I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting No. 25 of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 3, 2022, the committee is meeting to study Reducing Red Tape and Costs on Rural and Urban Canadian Airports.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House Order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.
Per the directive of the Board of Internal Economy on March 10, 2022, all those attending the meeting in person must wear a mask, except for members who are at their place during the proceedings.
I'd like to take a moment to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses and members. Please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking. For those participating by video conference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike, and please mute yourself when you are not speaking.
For interpretation, for those joining us on Zoom, you have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either floor, English or French audio. Those in the room can use the earpiece and select the desired channel.
All comments should be addressed through the chair. For members in the room, if you wish to speak, please raise your hand. For members on Zoom, please use the “raise hand” function. The clerk and I will manage the speaking order as best we can, and we appreciate your patient understanding in this regard.
Appearing before the committee today, we have the following witnesses. From the Department of Transport, Colin Stacey, director general of air policy; Craig Hutton, associate assistant deputy minister for policy; Aaron McCrorie, associate assistant deputy minister, safety and security; and Stephanie Hébert, assistant deputy minister of programs.
From the Canada Border Services Agency, we have Denis Vinette, vice-president, travellers branch.
From the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, joining us in person today, we have Nancy Fitchett, vice-president, corporate affairs and chief financial officer; as well as Mr. Neil Parry, vice-president, operations.
From Nav Canada, we have Mr. Jonathan Bagg, director, stakeholder and industry relations; and Leigh Ann Kirby, vice-president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary.
From the Public Health Agency of Canada, we have Kimby Barton, acting vice-president, health security and regional operations branch.
Thank you all very much for joining us either in person or virtually.
Before I turn it over to Transport Canada for opening remarks, if my colleagues will permit, I just want to say on behalf of this committee, on behalf of all members of the House of Commons and, of course, on behalf of all Canadians, thank you, all, for the incredible and diligent work that you've done over the last two years to support Canadians and keep them safe.
With that, I want to turn it over now to Transport Canada for your opening remarks.
You have five minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting us to speak with the committee today.
The Government of Canada recognizes the impact that significant wait times at some Canadian airports are having on travellers.
Transport Canada is working with federal partners, including the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada, as well as industry, including air carriers and airports, to implement solutions to reduce delays as we approach the summer peak season.
Our goal is to streamline services for inbound and outbound passengers, so Canadians can travel efficiently and safely as the sector recovers from the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Air transport was affected more severely by COVID-19 than most sectors. Traffic levels dropped by more than 90% from prepandemic levels for more than a year.
As COVID-19 measures are easing at home and around the world, the air sector is seeing a surge in demand. In January 2022, air traffic was less than 40% of 2019 levels. By May, that grew to almost 80%. The surge in air travel is positive for the recovery of the air sector; however, increased volumes have also placed pressure on all aspects of the transport system.
Canada's not alone in facing the challenge of airport congestion. We are witnessing similar phenomena at other airports around the world and, given the global nature of the aviation industry, delays and congestion overseas contribute to delays and congestion also in Canada.
Some travellers have been experiencing delays during the outbound security screening process that happens before a traveller boards a plane. The challenges have been most prevalent at Toronto-Pearson and Vancouver airports, which are Canada’s busiest.
The biggest source of outbound delays has been staffing shortages at CATSA. While 75% of screening officers were retained during the pandemic, labour market shortages have made it difficult to recruit back up to 100% of what is needed. When traveller delays became evident, the instructed his officials to bring together CATSA, the major air carriers and the top four airports to understand the challenges and implement immediate solutions.
Actions to date, since the creation of the new airport operations recovery committee, include the accelerated hiring and training of new screen officers by CATSA and their deployment to where they are most needed. In fact, since April 1, CATSA screening contractors have recruited almost 900 new employees. CATSA is now over its 100% target in Toronto and Vancouver to meet its national standard of 85% of passengers screened in 15 minutes, which was actually exceeded in some cases over the past week.
Operators in CATSA are also working together to improve the screening process for passengers. In addition, all partners are improving communication and information sharing, including messaging to passengers to help them plan and avoid delays.
The concrete action we have taken together is having an impact. We have seen significant improvements in wait times over the past month, with fewer passengers waiting in long lineups.
During the week of June 3 to 9, an average of 10% of passengers were waiting more than 15 minutes at Pearson, which was down from 23% the week of May 9 to 15. At Vancouver, this number improved to 13% from 26% over the same period.
In addition to delays when boarding a flight in Canada, there have been delays for international travellers returning to Canada, primarily at Toronto Pearson. These delays are due to a number of compounding factors, including overall staffing levels in the system, infrastructure limitations and delays overseas, leading to a convergence of flights and public health measures.
Presently, there are infrastructure and capacity limitations in the customs hall that restrict passenger offloading, which has resulted in travellers being held on aircrafts.
In addition, travellers are also experiencing delays due to other airport services—including baggage handling. Ground crew labour shortages are also having significant impacts.
To resolve these issues, over the past month, Transport Canada has been actively working with CBSA, PHAC and the industry to identify efficiencies through the travel journey to streamline processes of reduced wait times.
Changes are being made. For example, new kiosks to process more passengers are being installed, and the Government of Canada announced the suspension of mandatory random testing until June 30 to streamline the border arrivals process and relieve congestion.
Mr. Chair, congestion and delays are frustrating for travellers. As noted, they are due to a variety of factors. That is why Transport Canada continues to work with federal and industry partners to address these challenges and support the recovery of the air sector while maintaining safety and security for Canadians.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Many thanks for the recognition in your opening remarks. I truly appreciate it. We've had some great staff working diligently for the last two and a half years, doing all they can to protect at the border.
It is a pleasure for me to appear and speak with you today about the Canada Border Services Agency and what we are doing to improve the overall traveller experience at our airports. I would like to begin by noting that the CBSA is fully aware that Canadians are more eager than ever to resume their regular travel after more than two years of restrictions, as evidenced by the current volumes at our airports.
