister Paul Martin was in place. It introduced a bill that would modernize competition law with the introduction of administrative monetary penalties that would work in place of, and alongside of, Criminal Code penalties that have a much higher threshold of proof.
While that legislation did not pass, the subsequent Harper government introduced similar legislation that was eventually adopted, and administrative monetary penalties are now part of our competition law. Canada has long had a strong tradition of ensuring competitive marketplaces. We are also seen around the world as leaders in competition law enforcement and ensuring that companies cannot abuse their marketplace position.
It is with great concern that I read section 14 of this bill that is in front of us, because it would weaken the bureau. The bureau is an independent law enforcement agency. This bill would actually take power away from the Competition Bureau and the commissioner of competition, and give it to the Minister of Transport. Not only that, it would allow the Minister of Transport to ignore competition concerns and to approve airline joint ventures.
The reason why this is so very concerning is that we know that more competition and a more competitive marketplace leads to lower prices and more choice for Canadian consumers. If we look at the history of airline policy in this country, we have come a long way over the last 30 years.
Privatization and increased competition have given Canadians more choice and lower prices in the airline industry. We started with deregulation in the 1980s, we privatized Air Canada in 1988, we spun out of Transport Canada the airports across this country in 1992, we established independent airport authorities in the 1990s, and because of that, there have been literally tens of billions of dollars of investment in airports and in airlines in this country.
For example, in the early 1990s, some $50 million a year was being spent on airport improvements. Since airports were spun out of the Department of Transport in 1992, over $14 billion has been invested in Canadian airports. The same is true of Air Canada. It is a much better airline today than it was in the 1980s when it was heavily regulated and not subject to competition, and owned by the Government of Canada. Today it is a much better airline, and it is a better airline because it has been subject to competition.
However, the job is not yet done. It is clear through numerous studies that the Canadian travelling public is still paying far too high a price to get from A to B in this country. That is why section 14 of the bill is so very concerning. It is going to lead to less competition, increased prices, and less choice for the travelling public, which runs counter to the effort that we made over the last number of decades to increase competition and lower prices for Canadians.
I want to give an example to illustrate this point. In 2011, Air Canada wanted to enter into a joint venture with United Continental that would allow them to share many transborder routes between Canada and the United States, and Canada and other destinations. That joint venture was fully reviewed by the Competition Bureau and the bureau demanded that certain conditions be put on that joint venture. The bureau in its review concluded that 10 cross-border routes between Canada and the United States would be less competitive for Canadian consumers because Air Canada and United Continental would be subject a monopoly and nine other routes would be subject to less competition than currently is the case.
The bureau refused to approve the joint venture unless certain routes were exempted, so the consent agreement that was entered into between the parties and the Competition Bureau exempted 14 cross-border routes from this joint venture, ensuring that on those 14 cross-border routes there was sufficient competition for Canadian consumers. The bill in front of us today would allow the minister to override the bureau and to approve these joint ventures without any conditions to ensure sufficient competition.
If we take a step back from this and we ask ourselves why the government is doing this, it seems to me that one of the reasons is that it has become a bit of a political “scratch my back and I will scratch yours” game. The government pressured Air Canada to buy 75 C Series jets from Bombardier in order to help the government politically with the problem it had with Bombardier. Fearing that the company was entering a dangerous period of insolvency, the government put a lot of pressure on a private sector company to purchase these 75 C Series jets.
I suspect that in return two bills were introduced in Parliament. I think the government needs to come clean on whether or not there was a quid pro quo in this arrangement. Air Canada buys these jets and in return the government introduces two bills, Bill C-10, which lifted the requirement for Air Canada to have maintenance facilities in certain cities in this country, and Bill C-49, which has section 14 that would allow the Minister of Transport to approve joint ventures without any conditions to ensure sufficient competition.
This would be a real step back for competition law. It would weaken competition particularly when it comes to future joint ventures that airlines in this country may enter into. It would lead to higher prices for Canadian consumers and less choice. It is for that reason that I strongly believe that this section of the bill should be deleted and why I am opposed to the bill. I look forward to members' questions and comments.