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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was manitoba.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as NDP MP for Elmwood—Transcona (Manitoba)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights. March 5th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, that is the best question I have had all day. I want to tell the member that I would welcome his amendments. I have a half dozen myself.

I have been around politics long enough to know that even ministers when they bring in bills sometimes amend their own bills a half dozen times before they get through the process.

I would look for amendments from all parties in this Parliament to make the bill successful, and it cannot be successful unless everyone is involved.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights. March 5th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my speech, I spoke to the representatives of the airlines before we sent the bill for translation. They did not respond. They were given time. I explained the bill to them and they were given time to respond. They did not. The Consumers' Association on the other hand did respond. In fact, it did get a provision put in the bill because of its response.

I cannot account for why the airlines did not do it, but I received the letter addressed to members of Parliament just as the parliamentary secretary did and I am sure that I will be talking to them again very soon. They are on radio shows that I am on, so I have had occasion to talk to them.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights. March 5th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, there were many items in the member's question.

We have had a very difficult time trying to find out how much the airlines are paying in Europe, as did the study commissioned by the European Commission. In fact, almost all the airlines refused to give the information. There were only a couple that were very forthright about it.

We know from the history of the bill that the airlines claim extraordinary circumstances all the time, as many times as they can get away with it. It is up to alert passengers to say, “That is not true; that is not the case at all,” and follow through with small claims court actions.

We need a law, but the enforcement is a big issue. It is really up to the passengers themselves. They cannot take action if there is no law to protect them, but if there is a law, those passengers who are alert will take action.

I have answered this question many times about what it will cost the airlines. The truth is it will cost them nothing if they simply follow the rules. WestJet, for example, does not overbook, so it will pay nothing. As a matter of fact WestJet's criticisms are not very strong at all. I have been on radio shows with its representatives and they are not hostile to the bill, let us put it that way.

However, in terms of trying to--

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights. March 5th, 2009

moved that Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking to Bill C-310 this evening, leading off on the first hour of what I hope will be a constructive debate.

I would like to begin by thanking Woodrow French, the mayor of Conception Bay South in Newfoundland, and Bruce Cran of the Consumers Association of Canada, who have been actively supporting the bill and have hit the road recently to promote it across the country.

We have been approached by a U.S. consumers group expressing interest in the bill, a group called run by its founder, Kate Hanni, who organized a press briefing in California regarding Bill C-310. She praised the bill as the best airline bill of rights legislation she has seen, and she will distribute copies to the U.S. legislators in Washington D.C.

Bill C-310 has been getting a lot of media interest, and with it, numerous responses from Canadians sending in their personal stories. Almost everyone from whom I received a response has been very supportive of the bill. There are always some people who are not, but most of them are supportive.

The bill is based on Private Member's Motion No. 465, introduced last year by the hon. member of Parliament for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte of Newfoundland and Labrador from the Liberal Party, and the resolution passed unanimously in the House, but the government did not bring in the bill promised in the resolution.

Instead, it introduced the voluntary agreement called flight rights, which had no effect in law, but did promise the tarmac delays, for example, would not exceed 90 minutes before people would be let off the plane, so we then had a recognition at that time by the airlines that 90 minutes was a long enough time to keep people cooped up in a plane on the tarmac.

What did the airlines do? They proceeded to keep people on the tarmac for six to eight hours just three months later. So much for flight rights and I think the Conservatives recognize as well that we need tougher laws to govern this area.

Just three days ago the airlines decided that they will put flight rights in their tariff, voluntarily letting the Canadian transportation agency enforce it, but where are the penalties if they do not follow through? They did not last time, why should they now?

In addition, the airline letter is full of falsehoods about the actual bill. In terms of the National Airlines Council of Canada, it sent us a letter called “reality check”, so I am responding in the same way, saying, “reality check”: I want to deal with the concerns of the National Airlines Council of Canada's March 2 letter to all members of Parliament and the outright factual errors in that communication.

It says the maximum compensation for denied boarding in Bill C-310 is two to three times higher than in the EU, when it is exactly the same. We used the EU figures in the bill.

