Urban business leaders push government to improve Canadian airport policies
People carry luggage at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Dec. 20, 2013. (Mark Blinch / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, December 8, 2016 4:09AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 8, 2016 2:04PM EST
MONTREAL -- A coalition of business leaders in Canada's eight largest cities is putting pressure on the federal government to reduce security screening times and cut travelling costs, saying such measures are needed to bolster the economy.
In its first political foray, the Canadian Global Cities Council is pushing to make airports more internationally competitive in order to attract more tourists, enhance economic activity and improve the travelling experience.
The group of Canada's eight largest urban chambers of commerce unveiled a series of recommendations Thursday on security screening, border entry and visas, and transit connectivity.
"We want to make sure that Canada can be a global transit hub," said Adam Legge, council chairman and president of Calgary's Chamber of Commerce.
The coalition says seven of Canada's busiest airports collectively contribute $59 billion of economic activity and support 272,000 jobs.
It is calling for enhanced use of technology, the adoption of international security screening standards and targeted checks of travellers from high-risk countries to speed up how long it takes to pass through security.
While London Heathrow and Hong Kong International airports require that 95 per cent of passengers be screened within five minutes, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority estimates that on average half of passengers wait longer than 15 minutes.
"We can't say that we're open for business and then expect people to wait in a three-hour queue," Legge said.
The council is calling for increased funding for CATSA and the Canada Border Services Agency to meet growing demands. It also wants Canada to harmonize immigration and trusted traveller programs with other countries. That means only requiring visas for citizens of high-risk countries and increasing the use of automated border clearance systems.
The traveller experience can also be improved and greenhouse gas emissions reduced by expanding transit connections from airports to downtown cores and to communities and facilities surrounding airports, it adds. While just eight per cent of passengers at Toronto Pearson airport used transit, about 40 per cent do so in London, Paris and Amsterdam, said the report.
Legge said the government needs to cut taxes, fees and rents that increase the price of air travel in Canada and have prompted travellers to use U.S. airports.
He said the changes could see one-way travel costs cut by about $25.
"It's a bold ask but I think we have to bring to government's attention the uncompetitiveness of Canada's current position that will continue to be eroded over time," said Legge.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced in November that the government will work to reduce waiting times at airport security to meet international standards and introduce an air passenger rights regime.
"My government recognizes that tourism and air travel are growing as are international business opportunities," Garneau said in an email. "We want to make the most of air travel between Canada and the rest of the world for the good of the economy and to make sure it's done in a secure environment."
The Canadian Airports Council said it's optimistic that years of talk will result in improvements.
"To have the business communities in our largest cities on board with that just adds to the voices that have been calling for air policy reform for years," said Daniel-Robert Gooch, the council's president.
Montreal Board of Trade president Michel Leblanc said the coalition wants the government to adopt the recommendations within a year.
"The solutions that we are putting on the table exist elsewhere," he said. "We're not reinventing the wheel so that should require rather quick deadlines for implementation."
The coalition said it plans to speak out on other subjects in the future, including infrastructure and the availability of skilled workers.