During the month of May, we gradually resumed border services at select airports affected by the temporary measures put in place as a result of the pandemic. Travellers are returning to a border that is being managed very differently this summer, with evolving COVID-19 requirements.
We recognize the impact that significant wait times at some airports are currently having on travellers, as stated by my colleague from Transport Canada. We are working with airports, air carriers, baggage handlers, other government departments and all partners to implement solutions to reduce delays as we approach the summer peak period.
The CBSA continuously monitors volumes and wait times to allocate resources and adjust staffing levels accordingly. We have increased officer availability at major airports, and student border services officers are now at work across the country.
There are also things that travellers can do to make the process easier for themselves and other travellers. Travellers can help reduce wait times at the border by coming prepared and by completing their mandatory ArriveCAN submission within 72 hours before arriving at the border.
ArriveCAN collects contact, health and travel information to protect the health and safety of travellers and expedite processing at the border. It is the fastest, easiest and most secure way for travellers to show they meet public health requirements.
The CBSA is constantly looking for innovative ways to facilitate and expedite border processing, without compromising health and safety. Over the coming months and years, the CBSA will undertake a series of major improvements as part of our traveller modernization initiative. The various components of this initiative will position Canada to manage future travel volumes without compromising public health priorities or economic recovery.
We are modernizing the border processing experience through the use of new digital tools and technologies to create a more streamlined process for travellers. One of these new tools is the advance CBSA declaration.
One of these new tools is the CBSA advance declaration. This is a feature within the ArriveCAN online application currently that gives air travellers the option to prepare their customs and immigration declaration 72 hours in advance of their arrival in Canada. This feature will be expanded to the ArriveCAN mobile app later this month.
In addition, over the next year, the CBSA plans to launch the CBSA advance declaration feature nationally at all airports with primary inspection kiosks. Travellers who use the advance CBSA declaration feature of ArriveCAN online will greatly reduce their processing time when they enter Canada through airports. On average, travellers using this new platform will complete their processing using the primary inspection kiosk in just over one minute—in as little as 68 seconds.
With the increased volume of travellers at our points of entry, there have been increased pressures on the government and industry to keep up. We trust that the traveller modernization initiative is steering us in the right direction.
I hope you have found this information beneficial, and I look forward to providing you with more insight on these important initiatives. I am happy to respond to questions from the committee.
Good afternoon, honourable members.
This year marks CATSA’s 20th anniversary of operations. As you're likely aware, CATSA is a Crown corporation responsible for security screening services within Canada’s civil aviation system. We're regulated by Transport Canada. CATSA is accountable to Parliament through the , and we're funded by parliamentary appropriations.
We operate our mandate through a third party screening contractor model. The contractors employ the screening officers directly, while CATSA, together with the screening contractors, ensures that critical elements of the transportation system are secure, from passenger and hold baggage screening to the screening of non-passengers at designated airports in Canada.
We've recently seen the pent-up demand for air travel materialize at airports much earlier than I think many anticipated. As such, there were some challenges in servicing demand, particularly in early May. This follows two tumultuous years for the civil aviation industry.
CATSA and its screening contractors have been targeting the hiring of 1,000 screening officers this year, in addition to the over 1,200 screening officers who were recalled in the fall of 2021. I'm pleased to report that despite those challenges in May, and despite the labour market challenges that continue to persist, we are on track to meet those targets.
I'm also happy to report that over the last three weeks CATSA has met its government-funded service level target of screening 85% of passengers in 15 minutes or less across the system. We've exceeded that over the last three weeks, but we still have work to do.
While screening contractors have been working to increase staffing levels, they're not immune to the recruitment challenges experienced by the broader commercial aviation industry and, indeed, by many industries across Canada. CATSA aims to achieve or exceed the wait times service level as established by the funding provided by the Government of Canada, where, as I mentioned, 85% of all passengers wait 15 minutes or less at class I airports.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to speak to you today.
Ms. Fitchett and I are available to answer questions from committee members.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Nav Canada is the not-for-profit corporation that owns and operates the world's first privatized air navigation system, ensuring the safest, most efficient movement of aircraft from the Pacific to the Arctic to the mid-Atlantic, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nav Canada operates the world's second-largest air navigation system. To support our 45,000 customers, we employ 4,000 people and are deploying groundbreaking technologies to keep the skies safe. Safety is why we exist, and our safety record is one of the best in the world.
Nav Canada is a critical part of the supply chain infrastructure, which keeps people, goods and services moving by air to and from communities large and small across Canada and around the world.
NAV CANADA would like to thank the committee for its invitation to discuss reducing red tape and costs on Canadian airports.
Nav Canada's customers are the airlines and private aircraft operators that fly in Canadian airspace. As a not-for-profit, we charge our customers using a fee-for-service model. We have delivered multiple decreases to our customers since our inception to help them reduce costs for air travel, while investing more than $2 billion to improve the air navigation system transferred to Nav Canada by the federal government in 1996.
Even with the latest rate increase in September 2021, our service charges and increases on average have run below the rate of inflation since our inception. Our cost structure is heavily weighted to fixed costs. For example, if the number of flights in Canadian airspace drops by 80%, Nav Canada must still maintain 100% service coverage in Canadian airspace. This weighting towards fixed costs is illustrated when you realize that labour costs make up approximately 70% of our operating costs.
During the pandemic, we saw passenger air traffic, as measured by revenue, drop significantly. In fiscal 2021, our revenues were down by 55.7% compared to those from prepandemic traffic. As most of our costs are fixed, our revenue model was put to the test. On the operational side, I'm very pleased to report that Nav Canada and its employees managed the pandemic without any airspace closures due to infection rates.
