Air Canada Public Participation Act

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today for the second time in debate on Bill C-10. I will share with members my thoughts on the bill, which stem more from my concern about the government’s reckless handling of the airline and aerospace industry in Canada, in particular its handling and circumstances that gave rise to Bill C-10.

In an era of openness, transparency, and sunny ways, Bill C-10 has arrived in Parliament under the most cloudy, or perhaps murky ways. The government, and in particular the Minister of Transport, who is an honourable member of the House and a great Canadian, need to be more forthright on the bill. Some of the concerns we have heard from my friends in the New Democratic Party stem as much from this uncertainty on how Bill C-10 came to the House.

I say concern about process because the House should have process that is transparent, and we should know how bills have come to the House. I agree in some ways with the substance of Bill C-10 on a specific level, and I will explain why. However, I would prefer the government to be open and transparent with the House and manage this industry, our airlines and transportation in a way that reflects the modern realities of this global sector where Canada is currently extremely competitive, and in fact a world leader. However, due to the inaction and poor vision we have seen in six months already, the industry could indeed suffer.

Bill C-10 is really the completion of something that started in the 1980s under the Mulroney government, when Air Canada was privatized. It was a crown corporation. My first few flights on Air Canada would have been when it was a crown company and a crown carrier. Like many countries in the world, in the early days of aviation, to keep their business and society competitive and modern, a lot of governments owned their national airlines. However, starting in the 1960s through to the 1980s, most of the developed world devolved ownership.

We are not elected, and we do not have a government in Ottawa to run businesses on behalf of Canadians, but often in a sector, particularly like aerospace, the trail blazing front edge of an industry, like passenger and cargo transport, can be assisted by government.

By the time the Mulroney government came in, Canada was joining most modern nations and allowing the private sector and marketplace to run and operate airlines, with the appropriate degree of regulation. It is a very heavily regulated industry on a federal level. All airlines do their best to maintain high standards alongside those regulations.

At the time of the Mulroney government, when Air Canada was privatized, there was concern about some of the major servicing sectors in many of the job centres that were part of the crown corporation, part of the government’s operation in important markets. They were in Winnipeg, Montreal, and Mississauga. It is quite easy to understand why those markets were so important at the time in those cities. The servicing and claims element was in Manitoba. There was the hub of Pearson airport in Mississauga. The head office of Air Canada was in Montreal. Montreal also has the world renown international headquarters for ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, which governs air travel and recognizes its global footprint. Therefore, Montreal was very much an appropriate home for Air Canada, and continues to be today.

Therefore, there were specific job provisions put in at the time because of concern about the change. This was almost 30 years ago. I have not heard any of my friends in the NDP look for these statistics, but I would bet 90% of Canadians would agree that governments should not own an airline in this modern age. However, they probably understood why 40 or 50 years ago they started out by helping Canadians gain access to air travel. We would not suggest turning the page and going back to Canada running an airline serving Canadians.

The jobs related to those jurisdictions were a critical part of the transition. Prime Minister Mulroney and his government at the time wanted to assure the House and, of course, all Canadians that there would not be radical disruption of the important hubs in Winnipeg, Mississauga, and Montreal by the change, so they had the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

What is the government doing here? It is not destroying this concept, but it is allowing it to evolve, as it should. Rather than specifically naming a geographic coordinate, the changes to section 6(1)(d) of the act allow for a more geographic balancing to Manitoba, to southern Ontario, and to the greater Montreal area, recognizing there still will remain hubs, but giving the company some ability to modernize and to have competitive servicing and operational support for their operations.

As a free market person and somebody from the private sector, I do not think we should be shackling a business to an operational approach that was in practice 30 years ago. The last shackle, in many ways, of the privatization of Air Canada is the modernization of the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

As can be seen from my remarks, in principle, this makes sense. In many ways, it also recognizes what provincial governments have already understood. Litigation launched in Manitoba and in Quebec by provincial governments alongside the labour movement in those jurisdictions was settled in two of the provinces as a result of agreements. There were agreements for job security and some contracting to world-class service providers in Manitoba, and similar commercial agreements were made with Quebec, and litigation pulled away.

