Madam Chairman, following the horrible events of September 11, Transport Canada worked together with the airline industry to help them adapt to the new operational realities in the transportation sector. The Minister of Transport and his department, Transport Canada, must be congratulated for the way they are managing the current crisis.
The layoffs announced by Air Canada last week are not related to commitments made by the airline, which were incorporated into Bill C-26 regarding the merger with Canadian Airlines. It is worth acknowledging that these circumstances are not unique to Canada or North America. Airlines around the world have been forced to reduce their number of flights, and have announced layoffs.
Air Canada announced that it would be reducing its workforce by 9,000 employees. Four thousand of these layoffs were already announced in August. Eight thousand positions will be cut from the main airline and 1,000 more are to be cut from the regional carriers. Air Canada has also announced that it will be reducing service by some 20%.
Clearly, our priority for the airlines right now must be to help them until business returns to normal, and all of our efforts must be concentrated on achieving this.
I do not support opening Canada's airspace to foreign carriers. I feel that foreign airlines operating in our country would only be interested in the major routes, leaving smaller Canadian communities without service. Therefore, it is appropriate and even essential that the federal government take the time to review all the issues relating to the airline industry.
If compensation is provided to the airline industry, it should only be for financial losses directly related to the closing of the airspace following the events of September 11. Any federal compensation program should include the whole industry.
Let us not forget that there are other airlines operating in Canada and that if we provide some kind of assistance, they must all be treated fairly since they are all equally affected by the events of September 11.
In fact, the Minister of Transport said on September 27 that whatever form this assistance may take, it will be costly. It will cost a lot of money. The Minister of Transport is currently assessing the financial situation of not only Air Canada, but of all the other airlines.
This federal assistance should in no way be used to solve some Canadian airline companies' major financial problems that are not related to the events of September 11.
Any financial assistance provided to Air Canada should not give it more resources to maintain its seemingly anti-competitive behaviour and should not allow it to pursue what seems to be a fight for total domination of the market.
However, the issue deserves to be considered from a different angle. Of course, the tragic events of September 11 have had a terrible impact on air carriers. Unfortunately, the whole transportation industry is affected by this crisis. Be it trucking, shipping or transportation of manufactured goods, the whole industry is weakened by this crisis.
The Minister of Transport referred to this in the House on September 19, when he said there was a need to assess the degree of the dislocation and the damage, and there was no doubt that there had been a lot of it. He added that the airline industry is just one aspect of the transportation industry.
We must ensure that any compensation provided is fair and equitable. For that, we must also look at the other components of the transportation industry and not only focus on the airline industry.
On the issue of safety, Transport Canada is committed to maintaining and increasing the safety of passengers. In fact, safety measures in place in Canada's aviation industry meet and even exceed International Civil Aviation Organization standards.
However, to excel even more, the Canadian government has taken extra safety measures. These measures deal with the presence of dangerous substances and sharp objects aboard an aircraft. They also deal with access to aircraft by airport workers, security personnel training, ID photos, improving infiltration testing and reinforcing cockpit doors.
In closing, the Government of Canada must reexamine its policy with regard to the protection of sensitive and highly populated areas such as downtown cores, sites where major cultural or sporting events are held and very tall buildings.
For example, it is unthinkable and ridiculous that all kinds of aircraft are allowed to get close to the Peace Tower for tourism or for recreational purposes.
In conclusion, passenger safety must remain the priority of the Government of Canada.