Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to discuss Bill C-49.
However, before I get to the meat of the bill, I want to quote from liberal.ca/realchange, which says, “We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny. Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals.” It goes on to say, “We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.” However, what do we have before us? Like budget bills and others before it, the Liberals have introduced an omnibus bill.
In the bill, there are air passenger rights, with subsections on liberalized international ownership rules; joint ventures between air carriers; increased access to security screening services; rail initiatives with subsections under locomotive voice and video recorders; freight rail policy framework; and another area under marine initiatives that includes items such as would amend the Coasting Trade Act and the Canada Marine Act to permit Canada port authorities to access Canada Infrastructure Bank loans and loan guarantees to support investments in key enabling infrastructure.
We also know the infrastructure bank was introduced in a different omnibus bill. Ironies of ironies, the Liberals put time allocation on this omnibus bill after promising to never do either. The Liberals said that they would never be so cynical as to introduce omnibus bills and they were so sure they would never use them that they made it a campaign promise to show Canadians they were so different from Stephen Harper. With this broken promise, it once again shows that the student has become the master.
While I am on broken promises, I will review some of the other broken promises of the government, such as a revenue-neutral middle-class tax cut. The Liberals said this tax cut would pay for itself by increasing taxes on the wealthiest. Unfortunately, it has not. The tax cut is costing all Canadians $1.2 billion annually from the federal treasury. It is like borrowing against a line of credit and saying we just got wealthier, but it is not.
The Liberals promised modest deficits. They said that annual deficits would be just $10 billion a year, but they blew that out of the water pretty fast. Even with the economy doing well, the Liberal deficit will still be almost 100% higher than they had promised. They promised balance budgets. They said the budget would be balanced, probably balancing itself, with a $1-billion surplus in 2019-20. Now we know they will not commit to a balanced budget ever.
The Liberals promised revenue-neutral carbon pricing. They said the plan would be revenue neutral for the federal government, but we know that is not true because they are charging GST on the provincial carbon taxes, which is expected to cost Albertans and British Columbians almost a quarter of a billion dollars over two years.
On electoral reform, we were famously told that the 2015 election would be the very last using the first past the post balloting system. On this side, we have always said that if the government is going to fundamentally change the way citizens elect their government, there should be a referendum. Therefore, I am not that sad to see this promise broken, but it still shows a pattern.
The Liberals make promises to get elected and then throw the promises under the bus faster than, say, the revenue minister threw Revenue Canada employees under the bus over her mess-up with taxing minor employee benefits.
The government promised an open and transparent government. This one is an omnibus of broken promises.
I will read from the mandate letters to ministers, which state, “You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments”. Here are some of the merit-based appointments. The former chair of the Liberal election campaign in Ontario was appointed to an ambassador role. A failed Liberal nomination candidate was appointed to the VIA Rail board. Another failed Liberal candidate, who already said she would run again, was appointed as the director of the Hamilton Port Authority. A Liberal described as a friend of Gerry Butts, who ran twice for the Liberals unsuccessfully, was given a plum government position in San Francisco at double—yes, double—the official pay scale.
The finance minister's mandate letter includes this doozy, “your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.” Here we have the finance minister, who, before entering politics, lobbied for a change in the pension system that would benefit his company, Morneau Shepell. What did he do after he was elected and became the country's top financial regulator? He sponsored the very bill he lobbied for before entering politics, but excuses it by saying he was following the letter of the law.
There is also the failed Access to Information Act we debated just recently. The Information Commissioner herself said that she was very disappointed with the act, that it was being used as a shield against transparency, and that it was failing to meet its policy objectives to foster accountability and trust in our government.
I will now move on to Bill C-49. It is unfortunate the government has once again chosen to break its promise and presented yet another omnibus bill to the House.
Bill C-49 is like a game of three card monte. That is where the dealer shows that one of the cards is the target card and then rearranges the cards quickly to confuse the player about which card is which. Except in the case of Bill C-49, instead of the queen of hearts, the minister is presenting the passenger bill of rights as the target. He hides the flaws and omissions of the bill under the guise of passenger protection, referring constantly to the much-reported United Airlines incident where someone was dragged from the plane, as if something like that had happened here.
He also tries to pretend that government regulation is what is needed to prevent those situations in Canada. We all have our own horror stories of airline travel. What would address this issue is not half-hearted regulations, but more competition.
Changing the foreign ownership limit to 49%, up from 25%, is a good start, but why limit it at all? If we want improved service and other issues, then open up the market to more competition. We saw how this worked when WestJet entered the market. Nothing has done more to force better pricing and service from airlines across the country than having WestJet expand across Canada.
Why not focus on this, instead of measures that are rolled out populist-style to take advantage of consumer sentiment influenced by a viral video.
A University of Toronto report has found that relative to Americans, we often pay between 50% and 100% more for comparable travel between Canadian cities. Various expert reviews of the airline industry, including by the Competition Bureau, have recommended allowing a right of establishment for foreign carriers on domestic routes to put pressure on our airlines to improve.
The airlines might argue that foreign carriers would only operate on lucrative routes. However, Canadian carriers are under no obligation to fly to money-losing destinations currently, and there is no proof that the airlines are presently cross-subsidized to operate otherwise unprofitable routes.
One of the problems of this part of the bill is that it amends the Canada Transportation Act with regard to joint ventures, taking away decision-making authority from the Commissioner of Competition, and places the power in the hands of the minister. Yes, giving the minister the power to interfere for political reasons is just what is needed to improve airline service and lower rates—said no one ever.
The CAA, the Canadian Automobile Association, notes that the Bill C-49 relies on a complaint from a passenger in order to trigger action. The Canadian Transportation Agency cannot initiate domestic investigations on its own. Advocates and organizations can not intervene and each complaint is handled as a one-off, adding time and delays.
It is worth noting that the CTA was able to initiate hearings into the recent infamous Air Transat situation only because it concerned an international flight. The CTA would not have the authority, even under Bill C-49, to decide itself to hold a hearing into a similar situation if the flight occurred within Canada. Nor would the CTA be able to examine any broader systemic issues the CTA might note that did not come from a specific complaint and would have to ask the minister for permission to investigate them.
Noted passenger rights advocate, Gabor Lukacs, says the bill is “smoke, mirrors and has no teeth”, and contains no provisions about the enforcement of rights of the passengers. He says, “This strikes me as an an attempt to shield airlines from complaints and further prevent the public from ensuring their right.”:
He says that Bill C-49 contains no provisions about the enforcement and that it passes the buck to the Canadian Transportation Agency to establish standards at some point in the future. What we need is more competition, not relatively toothless regulations basically responding to a United Airlines' video that went viral.
We do not need regulations that will increase airport costs and thus ticket costs, which will happen as airports expand screening services and are permitted to independently decide how to cover costs. We all know how that will end: with consumers paying more.
There is quite a few other issues on this bill. We would have preferred that it be broken up into several bills to address.
It is unfortunate that once again the government is hiding poor legislation in an omnibus bus, and Canadians will be the poorer for it.