Transportation Minister Marc Garneau is touting the benefits of his proposed overhaul of the Canada Transportation Act, including faster and simpler complaint mechanisms for disgruntled airline passengers, as well as lowering the cost of flying and expanding air service to more communities.

Members of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities are reviewing the Liberal’s transport agenda, contained in Bill C-49. Garneau emphasized the legislation is merely a first step toward the government’s strategic plan for transportation, dubbed Transportation 2030.

Garneau promised a bill of rights to protect airline passengers in the wake of several high-profile clashes between carries and customers, including an incident at Ottawa International Airport where passengers were kept on board an Air Transat plane for hours, while it sat on the tarmac.

The proposed bill of rights included in C-49 would spell out an airline’s obligations, in plain language, regarding such tarmac delays, overbooking, and lost or damaged baggage. It would also ensure children can be seated next to a parent or guardian at no extra cost, and provide simple channels for passengers to lodge complaints and seek compensation.

Marina Pavlovic, a lawyer who specializes in consumer protection, welcomes the introduction of a clear and consistent minimum standard of rights for air travellers.

“I think we have reached the point where the market cannot regulate itself,” she told CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday. “At least before you travel you will know what your rights are and how you can enforce them if they are not really followed.”

Pavlovic said, under the current framework, most people do not bother to complain, even if they feel they have been mistreated. She expects that will change once the rules are simplified.

On Thursday, Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt said the Liberal’s push to bolster air passenger rights has led to a flood of “incredibly time consuming” complaints that need to be resolved, on a one-on-one basis, by the Canada Transportation Agency (CTA), the government arm tasked with consumer protection for air travellers.

“Every investigator has to pick up the phone and call about that specific complaint, but a lot of these complaints are very similar,” she said while questioning Garneau as to why multiple grievances pertaining to one incident cannot be resolved collectively.

Garneau admitted the current process is cumbersome and blamed the spike in complaints on a lack of awareness on the part of consumers prior the government calling attention to the issue. He said the resolution process will move more quickly once the bill of rights comes into effect, adding that he expects fewer complaints overall.

“There will be a clear set of regulations in place to identify the situations where a passenger’s rights have been violated . . . They will be immediately able to deal with the airline in a case like that,” Garneau said. “As a result there will be less requirement for the CTA to get involved.”

He added that CTA dispute rulings will be able to be applied beyond the person who lodged the complaint, under the new framework.

Bill C-49 also loosens foreign ownership limits for airlines, increasing the cap to 49 per cent from the current 25 per cent, and includes new allowances for Canadian airlines to enter into joint ventures with other international carriers.

Garneau said relaxing Canada’s protections on foreign investment and partnerships will lower the cost of air travel and expand services to parts of the country that are currently underserved.

“My hope is that the change of the rules of foreign ownership from 25 per cent to 49 per cent, and to a lesser extent, joint ventures, will actually end up allowing airlines to serve more communities at a lower cost,” he said.