Nav Canada's model and favourable credit rating allowed us to borrow at record-low rates in the debt market to continue our seamless operations. Unfortunately, a rate increase was necessary to meet the covenants of our earlier bond issuance. As we understood that our customers were also dealing with challenging business realities, the 29.5% increase in fees was only to meet covenant requirements, not to recover Nav Canada's revenue shortfall. To further assist our customers, Nav Canada implemented a fee-deferral program for the next five years.
Nav Canada was pleased that the federal government brought in business assistance programs during the pandemic. The Canada emergency wage subsidy provided critical support. However, after two years of the pandemic, Nav Canada, similar to other industry organizations, such as airports and airlines, has increased its debt levels. Currently, we have a $600-million deficit in our rate stabilization account, which represents the amount that will need to be recovered over time and in consultation with our customers.
Nav Canada empathizes with air travellers who have seen an increase in delays over the past three months. Air service represents a complex ecosystem, with many different partners and factors influencing operations. We work actively to minimize impacts such as weather, equipment repairs and, at times, unplanned absences, including COVID-related absences. However, delays related to airport construction, COVID testing, customs, security processing, ground services or aircrew staffing are beyond the scope of our mandate.
Where we can have an impact, we will. Our long-term strategic direction will result in more efficient airspace use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and will drive significant savings for our airline customers through reduced fuel consumption.
I am happy to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you very much.
Thank you to all the witnesses for their time.
A special thanks, of course, goes to the frontline workers, who have gone through a tumultuous two years and continue to be at the centre of what we deem a disastrous handling of the airports, as noted of late.
I'll start with Mr. Parry, at CATSA.
When did you first know about capacity issues at airports? The second, follow-up question is, with whom did you share that information?
We have been planning for the recovery since the pandemic began. That was back in 2020, when we retained 75% of the workforce, despite over 95% of the passenger traffic disappearing almost overnight. We began a process to recall 1,250 screening officers over the summer of 2021. That was planning for the recovery.
The recovery, from a CATSA perspective, had two false starts. One was the delta variant and the next was the omicron variant over Christmas, when we ramped up, stopped, ramped up and stopped.
We work very closely with the airports, with the air carriers and with our colleagues at Transport Canada to forecast out demand. The forecasting process, on which we base the scheduling of required capacity, has been extremely volatile over the last two and a half years, making it very difficult to forecast with precision. We're seeing that improve. We have daily and weekly engagements with air carriers on what their load capacities will be.
We were planning for a busy July-August summer. I think the entire industry was focused on a July-August summer. We were working closely. We were part of Transport Canada's COVID recovery working group, with stakeholders, led by Transport Canada. We shared openly what our plans and strategies were for recovery. The demand that occurred in April and May was well above our forecasted demand. I would wager to say it was above industry's expected demand. There was a sudden surge—
I thank all of the witnesses for being with us this afternoon, along with their hard-working and dedicated teams.
My questions are for Transport Canada officials.
Prior to the pandemic, to what extent was Transport Canada involved in the day‑to‑day operational decisions of Canadian airports, such as work schedules and the number of employees assigned?
If Transport Canada or the wanted to micromanage these kinds of operational decisions, would they have the authority to do so?
Right. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, there has been a confluence of factors. Of course, as we're noting, the labour shortage across the sector has been a significant challenge for airports and air service operators, and I think that is something that is staying with us.
Despite those challenges, we are working hard to figure out how to best address the shortages, but we also see other challenges in the system, such as a greater concentration of flights at certain times of the day, and delays in parts of the system, including overseas, which have an impact here in Canada. We see customs pre-clearance. We see different passenger patterns, such as more carry-on luggage. We also see weather conspiring against us at exactly the wrong times as well, as it will do.
All of these things create this situation where there's a knock-on effect, and we need to make sure we understand what is driving the issues at a given moment in time. That allows us to tackle those issues head-on. I think having this collaborative forum through which we're working together is helping us to do exactly that.
If I understand the question, yes, that's correct. We adjust the capacity to service passengers based on the forecasted volume of passengers and the arrival patterns.
As I mentioned, there's been a lot of volatility in what actually materializes at an airport versus what is forecasted. There are pressures throughout the system that disrupt those passenger arrival patterns. It means that sometimes we have staff when the passengers aren't there. Sometimes there are not enough staff because a schedule has changed, or an aircraft has arrived late or was held, or the connections traffic is off. All of those things affect screening. Our objective, though, is to have as many screening officers available as we can, and to have as many lines open to serve the public.
The factors that have also affected that have been the attrition rates within not just our organization but the industry. The labour market has been a significant challenge in terms of getting people onboarded. There are other factors at play, such as volatile passenger traffic. Again, that's through no fault of the industry's. I think they're scrambling to recover as well. There are also processing challenges. We're seeing a lot more passengers show up with carry-on bags, and it takes longer to process.
I have another question for you.
You said earlier that you estimated the wait time at the moment to be 15 minutes on average. From what I understand, you estimate it from the first scan, so when people scan their passport at the kiosk, until they meet an agent.
I wonder if this data underestimates the actual wait time. In my own recent experience, when I came back from abroad, the airport was so crowded with passengers getting off planes that just getting to the first scan was a feat. So there's also a queue before you get there.
Wouldn't it be more appropriate to measure the data from the time of deplaning of the aircraft?
First, I will just clarify. I didn't say that passengers wait only 15 minutes or less. What I said was that the government-funded target service level on average is that 85% of passengers on an annualized basis will wait 15 minutes or less. We have met or exceeded that target for over six straight years.
In terms of the measurement, you're correct, the measurement should be taken at the end of the queue, the end of the line, so that you have an accurate measurement. We have, through the month of May, been working with some of our stakeholders on this to alert us. We have significant numbers of brand new screening officers whom we need to remind, in taking the measurement, that you don't stand in one spot. You have to move to the end of the queue. There is a compliance factor there.