What has really happened here, and the minister has not informed the House fully on the circumstances, is Bill C-10 has appeared out of the blue. Was this an effort by the federal government to try to resolve all litigation related to this act? Probably. Was Bill C-10 the result of discussions between the federal government, Bombardier, and Air Canada? Probably. However, we have not heard the minister speak to that. We do know that senior executives from Air Canada met with the minister a few days before Bill C-10 was tabled in Parliament.

Coincidentally, Air Canada committed to buying C Series, Bombardier aircraft. Now it should buy that aircraft because it is among the best in the world, and we are very proud of Bombardier. I will speak about that company in a moment.

However, when we look at this chain of reality, the litigation between the provinces, the difficulties Bombardier has faced, the restrictions in regulations and the restrictions imposed on Air Canada from legislation dating back in 1988, all of this leads up to Bill C-10. The urgency of it and the urgency of the financial assistance the province of Quebec has already given to Bombardier, all of this leads to Bill C-10.

I would prefer if the minister would just say that to the House. I think my NDP colleagues would prefer that as well. Any industry analyst knows why Bill C-10 is before this place.

In my remarks, members can see that, in principle, the full privatization and the unshackling of some of the rules from 1988 should take place. My concern with Bill C-10 is the secret deals, and the very fact that we are asking, in the House, whether the federal government is going to provide assistance to Bombardier, like the province of Quebec has. Have there been any assurances with respect to dual class shares with that company?

Have there been any assurances in terms of whether it will be a loan, whether we will use EDC to backstop other countries buying the C Series aircraft? Indeed, did they work with Air Canada to remedy some of these labour challenges alongside a purchase? I do not think that one needs to be an investigator to see that there is more to Bill C-10 than a few words on the pages of the bill.

The government came to Ottawa saying openness, transparency, that it enjoys consulting in a lot of ways on things. This is one area that we have not received a full background on, and we have not really heard from the minister on what led to Bill C-10 and the backroom deals. That is why I have serious concerns and why I am speaking again on this bill.

I urge the minister, who is an hon. member of the House, and someone who is respected across our aerospace industry as our first astronaut, to level with us. That is what we are supposed to have when we are modernizing this industry. The concerns from organized labour and some of my friends in the NDP would be addressed by more transparency and more direct discussion on amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act. There is still time for the minister to be forthright on this.

I have a deep affinity for the Bombardier company. I think all members of the House, particularly the strong Quebec caucus on the Conservative side, have strong passions for Bombardier. I received my wings in the Royal Canadian Air Force after training on the CT-142 aircraft, a militarized version of the Dash-8, for air navigation training that was run out of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I am very familiar with the aerospace jobs in Winnipeg because they are proximate to where the air base is located on the far side of the international airport. The Royal Canadian Air Force, which I was a proud member of, has its headquarters in Winnipeg. Winnipeg, being at the geographic centre of North America and Canada, will remain an important hub for the aerospace industry, and I think we can be very proud of those jobs.

In many ways, the Conservatives and the Conservative family were in the wilderness for many years because of an ill-timed decision by the Mulroney government to push forward on a servicing contract for CF-18s that impacted Bristol Aerospace in Manitoba. Therefore, no one knows about the aerospace industry probably as much as Conservatives, because it gave rise in many ways to the Reform Party and the split between the PCs for many years. That is not lost on me in this debate.

Conservatives want Bombardier to succeed. We want a modernized corporate structure, an effective governance, and effective leadership within that organization. We want the C Series, which is a best-in-class aircraft. It really will be transformative in terms of fuel efficiency and reducing aircraft noise. It will be transformative for the sector and for that company. It should have orders from across the globe, and they are coming in. However, if orders are related to bills before the House, related to the assistance that governments might offer that company and the flagship carrier of Canada, we should know about that and this should be part of the debate.

