Air Canada Public Participation Act

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise to speak to Bill C-10 and to join in the debate today. This is one of those unique circumstances where the opposition, in many ways, is united in part and is in some ways speaking with a unified voice, but for different reasons, perhaps. In many ways, this debate is an interesting one for me, given my background in the Air Force and my background as a lawyer. In my early days, articling as a first-year lawyer, I was involved in the CCAA restructuring of Air Canada. That was a time when Canadians worried about losing our flagship carrier. The company successfully restructured under CCAA, which protected a lot of jobs, a lot of commercial relationships across the country, and the airline.

We all remember years when there were many more serving the country, companies like Canadian and Wardair. It shows how globally competitive this industry is.

I was very proud, as a young lawyer, to be involved with the firm that represented Air Canada in that restructuring many years ago.

Its heritage as a former crown corporation is really why we are here with Bill C-10, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act, which was a creature of the privatization. Most of the comments from my NDP friends along the way relate to the commitments made back in 1987 and 1988 when this crown corporation was privatized.

I do not think even my Liberal friends would suggest that the industry is the same today as it was in 1988. To suggest even the members of the unions they are talking about are performing the same tasks on the same type of aircraft would be false, because certainly the industry has changed in terms of technology, in terms of the needs of the workforce, and in terms of the globalization of the supply chain. Therefore, we have to have these debates in the House of Commons.

Where I am united with my NDP friends in my concern is really how this debate is coming to the floor. In many ways, the new Liberal government is showing that the old ways—and in fact the ways a lot of Canadians disliked about the Liberal governments in the past—appear to be back, when deals are made to benefit special interests or certain groups and the public policy ramifications of an issue are not actually spoken about.

I am going to raise a few of these points, in relation to the debate of Bill C-10 because I think they are important.

In many ways, the Liberals prove that old adage: why take one position on an issue when one can take two positions on an issue politically and advance both?

Here is one. Most of the Liberal Party at the time, in the 1980s, opposed privatization of Air Canada at the time when the Mulroney government proceeded with that privatization. Yet, here it is sneaking in an amendment to the participation aspects and sort of the job guarantees provided in the 1980s, with limited discussion and no real mention in its election document, which it holds sacrosanct in all other aspects of what it is doing in its early days, and we are here as a result of it.

It is also the result of its bad policy decision with respect to the Toronto island airport and the fact that a private sector operator was looking at buying a Bombardier aircraft at a time that Bombardier was seeking government assistance. However, because of a small lobby group in downtown Toronto, very influential within its caucus, it circumvented the regulatory process looking at the expansion of a regional airport.

That is not just a decision made in isolation, because our transportation networks are integrated. What happens about Billy Bishop airport will impact Hamilton, the airport in Kitchener-Waterloo, Pearson airport, and the Pickering airport and what size that takes in the future.

These decisions cannot be taken in isolation, but they stopped expansion applications and review for the Toronto Island, thereby eliminating a private sector sale for Bombardier at a time when it is teetering. Yet, behind Bill C-10, is really a deal, I believe, that was crafted by the federal government in relation to another purchaser acquiring said aircraft and coming to the rescue, so to speak. I would like the minister to bring to the House whether Bill C-10 was discussed as an element of the private sector sale to Bombardier that we see Air Canada announcing? The announcement came mere days after that company met with the minister, so what someone needs to do is connect the dots on all this and see what led up to Bill C-10. The reason it was not in the Liberals’ election platform was that it has come about as a result of the challenges Bombardier is facing. That is my concern.

We need to have a full debate, with discussion of the impact of Bombardier’s financial difficulties alongside sales of aircraft and alongside litigation that several other provinces were party to, in relation to the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

Bill C-10 is a small bill in terms of the number of words, but when the onion is peeled on the issues underlying this, as all members of the opposition have been doing today, we see there is a lot more to the bill than the couple of pages that it appears to represent, and the government has not been transparent on that at all. For a government whose hallmark is transparency and sunny ways, we have seen that jettisoned on most issues within weeks.

In my remarks I am going to explore why I think these underlying public policy decisions relate to what is before us in Bill C-10, and that is why I have serious concerns with the bill. The government has not been transparent on the road that has us here considering this amendment to a longstanding act and a longstanding practice.

I am also very proud, as a former officer of the RCAF, of our aerospace industry, very proud of Bombardier, proud of Air Canada, our carriers, and proud of the suppliers, which are world-class. That is why, when the government made a quick move to scuttle the expansion of the Toronto island airport without proper consultation, that impacts our industry, which is world-class. Many Canadians do not realize that Canada was the third nation in space, with Alouette I. Canada basically trained most of the pilots in the free world that won World War II with the British Commonwealth air training plan.

On the weekend, I played the Hon. George Hees, John Diefenbaker’s transport minister, at a dinner that re-created the Avro Arrow dream. We celebrated aerospace and our achievements. Diefenbaker himself was not celebrated at this dinner, because he did cancel the Arrow, but we have a tremendous heritage, and the opportunities in this industry are really not well known by Canadians. We remain the number one producer, from an R and D and a production standpoint, of flight simulators around the world.

When I was in Seoul as the parliamentary secretary for international trade in the previous government, I toured CAE’s simulator just outside Seoul, which provides flight training and aircrew training for Asian airlines. We were there as part of the South Korea trade agreement. That is a company with a global reputation as the best in the business, and we should celebrate that.

Canada remains the number three producer in terms of aircraft production, small and medium-size aircraft with a new larger one on the horizon from Bombardier, which will again be best in class. We are third in engine production for civil air purposes. These are incredible numbers. They are all well-paying, all highly skilled and high trade jobs, and they are all trade focused.