It says it was not consulted. The reality of private members' business is that there is not a lot of time for consultation with external parties in the development of a bill. A member whose name is drawn near the top of the list has 20 sitting days until the completed bill must be deposited at the House of Commons Journals Branch.

In this case, however, I did speak to representatives from both the National Airlines Council on the phone, gave them complete details of the bill, and invited them to give me an email response before the bill was sent for translation. We were making amendments right up to the very end, and I received no submissions from either party, unlike the Consumers Association of Canada, which did come forward with valuable contributions right up to the last day.

The National Airlines Council claims that the fares will rise as a result of this legislation. I would like to ask, did the fares rise when the Air Canada president earned $26 million in 2007? That was a considerable amount of money that it expended at that time, and I do not think fares rose because of his salary. I do not really believe they would now either, because if airlines follow the rules in the bill, they would not pay any penalties. By our experience in Europe so far, it does not look like they are paying much in the way of penalties over there either.

The National Airlines Council says, “No jurisdiction has ever held airlines responsible for weather delays or cancellations. To do so is fundamentally incompatible with the safe operation of an aircraft”. Well, neither are we. We have taken the exclusion from the European Union bill and put it verbatim into our bill, giving the airlines the extraordinary circumstances exclusion, which they are happily using in Europe the last four years. This statement implies that Bill C-310 would make an air carrier responsible for weather delays and cancellations when that is not the case.

Bill C-310 does not require an air carrier to pay compensation to a passenger in respect of a flight that has been delayed or cancelled due to weather. A flight that is cancelled due to weather falls within the exemption, which I already explained, and is provided for in the bill.

If the air carrier can prove that the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken, under this subparagraph the air carrier is not required to pay compensation to a passenger whose flight was cancelled. This is the standard that has been adopted by the European Union and the cancellation due to weather clearly falls within this exemption.

All that an air carrier is required to do in a case of cancellation due to weather is: reimbursement, which is reasonable, or rerouting the passenger; meals and refreshments in relation to the waiting time, nothing wrong with that; hotel accommodation in cases where a stay of one or more nights is required; ground transportation between the airport and the place of accommodation; and a total of two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or emails. There is nothing here that is unreasonable for an air carrier to do.

The European Union commissioned a study two years into their bill, about two years ago, after the rules were in effect. While the airlines have been aggressive in using extraordinary circumstances arguments to avoid paying compensation, all stakeholders agreed that the extraordinary circumstances exclusion was still a good and fair balance between the customer's right to compensation and fairness toward the airline. The reason for that is because it is held up in court. We do not want to tilt the bill too much against the airlines because then they will take it to court and they will win their point.

The bill covers denied boarding due to overbooked flights and specifically trying to get people off the flight by agreement, not by forcing them off the plane.

I was on a Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis several years ago. It needed six people off the plane. It got the volunteers by offering free passes to get people off the plane. Everyone was happy with that result and I am sure they are still talking about it to this day. Happy customers are what the airlines need.

If airlines have to deny boarding to customers involuntarily, why should they not be paying compensation of $500, $800 or $1,200, based on the length of the trip? The same compensation applies to cancelled flights. Europe has been doing this for four years. Bill C-310 was inspired by the EU legislation which has been in effect since February 17, 2005.

Air Canada operates in Europe, so it knows all about this legislation. The airlines know that in the EU airlines try to use the exemption as often as possible to avoid paying compensation to passengers. Airlines fought the EU legislation in court and they lost. They know this legislation is sound and it will hold up in court, which is why they are mounting such a big campaign against it. They know it is going to be popular with the public when it is passed.

I have spoken to many MPs, and while they all like the bill, several have questions about the compensation to passengers. I tell them that they can vote for the bill at second reading because it shows they agree with the principle, just like they all did a year ago on the resolution. If they disagree with it, they can come to the committee to try and get it amended. If they think the penalties are too high, they can bring an amendment reducing it to a level that they think is appropriate.

I have even asked the National Airlines Council for amendments, but I got the “Dear Member of Parliament” letter instead, with all the misinformation about the bill. How can it amend the bill when it is clear that it has not taken the time to even read it?

