Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill. I do not know if the previous speaker, my colleague from the NDP, knows that we are supporting the motion with amendment, so I do not understand why she would so vehemently criticize the government when the folks on this side of the House have the intention of supporting the private member's bill. Sometimes members should engage in the process that happens in this House whereby we do try to work together to come up with solutions. I see the nod of the head of my good friend from the NDP, the critic at the heritage committee. Oftentimes, while we may disagree, we do understand when we need to work together. Therefore, I am very much disappointed by the language of the previous speaker in terms of its tone.
I am pleased to rise in the House to support Motion No. 553, which advocates the development of a mechanism that would allow small airports to receive security screening services from the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, CATSA.
The Government of Canada supports this motion as it highlights an issue of which it is well aware, and upon which it has been and will be working for a number of years, that is, to promote a safe and economically sustainable aviation industry. Indeed, this motion seeks to give small non-designated airports all the necessary tools to draw commercial flights to their airports and connect their passengers to larger airports. Over the past several years a number of small airports have expressed their belief that the establishment of screening services will help them attract more airlines, encourage commercial growth and improve their economic development opportunities in general.
I want to add that the Niagara regional airport from the region of Niagara, part of the area which I represent, is certainly interested and has advanced this thought through the commission in a strong way. It is working with the Ministry of Transportation at this very time to become one of those small airports that could potentially receive the services of CATSA.
From an economic development perspective, having a link to the main air transportation network can have an important impact on a local economy. It brings visitors and potential investors closer and makes the local attractions and resources more accessible. The potential economic spinoffs can be significant in terms of economic investment and growth. Travel by air also provides an important service to local residents by better connecting them to the rest of Canada. Our government certainly supports those objectives.
While security is the key consideration when the time comes to allocate resources for the protection of our transportation system, other factors should also be taken into consideration to ensure that our aviation security system supports, rather than hinders, economic opportunities for smaller communities.
Canada has one of the largest and strongest civil aviation systems in the world, with over 200 commercial airports and millions of passengers travelling through or within the country daily. It would make little sense to require government-mandated security screening at all of these airports, as it would be an inefficient and ineffective use of security dollars both from a security and a financial perspective. Instead, security screening in Canada is limited to 89 airports currently designated for mandatory screening. The security designation of those airports was first established following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It included Canada's 29 largest airports, as well as 60 smaller airports that were already screening at that time, which was being conducted either by the air carriers or the airport operators themselves. Together, these airports represent almost 99% of all air passengers in Canada.
The screening provided at these airports is currently government-funded and offset through the passenger-paid air travellers security charge. Several small Canadian airports, including my own, the Niagara District Airport, have recently written to Transport Canada asking that the department explore the possibility of providing screening services at its facilities, not for security reasons necessarily but rather to promote commercial growth and economic development.
As I mentioned earlier, the primary rationale for passenger and baggage screening is risk. Accordingly, any changes to the current list of designated airports would have to be assessed against the risk threshold that would warrant mandatory screening. Currently, none of the airports requesting screening services from CATSA meet that threshold. My colleague, the Minister of Transport, advised these airports that if screening was to be provided at non-designated airports where screening is not required for security purposes, an alternative source of funding would need to be identified.
In response, a number of airports, including the Niagara District Airport , indicated that they would consider paying for the screening themselves, depending on the economic viability of assuming these costs. Transport Canada is currently holding discussions with all of these airports to present them with as much information as possible and to better understand their specific needs.
Nevertheless, Canada's high security standards must be upheld. Therefore, the security screening services requested by these smaller airports, which will allow their passengers to connect seamlessly to larger airports, will need to be delivered by the officially designated CATSA. In addition, the annual operating costs for screening at small airports will depend on a number of factors, such as the number and frequency of flights, passenger volumes, size of planes, and a number of other factors. Once a solution is in place, the decision as to whether it is financially viable will ultimately rest with each individual airport.
Efforts to increase air service from small airports must take into account both market realities and airline objectives. Cities and regions want easy access and price competitive options for inbound visitors as well as for outbound residents. Airlines will need to determine for themselves what routes are worth pursuing.
It is also important that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority remains the sole screening authority for delivering screening services at Canadian airports. Having a single, centralized organization responsible for screening services allows for greater consistency in meeting security requirements and in managing security incidents. As such, we have asked that the original version of the motion be amended, as it could incorrectly imply than an entity other than the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority could carry out screening services.
In short, small airports' requests for CATSA screening reflects a desire to further economic and commercial growth. The Government of Canada shares these objectives and will do what it can to accommodate these requests. The government continues to be open to exploring mechanisms that will assist in finding ways to drive economic development at smaller airports and in those communities should they choose to invest in these services. I must be clear. “Should they choose to invest in these services” means that those individual airport commissions or boards are going to take on responsibility for the cost. Nonetheless, developing such a mechanism will take a bit of time, as there are still legal and financial challenges to be addressed.
Our aim going forward will be to ensure that the aviation security system continues to be effective, efficient, and responsive to the rapidly evolving industry. It is about getting it right for both air travellers and taxpayers. As such, the Government of Canada will continue its efforts to meet the needs of the small airports, and it is grateful to the hon. member for Sherbrooke for his support on this issue.
I know that there are a number of members of Parliament on this side of the House who have smaller airports in their regions, their ridings, and their districts. I am one of them. On this side of the House, we have worked closely with the Minister of Transport to try to effectively move forward on the security screening that would allow the type of economic development, travel, and options that present smaller airports with the option to land people in their regions, at their airports, to use the great areas they will travel to. This would also allow those who live in those communities to access larger communities and larger airports, both within Canada and potentially outside of Canada.
While original intent of a piece of legislation was to drive at the issue of safety and security at airports, it left out some of the smaller airports across our country. It could be very viable in terms of delivering charter or larger airlines into their regions. The motion speaks to that issue and actually enhances it and moves us forward.
In closing, I would like to comment that the Minister of Transport has been extremely open to looking at these options. I know that she understands the direction and intent of this bill and certainly supports it.