At a time when our dollar is lower and we have the ability to trade very competitively, we should be taking advantage of leveraging this industry, not secret deals that hold it back. There are $28 billion in revenue across the companies within this sector, both in the supply chain and in production and manufacturing; and 76,000 jobs across the country, in all provinces, with particularly well-regarded and highly concentrated industries in the Montreal area, Winnipeg, Toronto, and also in Mainland B.C. We should foster these jobs and work with them.

Our previous government did in terms of reforming research and development. In fact, the previous government outlined the Red Wilson report to ensure we constantly looked at our competitiveness. Red Wilson had been a corporate leader at CAE.

It is worth noting some of these companies, and I have a particular passion for them, not just because I am ex-air force, but because I am ex-minister of veterans affairs. A lot of these companies are veteran employers. In some cases, their senior leadership are veterans. They include MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, the famed Canadarm, probably our biggest iconic R and D development; Viking Air, which has recreated some of the old classic de Havilland aircraft that have been flying for generations; Cascade; Avcorp; Bombardier; CAE; and COM DEV. We also have global companies producing in Canada, including Boeing, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin, through our industrial regional benefits programs that provide supply sector jobs as a result of our defence purchases, which at times the government seemed somewhat uncertain. However, if something is acquired, there is money put in to research and development into jobs on the ground here.

That supply chain is critical and is why our industry has to modernize. We need to have a debate on the ground about public participation and about the industry so our manufacturers, including some of the businesses I named, do not take advantage of servicing for Air Canada, or WestJet or Porter. They really need to be involved in the global supply chain for both maintenance and production.

What are we here for on Bill C-10? We have heard a lot of passion on the side of members of the New Democratic Party, but it boils down to three subtle changes to the act, which came in as a result of the privatization of Air Canada in 1988.

The bill would amend section 6(1)(d) of that act, changing the maintain operations and overhaul description of securing jobs as they stood in the 1980s into “…carry out or cause to be carried out…”, which recognizes that a lot of specialized manufacturers, whether landing gear or components, can provide that specialized life cycle maintenance that is important in the airline industry, and that specialization can happen through the carrying out. That makes sense in this environment, but we have not heard that because of the secret deals that have brought us to Bill C-10.

The operation and overhaul would be expanded to show that it would include any type of work related to airframes, engines, and components mainly because we have some expertise on a sub-component basis in Canada in terms of some of the leading producers.

The geographic areas protected back in 1988 with the privatization at that time were described as the city of Winnipeg, the city of Mississauga and the Montreal urban area, because I think they needed to describe that in a wider sense. The new amendments proposed in Bill C-10 will refine that to the provinces, as opposed to those cities proper.

The substance of Bill C-10 in some ways recognizes the fact that the industry is not the same industry it was in 1988. I can certainly understand why Air Canada probably wants to be unshackled from the requirements put on it in 1988 to ensure that the privatization was not too disruptive.

If we look at the airline as it stands today, it is strong and a global leader in many ways, but it is also subject to global competition. It has to be able to take advantage of the same expertise and opportunity. Therefore, if we are carry out, or cause to be carried out in a certain part of Canada, as long as we are getting that best-in-class ability to maintain and modernize fleets, then that is what we want to see.

The other thing I said at the outset, which has us here in this debate today and that the government has not been transparent on, is the fact that Bill C-10 is really the result of litigation in relation to adherence to this act. As I said, Air Canada probably, understandably, feels unfairly shackled by something that was done, not just by the last government or the previous government, but three governments ago, in the 1980s at a time when privatizations were a little newer. However, I think today most Canadians would certainly not expect the federal government to operate its airline in a competitive environment where there is a lot of choice.

Quebec and Manitoba joined the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in litigation related to business changes in those jurisdictions. Certainly, with that union involved, it is why my friends in the NDP are as passionate, and I respect their standing up for workers and items they believe. However, I would suggest that their workers would tell them that this is not the same industry that it was in 1988.

What we saw was the government of Quebec drop its participation in this litigation as a result of an Air Canada decision to purchase aircraft. Obviously, there was some political horse-trading that went on, and the Quebec government removed itself from the litigation in return for Air Canada supporting the industry through the acquisition of Bombardier aircraft.

Manitoba also removed itself from this litigation by carving out a deal whereby Air Canada supported three world-class aerospace services suppliers in Manitoba and leased one of the Air Canada maintenance hangars to an operator in Manitoba on favourable terms. In that case, there was another provincial government coming up with a deal it thought was sound enough to remove itself from a civil action in relation to an act from 1980s.

As I said at the outset of my remarks, I would have much preferred it if the Minister of Transport had come to the House and told us that Bill C-10 was the result of yet another pragmatic deal that was made. However, to do that, he would have had to outline all aspects of that deal, what exactly happened, and if the government approached a private sector player to help it with respect to requests from Bombardier for assistance.

This is where we get into some difficult territory. Should the government be convening these meetings behind closed doors to cobble out a position, particularly when the minister was getting heat for ending the exploration of the expansion of the Toronto Island Billy Bishop Airport, and cancelled that with a tweak after demands from people within his caucus and within a group in Toronto advocated against an expansion? What that cancellation led to was a private sector company that was planning an acquisition of Bombardier aircraft could no longer proceed. All of these events gather, and that is the run-up to why we have Bill C-10.

We can actually have a rational discussion on whether it would be helpful to unshackle a company from requirements that limit its competitiveness from 1988 legislation. We can have that discussion, and I would like to, because the minister and the Liberal government have not come to the House in an open and transparent way, much like the parliamentary budget officer said they approached their recent budget, the least transparent in over 15 years.

I would like the government to outline all aspects that went into Bill C-10: the related litigation, the pressures in relation to the financial stability of Bombardier, and Air Canada’s need to be competitive in a global age. I think we could have a proper debate if that was before the House. I am disappointed the information is not here for this debate.

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