We do oversight on compliance. That compliance is related to the performance pay that our screening contractors receive, so they have an incentive to measure correctly. We take action when there is inaccurate measuring, and it does occur, but overall the compliance rates are above 90%.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all of our witnesses for being here today with us to answer our questions.
I want to take a moment off the top to acknowledge the work of screening officers and frontline airport workers all across the country, who are really bearing the brunt of the chaos at our airports and working under some exceptionally difficult conditions.
We've been told several times by the government that this is an international phenomenon, so it might be instructive to look at what other airports are doing.
I noted that Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands negotiated an agreement with airport workers that includes a raise over the busy summer months that's equivalent to Canadian $7.14 per hour. By contrast, in Canada we have CATSA creating something called the summer attendance incentive program, which pays $200 a week bonus to employees who don't take their holidays.
Here's the most alarming part. I have a memo here written by one of your contractors that describes the program to its workers. This memo states that workers who take time off because they are sick won't qualify for the bonus. This is essentially creating a financial incentive for employees to go to work sick during a pandemic. Does CATSA think that's appropriate?
I disagree with how you've characterized what the incentive is intended to do.
A screening officer who is sick or takes their scheduled vacation is not disqualified from the program.
I'll back up just one step, to your reference to Schiphol.
CATSA is not the employer of the screening contractors. The service is delivered through a third-party contractor.
The process for negotiating compensation is the collective bargaining process. Many of the airports in Canada have concluded agreements already, and there are a few places—Vancouver is one, and Ottawa is another—where the collective bargaining process is under way.
The attendance incentive was put in place because across the country there can be significant instances of absenteeism whereby people don't show up for their shift. The program is administered by the screening contractors. CATSA is making the funds that it underspent in April and May due to the capacity shortage available to incent people to show up for their scheduled shift. If somebody is sick and provides documentation to their employer, my understanding from the employers is that they would continue to be eligible over the 12-week period if they continue to show up for their scheduled shifts.
I was under the impression that at the last meeting we agreed to go into committee business at 5 p.m. to deal with both motions that were on the floor, so I would ask the chair or the clerk to clarify that and whether, in fact, we would then need unanimous consent to entertain that motion now versus what we agreed upon in terms of dealing with those two motions during committee business.
I say that for two reasons. One, the decision was made, and I think that decision was made by all members with due respect to the folks here, who came out and gave us their time to address the issues we're dealing with regarding this study. We have a number of members here from CATSA and CBSA who, quite frankly, have given us their time, and their time is very valuable, as all members can well appreciate.
With that, I would recommend to the members of the committee that we continue with the witnesses and their very valuable testimony that's going to add to this study. Then, as planned and as supported at the last meeting, we can get into the two motions by Mr. Barsalou-Duval and Mr. Bachrach when we enter into committee business at 5 p.m.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Mr. Badawey and Mr. Bachrach, for your interventions.
I believe it's within Mr. Bachrach's right to do this if he so chooses. He took up time, I guess, from his own line of questioning to do it, so I guess that's the sacrifice.
In speaking to the motion, if I could, I certainly would support this. I think it's a good motion. The only recommendation I would perhaps make to Mr. Bachrach is that he might want to put an end date for receiving those documents, like within like a month, two weeks or however he sees it, because, ultimately, it could drag out a while if we don't do that.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Ms. Koutrakis.
I think the questions that are being asked, and the questions that have been asked over the past week, are really around the timing. It seems that, all of a sudden, there was a decision to suspend the mandate without an explanation of what changed. What I'm interested in knowing is what advice was provided to the , and when, to indicate that something had changed in the presentation of the virus, and in the strategy and the epidemiology, that warranted the extension of the mandate.
I want to avoid getting to a place where we simply get general documents explaining how vaccines work and that kind of thing, and make it specific to when the Public Health Agency of Canada started telling the that the domestic air travel mandate may no longer be appropriate given the current context. We ended up in a very strange situation in which, when we asked the government in the House of Commons to explain why certain measures were still in place, the government stonewalled us. Government members said they trusted public health. We then asked public health, and they said it's up to the politicians. It goes back and forth like this.
I think it's pretty clear to most Canadians that the way it's supposed to work is the public health officials provide the advice to the government, and then the government takes action. We're interested in when the public health officials first started advising the government that these specific measures were no longer effective and could safely be suspended.
I was going to call a point of order. I'm trying to keep this clean and consistent with how we've operated as a committee for the last several years.
We had planned, once again, on going into committee business to discuss this issue. Obviously, members know that when we go into committee business, it's a closed session discussion, especially with some of the sensitivities we might be discussing, like human resources, etc.
Again, Mr. Chairman, I would put a motion forward, since we didn't need unanimous consent—which, quite frankly, I disagree with, but that's a discussion for another day—to go into a closed session and into committee business, as was originally planned. I would see you at five o'clock.
Mr. Chairman, I would put that forward as a motion.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Seeing that we're going to be staying in an open session, it actually might, to some extent, be a more robust discussion.
My question is for a clarification that I would ask either of you, Mr. Chairman, or the clerk. We have the witnesses here with us. We're going to be debating a motion by the NDP member, and now that we're in open session, it may be of benefit to ask the witnesses some questions that pertain to the NDP motion.
I'd like to ask the clerk if we can have this robust discussion and debate the motion with some input from those who are in the business and can really give us an idea of how credible this motion would in fact be in terms of how we move forward. As many of us know, there has been a decision made on this issue already this week. I don't think the timing is an issue, besides the politics of it. I get that. Other than that, with the decision being made and the mandates lifted, I'm not sure what will actually come out of this besides a few tweets and some social media for the member.
With that, I would ask, would members be allowed to get more information to then make a proper decision on this motion? Would it be allowed for us to ask some of the witnesses we have here with us some questions that would pertain to this motion, Mr. Chairman?
Thank you very much, Mr. Bachrach, and thank you, Mr. Badawey.