In most cases, we copied the compensation levels of the European Union, and by the way, those compensation levels were doubled in the European Union four years ago because it had earlier legislation from 1991 which dealt with denied boarding only. It did not deal with cancellations and it dealt with scheduled airlines only. It did not deal with charters and it had penalties that were too low, so four years ago it expanded it to include charters. It expanded it to include cancellations and it doubled the penalties. The review panel, two years later, said the penalties were just fine the way they are. They are not too high and not too low.

Why should passengers not have the right to cancel and get a refund after a four hour delay? Why should passengers not get a meal voucher after a two hour delay? Why should passengers not get $100 payment if the airline misplaces their baggage and does not notify them within an hour after finding it? Will the $100 bankrupt the airlines or will it cause them to smarten up and stop misplacing baggage, and not notifying us when the baggage is found?

Why should customers not expect better service? Why should passengers not be informed of flight changes, delays and cancellations under penalty to the airlines? Why should the new rules not be posted at the airline counter to inform customers of their rights and the process to file for compensation? Why should the public not expect all-in-one pricing so they know the total cost of the flight before they click the buy button?

Because the EU carriers have fought the law so hard in Europe, it has taken the small claims court system in Europe to get settlements out of the system. There is no lawyer required. Passengers in Canada can still complain to the Canadian Transportation Agency, but as in Europe, the transportation agencies are not the bodies that are getting the payments. It is the small claims court. British Airways is a good, recent example where it received a settlement on behalf of a large number of claimants through the courts.

The bill would not solve all the people's problems, but it is fair to customers and the airlines. The airlines that follow the rules will not pay a cent. Airlines that claim extraordinary circumstances too often risk getting even tougher rules in the future. Bill C-310 applies to all Canadian air carriers and all air carrier operations that take place in Canada. Why should an Air Canada customer receive better treatment in Europe than in Canada?

In conclusion, I want to issue a call to action. I ask Canadians to not just sit there and say that this is a good idea and hope that it passes. I ask them to go to their computers, send their MP a message requesting him or her to support the bill and send me a copy so that we can keep track of their support. I ask them to send a letter to their local newspaper editor.

MPs listen to their constituents. It is how they get here in the first place. They will keep getting re-elected if they listen to their constituents' concerns. This is a free vote in Parliament and members are free to vote any way they want. The airlines are sending them letters and asking for meetings to try to convince them to vote against the bill. I want Canadians to help me even the odds and counter this special interest lobby that is working against their interests.

All the airlines have to do is keep fresh air and lights working, make sure the toilets are working, make sure food and water are provided, and allow for disembarkation of the airplane if it is possible to do so without risk to health or safety of the passengers. They are suggesting that we have an absolute in the bill that they are going to have to start paying their penalties after one hour no matter what. There is enough of an exemption in there to allow them a certain amount of leeway. If it is going to risk the safety of the passengers, they do not have to let people off within the hour. It is as pure and simple as that.

If they do not want to do these things, why should they not compensate the passengers? If $500 is too high, then bring in an amendment to lower it. However, if it is lowered too much, the airlines will keep the passengers locked up for hours without the lights, air, toilets, food and water.

The next time people are on a flight and things go wrong, they will wish they had emailed or written their MP. They will wish they had written a letter to the editor to support this bill and if that person is an MP, he or she will have wished they had voted for this bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 March 4th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, given that the Prime Minister nearly lost his government in December and we would think that he would not want to antagonize the opposition, especially not the Liberals, why does the member think he would add on all these measures that have absolutely nothing to do with the budget? Why would he want to do that if he is hoping for their support to continue his government?

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 March 4th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, given the Conservatives faced a coalition that would have thrown them out of office just two months ago, why would they put add-ons in the budget when all opposition parties would find them objectionable? Why would they do that given they almost lost the government a couple of months ago?

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 12th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I am quite familiar with the Tories in Manitoba doing the same thing. They also brought in big omnibus bills with poison pills in them.

