Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague the hon. member for Scarborough East.
Allow me in opening my remarks to refer to some prior experience in this area. I was the director of the Air Law Institute at McGill University for a number of years, and incidentally, adviser to the premier of Quebec on air law matters at that stage. One of the recommendations was against the construction of the Mirabel airport, the second airport. I think it was correct on constitutional grounds and also on air law grounds, although the advice was not taken.
We can move on to other matters where expertise also comes into account. This is not the first time the airlines have been before this parliament. In the previous mandate of this government the issue arose, as may be remembered, of aggressive litigation between the two airlines, the result of which might have been to drive one of them out of existence. This matter was settled by the intervention of the then minister of transport and in consideration of the use, if need be, of his powers which are limited but within those limits have a considerable range.
What was essentially done was to use the federal power under international law through our membership in the International Civil Aviation Organization and our participation in the Chicago convention to grant or withhold approval of international air routes. A very felicitous solution was reached in this earlier problem in 1994 between the two airlines by opening international air routes to one as a condition of dropping the litigation. I think it was an excellent example of executive power being used imaginatively and producing a consensual solution.
However at that time I did make some points clear, as policy imperatives, certainly for me as a British Columbian but also I think for all Canadians, that we have an interest in maintaining the extraordinary investment we have in highly skilled jobs in the airline industry. In British Columbia and Alberta there are 17,000 highly skilled technical jobs with one airline alone. We want those jobs maintained throughout Canada. Therefore any approach to solutions here must bear that in mind.
We also want maintenance of reasonable air access to distant areas of our large country that might not otherwise be commercially viable in a strict market economy.
We also want reasonable prices. If competition will produce that, well and good. If it will not, obviously there has to be a degree of government regulation of prices. But the opportunity and the facility is there. And we do want safe air travel.
These were imperatives that the transport minister understood, that he conveyed to both airlines and in the solution in 1994 they were realized.
I have looked with sympathy and interest to the motion by the opposition Bloc Quebecois, as I say, granted the predisposition to examine every motion from the other side. But I do believe it does not really face the realities of the new world community of our times, the world revolution of our times which affects international commerce, international trade and international air transportation.
Most of the rules of the game that we have now are posited on an economic trade situation that no longer exists today. We do accept the maxim that small is beautiful, but in the world of international air transportation even large national airlines in middle powers no longer have the weight or the size to compete effectively in the international market without considerable assistance from the government.
This is why I welcome the intervention by the Minister of Transport. There is here no legislation. There is an opening of a debate. It is clear that we are on the edge of the necessity of examining a fundamental restructuring of the airline industry to meet the new realities of international air transportation and the cutthroat competition that exists for much larger companies outside with much heavier government investment and support.
It is on this basis that we have joined this debate. I would suggest, though, that our national rules of competition are devoted to, directed and inspired by national problems. They do not, without some further examination, meet the new realities of international air transportation.
The minister's powers are limited in the range of matters he can touch but he does have discretion, so that the issue of relaxing the national Competition Act, which was designed to meet national conditions, to meet new international conditions is one worthy of respect and consideration by the House. We need suggestions on how we would use that discretion. I invite that from the opposition.
We must recognize that the international rules, even the tidy rules of the Chicago convention, those implemented by the International Civil Aviation Organization, also need re-examination.
We have entered into an national debate. I have had visits from delegations, from Air Canada pilots, Canadian Airlines pilots, representative employees of the companies and others. I am gathering my own opinion on what needs to be done in the restructuring of the air industry. I believe, and I say this with all respect to my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, the motion reflects the past. It fetters and confines a necessary element of national policy making which needs to be directed toward the entirely new and revolutionary conditions in international air transportation.
It is on that basis that I would not recommend to the Bloc pursuing the particular motion, an unnecessary restriction which hinders the debate that we now need on restructuring the airline.
I return again to those imperatives. Any solution that the House may reach must maintain the investment we have in the highly skilled jobs in both airlines. It must maintain air access even to uneconomic areas of the country in strict national airline terms. It must maintain reasonable prices with competition if that is the case: two international airlines and one national or one international airline and two national ones. The modalities of development are considerable, but the goals and the imperatives remain, and I believe it is within our ability to work them out.