I conferred with the clerk. The witnesses are not here to debate the motion, so unfortunately they cannot be a part of this discussion. It's among the members themselves.
With that, I will continue with the debate on Ms. Koutrakis's amendment.
We will go to Mr. Chahal, who will be followed by Ms. Lantsman, Ms. Koutrakis and Monsieur Barsalou-Duval.
Mr. Chahal, the floor is yours.
To debate Ms. Koutrakis's amendment, let me read out the motion as amended, so that everybody can be clear on what is being asked for and I can add my further comments on it:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a), an order of this committee do issue for a copy of public health advice and scientific modelling in support of the decision to maintain existing public health measures received by the Minister of Transport relating to the decision to issue on June 1, 2022, the Interim Order for Civil Aviation Respecting Requirements Related to Vaccination Due to COVID-19.
I believe the amendment to the motion as proposed is a good one, because public health advice and scientific modelling to support the decision-making of public health measures are extremely important. In the province of Alberta, I've seen many decisions made over COVID and all the challenges we've faced over the last number of years that did not follow public health advice and the scientific modelling that was being presented.
That provided tremendous challenges, colleagues. You may have seen that our Conservative premier said last year that we were going to have the “best summer ever”, and proclaimed it publicly on and around Canada Day. I can tell you, folks, that it was not the best summer ever.
Following, as Ms. Koutrakis has advised here, public health—
To my colleague, Mr. Jeneroux, it's actually directly applicable to me, as an Albertan and a Calgarian, in relation to all the lives that were lost due to some of the poor public health decisions that were made and the advice that was not followed by public health. In terms of scientific modelling, many doctors came forward at the time, asking us to take further action and bring forward further public health measures to protect Canadians.
Over the last year, we had a significant conversation on that in Alberta, where I'm from. I was a councillor with the City of Calgary at that time. Ms. Koutrakis's amendment here is clear: “public health advice and scientific modelling in support of”. I remember on city council at the time conversations in which we asked the province to provide that scientific modelling. I think it would have been great if our municipality and others at the time had had the scientific modelling to support the decision-making process.
That's why I think this amendment that Ms. Koutrakis has brought forward, asking for that, is extremely relevant to the debate today. It's what we should be looking at—making decisions, having a conversation, and having the documents, with the scientific modelling, that can help support the decisions that are being made. I would also like to add that on the decisions recently made by the , he would have looked at this important information and consulted even many of the folks here today, and others, prior to making the decision.
I think Ms. Koutrakis's amendment is quite appropriate at this time. I think it's quite relevant. I hope all my colleagues here can support her amendment.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chahal.
Before I move on, Ms. Koutrakis, could you kindly send your amendment to the clerk so that we can circulate it, please?
Before I turn it over to Ms. Lantsman for her remarks, I want to respect the time of the witnesses who are joining us.
Based on the list of speakers I currently have before me, it doesn't look like we're going to be able to get to your testimony today. I apologize for that, but we have to deal with the business before us right now, which is the motion that has been presented before the committee.
I would kindly ask you to now log off. I want to thank you on behalf of the committee for the time you have given us today. Thank you very much.
Ms. Koutrakis is sending that out to the clerk—thank you very much—so I will ask Ms. Lantsman to take the floor.
Do you know what? I'm glad that Canadians are able to see members of the government trying to put this committee into closed doors, into secret conversations, because that is all we've seen when we've demanded public health advice.
We have asked consistently for the public health advice that has led to the decisions on airport testing and mandates. Time and time again, we get the same answers. I can name you at least 15 occasions where the , the parliamentary secretary or members of the government have said, “We are following the expert advice.” Even the president of PHAC told carriers and airports that they would remove testing from airports in January.
All this committee is asking for, on behalf of all Canadians, is to know that the half-measures that were announced just days ago by this government to remove some of the restrictions from airports, and certainly not all of them.... Why have they othered an entire segment of the Canadian population? Why, for so long, did they not allow four or five million people to travel domestically? Why are the quarantine rules inconsistent with the rules we have in this country, where we have to quarantine for 14 days but, if you have a COVID infection, there are some provinces where it is five days?
It's June. It's almost July, and we still have not seen any evidence from the government.
Now we see an amendment to a motion that allows the government to continue to say what it has been saying all along: “Something, something, we rely on the experts.” We have not seen any expert testimony.
I'm glad Canadians are able to see this conversation open in committee, that they're able to see members of the government filibuster this motion to the point that this committee meeting will be over and they still will not have provided the public health advice that has led to the decisions that are causing the chaos in our airports, which, earlier in this meeting, they said have nothing to do with the government. This government's abdication of responsibility around airports is something Canadians should be able to see. I'm glad we're discussing it in committee.
We don't support this amendment. We support the original motion that would require the government to table at this committee the public health advice that has led to its decision-making. Every Canadian has been asking for it. Every parliamentarian has been asking for it. To this day we have not seen it.
I think Canadians deserve that. I think this committee deserves that. I think Parliament deserves that. I think there's been enough of this filibustering. Allow this motion to carry.
I'm really happy to hear my colleague Ms. Lantsman's comments that she likes that Canadians can see the hard work that our government has been doing and continues to do to make sure they and their families and our economy have always been kept safe.
The number one issue for our government has been, from day one, since the COVID pandemic, first and foremost, the safety of all Canadians, the safety of our transportation system, the safety of our employees, and the safety of all Canadians and our economy.
Mr. Chair, the reason for my amendment to the main motion by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley is that I think it would allow for the main motion to pass. I proposed striking the words about ordering the sharing of “all relevant documents” and replacing that with the following formulation, “a copy of public health advice and scientific modelling in support of the decision to maintain existing public health measures”.
Mr. Chair, my rationale for the amendment is the following. I wish to focus on what I think is the key question. The key question is this: Is there a public health justification to maintain certain health measures in place for air travel at this time? If so, what is this justification?