When we were in opposition for the 11 years under the Filmon government, we had to deal with one of these bills every year. They were about 400 pages long and we would send our staff in to read it over and reread it to find these hidden poison pills. There were all kinds of them, which made it very difficult for us at times to vote against the bill because the government always put something in there that would be hard for us to vote against. That was just tactics on its part but that is what the government is all about, tactics.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 12th, 2009

Madam Speaker, we know that perhaps 65% of unemployed people are ineligible for EI benefits under the current system. We are not helping matters by not making changes. Given the conditions that this country is under at the moment, we definitely should eliminate the waiting period for EI because that would be the proper thing to do.

All the government has done is add an extra five weeks on at the end. The pain is up front. I would expect that we would keep pushing the government to see the light in this case and do something. We only need to look at the unemployment stats just in the last month and in the last quarter to see the huge increase in unemployment numbers. The signs point to matters only getting worse, not better, in the short term.

I know the Tories are holding on, hoping that we will come out of the recession so they will not have to spend any of this money. They want to be able to go back to their Reform Party cousins and say that they did it because they had to in order to save the government, but that they did not really have any intention of spending the money. They want to hold on long enough so that the economy will begin to come out of the recession.

However, it does not look like that will happen. Things are starting to look like they will be even worse. If those people in that party are aghast at the deficit they see the government looking at running right now, they will need to take another look at what could happen in another six months to a year from now when conditions might be far worse. We would hope that the government will take a look at this EI situation now and make the changes now before conditions get even worse than they are.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 12th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I would like to speak today to Bill C-10, the budget implementation bill, and make some comments about the current situation of the government.

The government has introduced a budget that contains a lot of the stimulus package and ideas that were promoted by the opposition. However, at the end of the day, we have no confidence that this budget will ever see the light of day in terms of implementation. Budgets get passed all the time but governments will underspend budgets. One member was heard to say recently that we are confident that the recession will end, that we will start coming out of the recession within three months and that we will not need to spend a lot of this money.

That is why, fundamentally, we cannot trust or believe the government. It is a Jekyll and Hyde sort of government. The sweater comes on during the election campaign and then, of course, it comes off. Now, I think it is back on again. Some of the members, such as the President of the Treasury Board, have not figured out yet that it is sweater time again. I want to take a few minutes to explain what I mean by that.

In my riding in Winnipeg, we have a serious situation where a freeway and two bridges will be closed for a year and a half, inconveniencing about 200,000 people. For whatever reason, the mayor has decided to punish that quadrant of the city by refusing to stop the closure by allowing two extra lanes to be built. These two extra lanes are envisioned to be built by the city in the next 20 years anyway. In fact, they have been costed out at around $50 million. This has been an issue for almost a year now. When I spoke to the President of the Treasury Board about this, he was really surprised. Given all the publicity on this issue, he felt that the problem could be solved if he could just get the parties together and do a cost-share on the extra two lanes, split into thirds. The federal share might then only be $17 million. He agreed that he would try to get the parties together to do that.

That was back in the early part of November. I have followed up with him since and he told me that he had talked to them but new infrastructure money could not be applied to an existing project. Any project that was on the city of Winnipeg list would be excluded because it was already being dealt with. The issue then became how we would consider this project. I suggested to him that it would be a separate project. The first project had already been approved and it was a triple P, a totally different concept. This should be conventionally financed and they should find a way to do it under infrastructure money. We all remember the shovel-ready talk that this should be done because the city already owns the land.

I have had occasion to speak to the minister a couple of times over the last couple of weeks. On the first occasion, he said that I had better vote for the budget because there would be consequences if I did not. I just attributed that to him having a bad hair day and I let it slide. About a week later, I had another conversation with him. I asked him the same question and he repeated the same thing. He said that I should vote for the budget or there would be consequences. He kept referring to consequences. I do not think that is a good approach. He is out of sync with the Prime Minister because the Prime Minister is back to the sweaters. This minister should get on side and be a little warmer and friendlier.

