Madam Speaker, I am extremely pleased to be participating in this very important debate today on a motion that requests the government to include help in the next budget to support workers and their families who are struggling during this pandemic, resulting in the economic downturn that has occurred.
I am doing this from Terminal 4, which is an area in central Ontario, in Barrie and Innisfil, that is known as “T4” because of the fact that hundreds of airline sector employees and their families live here because it is in close proximity to the Toronto Pearson airport. In fact, throughout the GTA, from Kitchener to Bowmanville and from Markham to Huntsville, tens of thousands of families depend on Canada's airline sector continuing to thrive and survive. Travel advisers like Charlene Caldwell in my riding of Barrie—Innisfil, food workers in Brampton, limo drivers in Mississauga, and restaurant and hotel workers are all watching, literally with their economic well-being on the line, waiting for help to come.
The situation is described by the Air Canada Pilots Association as “dire”. Many of those employees and their families are not just constituents but also friends, pilots, flight attendants and many others who have been directly and indirectly negatively impacted by the pandemic as a result of the government's decisions and policies, which many see as inconsistent, incoherent, misunderstood, and not based on any data, evidence or science, but simply on politics.
The effect of the decisions has been so profoundly negative that many are losing hope that the airline sector may ever recover to the way it was before the pandemic. When we add to this not just the incoherence of the public policy decisions that have been made and the fact that the families affected have seen so many other countries in the G7 step up to offer their airlines help early on when the trouble started, words and platitudes, which is all we have heard from the Prime Minister and now two ministers of transport, are not providing any sense of hope for many of these families.
When I talk of these families and of the impact this is having and the anxiety they are feeling, I know what I am speaking of. I come from a long line of airline employees. My mom worked for Air Canada. My sisters worked for Air Canada, and one still does. My wife Liane did as well. My uncle was a mechanic at the Dorval airport. Like all airline families who have a long history of working for an airline, they have seen many good times in the sector, but they have seen nothing as desperate as what they are dealing with now. Help cannot come soon enough, and that is precisely what this motion is all about.
As the member of Parliament for Barrie—Innisfil and a representative of Terminal 4, I have been hearing from pilots, flight attendants and those who are directly and indirectly associated with the airline industry, including many travel advisers. I know the Air Canada Pilots Association has been asking its members to send letters to members of Parliament, and I am sure all parliamentarians have been receiving them.
In part, what the letter says is that by connecting people, goods and services, our airlines form a critical part of Canada's economic infrastructure. Every day we see how important it is to unite communities, support jobs across the country and transport goods within Canada and internationally. As incomprehensible as it may seem, this critical sector may not recover from the pandemic, much less survive it, without urgent help from the federal government. They go on to say that Canada's airline industry could emerge from the pandemic in a weakened state, unable to compete against foreign carriers that have benefited from direct government aid that for some carriers has been in the billions of dollars.
There may be countries that can function without a robust airline sector, but Canada is not one of them. Canada stands alone in its lack of meaningful direct financial aid for its airlines.
There are other concerns from the pilots that have been brought to light, including the fact that many of them, almost 600, have been furloughed. What does that say about their training? What does that say about their capability to recover from this and get the airline sector back on track? They describe the situation as being “dire”, and I would agree with them. The airline sector in and of itself, the travel and tourism and the billions of dollars that they represent to our communities right across this country, are really too big to fail.
The next area I want to focus on is travel advisers.
There are over 12,000 travel advisers in this country. On the day after International Women's Day, it should not be lost on all of us that 85% of them are women. I have met with many of them over the course of the last year, and one of the things they are looking for is commission protection from the government when it comes to refunds. Not only are they being hit on that side of it, but many of them who have not been able to earn any income since this pandemic started a year ago are also being hit by credit card companies asking for refunds.
Let us think about this. Let us put ourselves in their position. People who have not been able to earn income for the better part of a year are now being asked to pay back that income. Many of them will not be able to survive, so I can clearly empathize with travel advisers and the impact this situation is going to have on them.
A lot of this is an unintended consequence of the passenger bill of rights, and I spoke earlier about misunderstanding it. The passenger bill of rights passed by the government in 2019 allows for refunds not to be provided in non-controllable circumstances. It is probably one of the most widely misunderstood facts among consumers, and it falls directly on the government, because many of the decisions that have been made during this pandemic that have caused the airlines to effectively shut down have been made by the government. Almost every other sector in this country has received support from the government, with the exception of the airline sector. I am not talking about the emergency wage subsidy; I am talking direct sectoral relief, similar to what other G7 countries have done, including the United States, where billions of dollars have been spent. Delta is recalling all of its pilots and United Airlines just made an expansion announcement; meanwhile, in Canada, we are at 5% of our passenger loads and some pilots have not flown since March 18.
The other thing this motion calls for is relief for the charitable sector. I can personally speak on that. I have heard from charitable sectors within my community that are hurting as a result of this pandemic. Businesses continue to fall through the cracks. Many of them, as my colleague from Abbotsford said, are sole proprietorships, not incorporated businesses, and many of them started in 2020, yet the government programs that exist are still far too prescriptive and far too restrictive for many of them to receive the type of benefits they are applying for. Many have been turned down, and I have been hearing from a lot of them lately.
We need a plan, not just for bailouts but also for recovery. This virus is not going away, and we need to ensure we manage it with every tool we have in our tool box. That includes vaccines, rapid testing, isolating the most vulnerable and making sure we are contact tracing. Not everything should be defaulted to a lockdown or further restrictions; we need to make sure that when a plan is developed, it includes a plan for recovery, and that recovery should include the power of Canadian business. It should include the people they employ and the products they produce so that we can create a competitive environment, both domestically and internationally, for the things Canada produces in every sector, including forestry, natural resources, airlines and construction—all of those things—with less government intervention and legislation. We need to ensure we create this competitive environment so that investor confidence will come back into this country. It is going to be critical for us to do that, because the debt and deficits will be paid for generations to come. We need to improve the revenue side of the ledger.
After this is all over, the Prime Minister will be fine, but many of these families I am speaking about will be left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives and try to recover economically.
As I conclude, those families include travel agents like Charlene Caldwell, Judith Coates, Brenda Slater, Nancy Wilson, Laura Gaudet, Margie Connor, Nancy Eleusiniotis and Loretta Sellers. They also include pilots like Michael Frena; the QuoVadis family, both dad and son Brandon, who followed in his father's footsteps; the Kennedy family; the Russell family; Martin Tremblay; the Rasical family and the Ceppos family. All of them have been directly affected by what is happening in the airline sector and the travel and tourism sector.
Today the Conservatives are asking the government to put action to their words—