I proposed striking the formulation “all relevant documents”, as what is or is not relevant is open to interpretation. I think narrowing the focus like this will prevent a fishing expedition. We've seen this time and time again in various committees, where, instead of working on the real, important issues, committee time is wasted to make partisan or political points and is just used as a fishing expedition.
Colleagues, we have often seen in recent years prolonged deadlocks in committees, including this committee, over a so‑called motion to produce written documents. This often turns into lengthy, time‑consuming debates about what information should or should not be presented. That inevitably ends up attracting the law clerk, which generally takes up a lot of time. The purpose of this amendment is to avoid such a situation. I think this committee has done a good job, and I don't want us to get bogged down in a prolonged procedural battle.
Parliamentarians, including those on this side of the table, want information. They want to ask questions and get answers to those questions. I understand that, and I recognize that it is perfectly legitimate. I also recognize that every government, regardless of political affiliation, must protect certain types of information for reasons that most members of the House understand: legally or commercially sensitive information that could be damaging if made public has to be protected. We also need to preserve space around the cabinet table and in ministers' offices to have those frank discussions. Similarly, individual MPs need a certain degree of privacy and space to discuss matters with their caucus members, staff, and so on.
It's also important for members to consider that governments not only have to consider the implications of a particular motion on the production of documents, but they must also absolutely pay attention to all the information that is produced in writing in order to avoid any misinformation or misunderstandings that could be detrimental to business and the good work that the government and the departments have done to date.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
First, I would like to thank my colleague for moving the motion before us, which I find very relevant. It's too bad we don't have the opportunity to discuss it because we haven't dealt with the parliamentary secretary's amendment yet.
Let me explain why I prefer the proposed motion to the amendment. The purpose of the motion is to find out what scientific public health advice the government used to make its decision. Not so long ago, we asked ourselves this question. A few days ago, when the government announced that it would put an end to random testing, we wondered whether that was a good thing or not. However, there is no data to help us determine that.
The government also announced that vaccination would no longer be required to travel by plane or train. Personally, I have no problem with that, but, once again, there is no data to support this decision. It gives us the impression that the government is making decisions on the back of a napkin. If they could give us that data, it would tell us whether these decisions are good or not.
Given the way passport applications are managed and the huge lineups at airports, one has to wonder whether the government has done things right. We have good reason to want to know more about how decisions are made and on what basis the government has made them.
I'm very much in favour of the motion, but I am a bit disappointed with the amendment that was proposed, because it's not intended to request all relevant documents, but only those that support the government's decision. There may be documents that don't support the government's decision, but they wouldn't be sent to us, so we wouldn't have all the information.
I find it strange that such an amendment comes from the government side, Mr. Chair. Even though I wasn't a member of Parliament during the Harper government, I remember the media decrying on a daily basis how obscure the government was and how it wasn't giving people the information they were entitled to expect.
I'm very disappointed to see that this kind of filibustering is going on or that amendments are being proposed that weaken a motion to the point where it loses its meaning.
In closing, I would like to point out that I had another motion that I would have liked to discuss today. It's almost 5:15 p.m., and we will soon be 45 minutes into this discussion.
I'm sorry about that, because it would have been interesting to have information on other issues that the could have come and talked to us about, such as bilateral infrastructure agreements with the provinces, which he decided not to honour. There is also a motion to provide documentation and exchanges that support this decision. That's another request for information that would be very relevant.
If the government side would stop filibustering, we could pass these motions. If it weren't for the famous filibuster, we'd have been able to ask the witnesses questions today.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I find it interesting that Ms. Lantsman and Mr. Barsalou-Duval are sitting here talking about filibustering. We could have had this dealt with two meetings ago with Mr. Barsalou-Duval's motion, when we had the here and the questions could have been asked. Done.
With Mr. Bachrach, today, all the witnesses are here, PHAC was here, and you could have asked the questions. Done. But no, that's not happening. My question is, why? What is the agenda behind this? I think we all recognize that, just by following Mr. Bachrach's Twitter account.
We talk about the possibility of even a study. If there was some sincerity behind this, maybe a study would be warranted. Then we could get some of these answers that Mr. Bachrach is looking for. Again, thought, that could have been dealt with today. PHAC was here. Why weren't those questions asked? It's not filibustering; it's making a point.
I'm happy, actually, that all Canadians, as Ms. Lantsman said, are watching today, to see the games that are being played here when we're actually trying to get work done. Hence, the study that we're doing right now. Hence, the questions that could have been asked today. Hence, the questions that could have been asked weeks ago when the was here, when that motion was first dropped on us.
I ask the opposition to come clean in what their agenda actually is and tell that to Canadians who are watching today. This committee has been working very effectively in the last seven or eight months since we got back, very effectively. We've been getting some work done. We have reports going to the House. We've all been working together, parking the politics, parking the partisanship and getting some great work done. It's unfortunate that we have pivoted, or turned on a dime to where we're going today.
Again, though, I have to say to Mr. Bachrach, with the amendment that we are debating right now, and actually to the point you made earlier, there really isn't a difference. It's just trying to move it forward—trying to give you what you want—and then giving us the ability to deal with and get back to the important work that we have within the next two meetings before we rise for the summer. Otherwise, we're debating it. It's not filibustering. It's making points, debate, and then hopefully coming to a conclusion that will in fact be a direction this committee can take. Of course, we can follow that up by dealing with Mr. Barsalou-Duval's motion.
I want to make the point, Mr. Chairman, after a lot of the mud that's been tossed over the table, in particular by Ms. Lantsman and others: Don't throw a stone in a glass house.
We're doing good work here, guys. Let's continue to do that work. We don't have to play politics.
Again, I'll reiterate, and I apologize for repeating myself: We had the here, Mr. Barsalou-Duval. Those questions could have been asked. Your motion could have been dealt with.
