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Canada: Hope for Senate approval of air passenger rights by Christmas dashed

Whatever hope Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau had of the air passenger rights bill getting approved by the Senate by Christmas, quickly got buried in a hearing marked by fierce rebukes and exchanges between the latter and a former Liberal party operative.

The Liberals had been campaigning for the upper chamber to ratify a transportation bill that would pave the way for a new air passenger bill of rights.

Transport committee members, however, had other ideas as they put the motion off until next year, thus killing any amendments that would help air travellers affected by delays or are bounced off flights.

Garneau pointed a finger at the media for the perception that the legislation, once passed, would itself authorize a passenger bill of rights, rather than clear the way for one.

He then trained his target at Senator Terry Mercer, an independent Liberal, for proposing Garneau has said otherwise.

With this development, travellers would have to wait until 2018 for a passenger rights bill because the Canadian Transportation Agency would then be authorized to carve out the regulations.

“I’ve explained it a million times, but the perception is out there,” Garneau relayed.

“Senator, you’re on this committee. I expect that you know what’s in the bill and that you’re telling me that I’ve created this perception is frankly a little bit surprising.”

Garneau said the Liberals never meant to enshrine the bill of rights in legislation, because that would have made it more challenging to introduce any amendments in the future. He said people should wait to see what the agency crafts.

“Perhaps it should be in the bill, minister, then we wouldn’t have the controversy,” Mercer replied.

The legislation would fix rules and fines for airlines in particular circumstances where a passenger got bumped from an overbooked flight, had lost or had their baggage damaged or suffered an overly long wait on the tarmac – but only when the carrier is responsible.

Senators rebuked Garneau for creating an omnibus piece of legislation that the government declines to split.

Committee Chairman Senator David Tkachuk called the government audacious for accusing the Senate of delaying the bill, saying the Liberals instead should blame themselves for the delay.

“The problem with this government is that it wants an independent Senate when necessary, but not necessarily an independent Senate when that doesn’t suit its purposes,” Tkachuk said.

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