I have to raise the fact that why I am concerned is that the murkiness with respect to Bill C-10 also relates to decisions around Billy Bishop airport. I just heard a guffaw from my friend from Spadina—Fort York. That is another case where we did not get the full briefing and discussion by the minister on decisions related to the long-term operations of that important hub. In fact, we were quite disappointed when he tweeted the cancellation of the project, looking in to an expansion of that airport. That is an airport that has now become critical to the transportation needs, not just of a few hundred people living on the lakeshore, but of the five million people in the most populous part of our country.

I know the member for Spadina—Fort York does not like the fact that many of his colleagues come to Ottawa each week using Porter, but he has to admit that its location near the financial centre of our country makes it a critical asset that should at least have proper regulatory review and not more insider deals.

Here we have deals being cooked inside the office of the Minister of Transport when he meets with corporate officials. We also have deals being cooked inside the Liberal caucus and in the PMO that actually impact far more than just one riding. It impacts southern Ontario, and the flow of goods and services and people. Whether or not there should be an expansion, those decisions, in a fulsome discussion, should be open and transparent, particularly in the era of sunny ways.

Why is that germane to this debate? It is because Porter was planning to purchase up to 30 C Series aircraft. I know my friend who is enjoying my remarks across the way will likely be out of town when his government announces financial assistance for Bombardier, which it will, and we will look at it very carefully in the opposition. However, the interesting thing is that the Liberals’ insider deals prevented a private sector sale of these very aircraft that would help Bombardier thrive.

On the Hill this week, and I was speaking to its representatives, we also have a new ultra low-cost carrier in Canada looking to start, which is Jetlines airline. It also plans to purchase between 20 and 40 C Series aircraft from Bombardier, provided the government starts setting an open and even playing field within Canada for our airline and aerospace industry.

My friend from Prince George, with his remarkable experience in aviation and the airline and airport industry, knows that a lot of our secondary markets are underserved because we have a restrictive set of rules around airline ownership and the capitalization of our aerospace industry.

Why is that important? In the last government, we were looking at changing that. We had the Emerson report that said because of our small capital markets here in Canada, because the airline industry is indeed global, we should be allowing up to 49% ownership, or capital to come from outside of Canada. It is the same challenge that we face constantly in the resource industry. We have tremendous opportunity, but not necessarily the size of our capital markets to service it. Therefore, we need to draw capital in from around the world.

We also have to recognize that this industry is a global industry. A lot of veterans and friends who I served with in the RCAF fly for Air Canada. I have a friend, Kevin McNaughton, a former CF-18 pilot, who flies for WestJet at the moment. There are also Canadians flying for Cathay Pacific and Qantas. This is a global industry. In fact, my friend from British Columbia consulted around the world: Canadian expertise in terms of aerospace, airlines, and Nav Canada, which is a world leader. This is a global marketplace, and for our airlines to succeed, we need to have an even playing field.

Therefore, I was proud that the last government started evening that playing field somewhat. We allowed more standardized crew days and manning levels for air crews, and for service personnel on the aircraft, such as flight attendants, so that there was the same level of requirement in Canada as for airlines flying into Canada.

We need to also do that in terms of access to capital. We need to allow these small upstart airlines, like Jetlines and others, to have access to foreign capital so that they can acquire aircraft built in Canada. Therefore, I urge the minister to look at the Emerson report; look at unshackling this industry so that Canadians can compete.

There are 76,000 jobs in Canada, and almost $30 billion in GDP from the aerospace industry alone. The aircraft built by Viking Air now that are classic de Havilland, like the Beaver and Twin Otter, are world-renowned aircraft. The C Series will be joining that sort of world-renowned Canadian expertise that has always kept us as the third or fourth most important aerospace country in the world.

Let us have less backroom deals, more transparency, and let us not have another bill that comes to the House like Bill C-10, under the murkiness and indecision that we have seen from the government.

Stay in Touch with Erin

Sign up for email updates from Erin O'Toole to hear the latest from Ottawa and our riding.