Mr. Bachrach, we had the team here today. PHAC was here. You could have asked them those questions. You could have had your answers and therefore your tweets for tonight ready to go, but here we are, playing games. It's unfortunate. It really is unfortunate when, once again, we have work to do. As some of your colleagues say here in the province of Ontario, let's get it done.
Thank you very much, Mr. Barsalou‑Duval. As you know, if people wish to speak, we need to continue the debate.
The next names on my list are, in this order: Mr. Iacono, Mr. Rogers, Ms. Koutrakis and Mr. Bachrach. Before giving the floor to Mr. Iacono, I just want to issue a warning.
If we don't have the support of all party whips, we will have to adjourn at 5:41 p.m., as you know. We have two hours for this meeting, and we do not, unfortunately, have the authorization for House resources to continue past that time unless we have the support of all party whips, which I do not believe we have.
Mr. Iacono, you have the floor.
I want to highlight that one of the opposing colleagues was saying that my collegue Vance was looking at the witnesses. I'd like to point out that right now, I'm not looking at any witnesses, but I am looking at a show. I'm part of a show that we are being injected into.
I'm very happy that my colleagues across are satisfied that Canadians are watching us. I think what Canadians need to know is how contradictory my colleagues across from the Conservative Party are.
When we do something, you question it. When we don't do something, you question it as well.
When we refer to scientific and medical facts to justify our health measures or the travel restrictions we have made in order to save Canadians' lives, what do you do? You question them.
When we come out with all of the programs to help Canadians get through this pandemic, to get by and to relieve some of their financial burdens, what do you do? You question them again.
You accused us of indebting Canadians and future generations, because we were helping Canadians survive this pandemic. You then said that everything we were doing to help Canadians financially was not enough, and more had to be done.
One day, we are indebting Canadians. The next day, we're not doing enough.
I don't know which foot you guys want to dance on.
When we refer to scientific results, you question and challenge them. When we don't mention scientific results in decisions we take, you highlight that we've taken decisions and have not made any reference to any scientific results.
I'd like you to tell Canadians what game you're playing.
The bottom line here is this: You are simply never satisfied with what we do, because you don't care about Canadians, but you care about making this meeting a political show. We had witnesses who were present and who could have highlighted what is happening in airports today. This is what Canadians are interested in knowing.
What are we going to do?
Mr. Chair, I understand and I recognize, of course, the legitimacy of all parliamentarians to engage in this debate, ask questions and seek information. However, I also recognize that every government, regardless of political stripe, needs to protect certain kinds of information for reasons of confidentiality—which I think most members understand—and to protect legally commercially sensitive information that could cause harm were it to be made public. Also, in order to do this, we need to follow some kind of protocol that preserves confidentiality around cabinet tables and ministers' offices for full and frank discussions in the same way, I would suggest, that MPs need a certain degree of privacy for discussion at caucus or with their staff, for example.
That's what I find this motion is trying to achieve, and I certainly can't support that, although I certainly support the amendment of my colleague.
Mr. Badawey made reference to the fact that we had people here from the Public Health Agency of Canada who could have spent time answering questions for any member of the opposition or of the government in reference to what this motion is attempting to do. We could have gotten direct information from officials who are certainly very knowledgeable and would have provided some good information to all of us and to the public at large. In fact, the questioning certainly could have gotten to many of the answers that some people suggest they haven't gotten.
I think this motion is somewhat contradictory. When I look at some of the positions of some of the parties in terms of vaccinations and the kinds of things we've been trying to do, not accepting the amendment here seems almost anti-science. It's disappointing. It's certainly a stance that is contradictory—to me, anyway—to the stance that the NDP has taken this entire time in supporting vaccinations and other measures.
I don't know, as Mr. Badawey said earlier, what the objective is here, but I think the amendment by my colleague, Ms. Koutrakis, certainly is something that deserves every consideration. At the same time, the amended motion, I think, would certainly achieve what we would like to achieve, and that is to make sure we have some transparency and that people get the information they need.
The strange part about this committee—and I have to say this as well, like Mr. Badawey said—is that I think we've been doing some great work here for the last six, seven or eight months. We've been producing some good reports, some great reports, actually, with some excellent recommendations, and we've been very productive.
However, I don't see how this motion that was advanced by the opposition would do anything for us other than create turmoil within the public service. They would have to do this production of documents, which would take up a great deal of time and cost a lot of extra money for the taxpayers. Also, these are documents that, I think, would defy confidentiality and the kind of information that all governments need to protect. What kind of a system would we have if we couldn't have a certain kind of confidence in what our elected leaders do?
I know, for example, just as a small-town mayor, that many of the things we discussed were not made public, but that was for the right reasons. That was because we wanted to protect the identity of a certain individual in the community or the confidentiality of that person. That person, as a member of my community, deserved to be treated with the utmost respect.
You can't have a discussion about individuals, organizations, groups or businesses and expect that everybody that could get access to the information would truly understand the context in which it's presented. We have to have certain regulations and certain things that we need to consider to be of a confidential nature. For us to try to pass a motion that requests “all relevant documents” is, I think, a bit of a stretch. It sets a precedent. It sets a precedent that is not good for this government or for any future government.
I certainly would not vote to support that kind of a motion, but I would certainly be prepared to accept the amendment from my colleague Ms. Koutrakis and try to move forward around those kinds of amendments.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to say that maybe we should be considering another amendment, if you want to call it that, or an addition to the current amendment that was proposed by Ms. Koutrakis.
I'd like to add the following clause to the motion, and that would be “that the production of documents be consistent with relevant legislation concerning confidentiality”. I'd like to propose that as an addition to the motion.
Good morning, everyone.
Welcome back to meeting number 25 of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 3, 2022, the committee is meeting to study Reducing Red Tape and Costs on Rural and Urban Canadian Airports.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House Order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.
Per the directive of the Board of Internal Economy of March 10, 2022, all those attending this meeting in person must wear a mask, except for members who are at their place during proceedings.
