More airline competition and better protections for passengers will help Canada avoid the “catastrophe” experienced by travellers during the winter holiday season, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says.
Speaking to Global News in Winnipeg on Friday, Poilievre said the federal government needs to step up its regulation and enforcement of airlines, which he says feel they can “get away with mistreating” their customers.
“We had winter before Justin Trudeau. We didn’t have airline catastrophe like we have now,” he said.
On Thursday, executives from Sunwing, WestJet and Air Canada apologized to Canadians while testifying to MPs on the House of Commons transport committee, saying the winter weather led to “compounding” disruptions.
During the committee meeting, Canadian Transportation Agency chair and CEO France Pégeot admitted the independent regulator has never fined an airline for failing to provide compensation under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, despite a backlog of more than 30,000 complaints.
The agency can only issue fines of up to $25,000 under the current legislation, which Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has said he is working to improve.
“No wonder the airlines aren’t worried,” Poilievre said.
He added that the federal government needs to become more productive in order to clear that backlog along with others affecting passports, immigration and other services that are facing long wait times.
He did not say if he would cut the number of public servants working in those departments, only that they should be better utilized given the amount of money it costs to pay them. He also criticized the Liberals’ “wasteful” spending on outside contractors, but did not say if he would cut or eliminate that spending.
“It’s (Trudeau’s) personal incompetence that means that we’re paying more for less,” he said. “We need a competent prime minister with a bureaucracy that actually gets things done to serve the people.”
The Conservative leader said government money needs to be redistributed in a number of other key areas.
Instead of a federal carbon price, he said investments should be made in hydroelectric dams and nuclear power in order to make alternatives to traditional energy more affordable.
He also wants money from what the government calls an “assault-style” weapons ban — which includes language that Conservatives, First Nations and sporting groups say unfairly targets some common hunting rifle models — should be sent instead toward “reinforcing our borders” against drug trafficking, gun smuggling and other gang activity, as well as addiction treatment.
He said a “very clear recovery and treatment proposal” was coming from his party that would deliver federal funding for provinces to pursue addiction treatment programs.
“It will get results” if adopted, he said.
“We’re not just going to throw money around. I want beds, I want counsellors, detox, medication that will help with withdrawal and overdoses — they’re all going to be part of my plan. We will rescue the lives of our friends, our neighbours, our brothers and sisters that have fallen victim to this horrific addiction crisis.”
Residential school inquiries would be funded
Poilievre also said a Conservative government would continue to fully fund inquiries into former residential school sites to properly account for human remains and unmarked graves.
His comment came a day after the Star Blanket Cree Nation in Saskatchewan said ground-penetrating radar has discovered more than 2,000 areas of interest at the site of the former Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School. A child’s bone was also found at the site.
The announcement is the latest in a series of discoveries at residential school sites across the country that have reignited conversations around reconciliation and Canada’s colonial past.
The federal government has provided millions of dollars in financial support to communities undertaking those searches, which Poilievre said he would continue if he becomes prime minister in the next election.
“We would fully fund all the inquiries into the human remains at or near the sites of residential schools,” he said.
Read more: Star Blanket Cree Nation search of former residential school reveals over 2,000 ‘anomalies’
Poilievre said he wants to move beyond what he called the “symbolism, speeches and drama” of the Trudeau government’s reconciliation efforts and deliver actual results, including ensuring all First Nation communities have access to safe drinking water.
As of Jan. 5, 33 long-term drinking water advisories remain in 29 communities, despite promises from the Liberals to get all advisories lifted by 2021. The government has since indicated that won’t be possible until 2025.
“I would contract the infrastructure companies and I would say to them, they don’t get paid until the clean water is available, and some of their pay would be contingent on those clean water systems continuing to work for years to come,” Poilievre said.
“They can’t just build a faulty system, get paid and buzz off. They have to get the job done.”
He also called the Indian Act a “racist colonial hangover” that he would allow First Nations to opt out of.
“I believe First Nations know what’s good for them, and the problem in this country has been a top-down, colonial government in Ottawa that has imposed its will against the will of the First Nations people,” he said.