In the Manitoba provincial legislature, I sat beside the highways minister. This is nothing new. It has been going on forever, regardless of the party that is in power. Conservative and opposition members, who sometimes ask very good, tough questions of the government, would come up after question period and talk to the highways minister, who was sitting right beside me, and ask about the bridges and roads that needed rebuilding in their areas. We need to be able to separate these things. We did not get all excited because the guy had voted against the budget. Of course he had. He was a Conservative in opposition and that was his role. He was supposed to be voting against the budget. He was doing his job by opposing the government and pointing out things the government should be doing.

However, we never held it against the member because he voted against the budget by not giving him his road. What kind of nonsense is that?

Let us flip it back. When we were in opposition, the same thing applied. We would ask the Conservative minister of highways a tough question about something to do with roads and a few minutes later we would cross the floor, have a chat with him and he would give us the answers. That is just the way things operate.

All I have tried to do is to get these parties together. However, we have a stubborn mayor who refuses to listen to over 5,000 people have responded to my surveys. It is not as if there are people opposed to this. Ninety-seven percent of the people are in favour of providing the two extra lanes.

Do members know that last June the Prime Minister announced $70 million, which is a third of the money, would go toward a bridge in Saskatoon? That bridge in Saskatoon carries only 21,000 cars a day. Our Winnipeg bridge, which is 50 years old and falling apart, carries twice as many. It carries 40,000 cars a day and the mayor says, no, that the city will wait the 20 years to add the extra two lanes and the 200,000 people up in that quadrant can just suffer.

I want to make it very clear that it is not the minister's fault that this has happened. I do applaud him for trying to take a leadership role in this, but he should follow through. He should try to convince the mayor that there is money available for these extra two lanes, that if he will put in his third, which he seemed very agreeable to do in the beginning, then we could continue this project and get it done. However, he seems to now have double-shifted back and is saying that it is all contingent upon how we voted for the budget, which is just not the way to do it.

The Conservatives have a new-found alliance with the Liberals but they have to be pretty confident that will last. As the leader keeps moving up in the polls, the Liberals may not pass that big report card the Conservatives need to answer to in a few months.

One would think the Conservatives would get those sweaters back on and be a little extra friendly with all the members over here in the opposition because, guess what, they might need our help some day.

In any event, I would once again appeal to the minister to find a way to get the infrastructure money out to deal with this issue that we are talking about in Manitoba.

We talked yesterday to the municipal people who told us that the infrastructure money was really not there for bridges anyway. They said that it was for shovel-ready projects that had to be finished within two years. They have a list of projects that might apply and those are basically renovations. If a community centre needs a little bit of renovating and it can be done in two years without any environmental assessment, then that is the project that will be funded.

Why, in this omnibus bill, is there a provision dealing with environmental assessments? Just what kind of environmental projects do the Conservatives think will qualify under their rules for the infrastructure money? The answer is, none. There are no environmental projects that will apply here because they will not be able to get their assessment done in time to get the project done in the two year allotment.

Once again, I made the argument about the two lanes. I said that because we already had the land, we probably would not need an assessment because it was already in the plans. I said that this project should be considered as a separate one-off project to avoid people suffering an inconvenience. It is not only me who will be inconvenienced. The member has a colleague from Kildonan—St. Paul who is also in the affected area. Conservative councillors in the area are all in favour. Every elected official, at all levels, is in interested in solving this problem. It is simply the mayor of Winnipeg who is the intransigent one in this particular project.

Air Passengers' Bill of Rights February 10th, 2009

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce a private member's bill that would provide compensation to air passengers and a bill of rights protecting travellers in Canada.

The bill includes measures on compensation for overbooked flights, unreasonable tarmac delays, cancelled or delayed flights, the concern for late and misplaced luggage, and all-inclusive pricing by airline companies in their advertising.

The legislation is inspired by a European Union law, where overbookings have dropped significantly. Air Canada is already operating under the European laws in their flights to Europe. Why should an Air Canada customer receive better treatment in Europe than in Canada?

The bill of rights would ensure that passengers are kept informed of flight changes, whether they are delays or cancellations. The new rules would be posted in the airport and airlines would have to inform passengers of their rights and the process to file for compensation.

The changes are not meant to punish the airlines. If the airlines were to follow the rules, they would not have to pay $1 in compensation to travellers.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)