I'd like to make a few comments for the benefit of those in the room, as well as members.
Please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking. For those participating by video conference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike, and please mute yourself when you are not speaking. I will remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
For members in the room, if you wish to speak, please raise your hand. For members on Zoom, please use the “raise hand” function, and the clerk and I will manage the speaking order as best we can. We appreciate your patience and understanding in this regard.
At the time of suspension, colleagues, the committee was debating MP Bachrach's motion and, more specifically, a subamendment moved by MP Rogers to the amendment by MP Koutrakis. When the committee suspended, MP Koutrakis had the floor and MP Bachrach, MP Badawey and MP Rogers were next on the speaking list.
Are there any other members who wish to be added to the list before I turn the floor over to Ms. Koutrakis?
Seeing none, Ms. Koutrakis, I will turn the floor over to you.
Thank you, colleagues. I trust we all had a great Father's Day celebration this past weekend.
Over the weekend, I reflected. It's really unfortunate that the debate got contentious last week. Up until this moment, I truly believe—and I think we will all agree—that the committee has been operating on a fairly cordial basis. It is my hope that we can get back on track.
We are not necessarily opposed to the NDP motion, but we are concerned about the precedent it might set when it comes to motions for the production of papers.
My colleague Xavier raised some really valid points at the last meeting about the wording I used in my amendment to the motion with regard to only taking studies that support the mandate. It was well received and very appreciated.
Colleagues, I would be willing to withdraw my amendment, and I would propose that we revert back to the original NDP wording but add the following clause as it was proposed by my colleague Mr. Rogers at the last meeting: “and that the production of documents be consistent with relevant legislation concerning confidentiality”.
If we can agree to vote in support of the NDP motion, that would be great. It would allow us to move forward with the very important business we have at hand. I hope we will receive support from the committee to go forward with this amendment.
There are a couple of housekeeping things.
I have consent from the committee to allow Ms. Koutrakis to withdraw.
As discussed, I can go to unanimous consent and skip the three procedures that I have on my list. If we have unanimous consent from all members, we will go with that.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
(Motion as amended agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: Wonderful. Thank you very much, colleagues.
We'll turn it over to Monsieur Barsalou-Duval.
The last time we met, I didn't get the opportunity to introduce my motion, because we had spent time on committee business. I actually had two of them, but some members may be relieved to know that one of them likely won't be needed.
The motion I wish to put forward reads as follows:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a), an order of the committee be issued for a copy of all relevant documents relating to federal-provincial bilateral agreements on infrastructure, including the 2018 Canada – Quebec Integrated Bilateral Agreement for the Investing In Canada Infrastructure Program; That these documents include, but are not limited to: (i) all communications, including letters, e‑mails, text messages and messages on internal messaging software (Skype, Teams, Messenger, etc.), between the offices of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, and with the governments of Quebec, the provinces and territories; (ii) all communications, including letters, e‑mails, text messages and messages on internal messaging software (Skype, Teams, Messenger, etc.), between the office of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities and Infrastructure Canada officials and the Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat; (iii) all communications, including letters, e‑mails, text messages and messages on internal messaging software (Skype, Teams, Messenger, etc.), between Infrastructure Canada officials and the Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat; (iv) documents that track or show changes and differences in bilateral agreements between the federal government, Quebec, the provinces and territories; (v) all versions of the terms and conditions of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, the Gas Tax Fund (now the Community-Building Fund), the Community-Building Fund, the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund and the 2014 New Building Canada Fund, along with the dates for which said versions were in effect, as well as Treasury Board submissions for the approval of the aforementioned program terms and conditions; (vi) the final records of meetings of the management committees, management sub-committee and monitoring committee for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, the Gas Tax Fund (Community-Building Fund), the Community-Building Fund, the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund and the 2014 New Building Canada Fund; (vii) the final and administrative versions of amendments signed by Quebec, the provinces and territories; (viii) relevant notes, documents and memos; and That these documents be provided to the committee in unredacted form within 30 calendar days of the adoption of this order.
Mr. Chair, I don't know if I need to read the entire text of the amendment, since everyone has received a copy. I could go on, but I think everyone understood what I was talking about. The intent of this motion is indeed that the documents be provided to the committee in unredacted form within 30 calendar days of the adoption of this order.
Colleagues, I will not be supporting this motion. I really do not think it's necessary.
When appeared before the committee during the meeting on main estimates on Monday, May 30, the minister was asked this question by my colleague, Mr. Barsalou-Duval, to which the minister answered very clearly:
[T]he Minister of Finance has already decided that the provinces that received funding through programs created under federal-provincial agreements, such as a Canada-Quebec or Canada-New Brunswick agreement, must commit the funds to projects by March 31. The funds do not necessarily have to be spent, but the federal government, and...the Quebec government must agree on a list of projects to receive federal funding.
The projects can be spread out over a number of years, and the funds can be disbursed over a period of 10 years after the deadline. If the federal government cannot agree with the Quebec government or New Brunswick government on the list of projects, however, the funds will be recovered by the receiver general of Canada....
[W]e have the same agreement with 10 provincial governments and three territorial governments. A number of them have chosen projects and allocated funding more quickly than Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and New Brunswick.
The Minister of Finance decided...that it would be in the interest of Canada's economy and environment to allocate those funds to projects as quickly as possible.... [T]hat does not mean that the projects will be completed, but a choice has to be made.
Minister LeBlanc also said:
The Minister of Finance is anxious to see these funds allocated to projects. Some premiers, however, including the Ontario premier, are asking me for a 2.0 version of these programs.
My job is to work with all the provinces to determine what a second version of these programs might be.
The minister continues to collaborate with provinces and territories “to determine more specifically how this second version can offer a solution that is in the interests of both Quebec and the federal government.”
In conclusion, again, I will not be supporting this motion, but I would be curious to hear how other members feel about it.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.