PUBLIC AIR CARE By John Lang (Article)
Building on the success of the Canadian Health Care System, generally acknowledged to be the most perfectly designed and efficiently delivered social program ever devised, the Canadian Government announced that it will apply the same principles to air transport.
As the prime minister explained to Peter Mansbridge last night, “Air travel in Canada will henceforth be absolutely free for Canadian citizens. We felt it was time that air travel was given its due as an essential service. I believe strongly that such services in a country as big as Canada should be available to everyone, not only those who can pay for it. Canadians should not have to put up with a US-style air transport system that caters to the wealthy. We decided to level the playing field. It’s the Canadian way.”
I phoned Flight Canada , the new agency in charge, and reached spokesperson Maurice Minderbender.
Me: “The new program seems to be popular. My wife has a flight to Toronto and claims the line-up for the airport begins near Parliament Hill”.
MM: “We’re absolutely overwhelmed – with gratitude. We knew that fee-free air travel would be popular, but did not expect such an enthusiastic endorsement from the Canadian people”.
Me: “Explain the new regulations”.
MM: “The Canada Air Transport Act (CATA) gives us a monopoly on all fights originating and terminating in Canada. We expect some unhappiness from the dozens of private airlines that are out of business as of today, but they need to understand that an activity as important as air travel cannot be subject to wasteful competition. That’s what killed Air Canada. We need to pull together to deliver the best possible service for Canadians, moving forward”.
Me: “So you’ll be taking over the private airlines?” .
MM: “We’d like to, but you have to understand that we get a fixed budget in January and have to make it last all year. Our number one priority is to manage our budget to ensure that we have sufficient funds for the dedicated air transport professionals at the heart of the system. After that, we’ll look at what else we can afford.”
Me: “Which professionals are those?”
MM: “We celebrate their diversity. They belong to the Canadian Airline Pilots Association, the Cabin Attendants Union, PIPPS, the Canadian Auto Workers, the Air Traffic Controllers Union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, among others. Canadians deserve the best and can rest assured that they will get it but, quite frankly, it will be a strain to make our current budget last all year. We expect to ask for more money quite soon but I am confident that Canadians are willing to invest more in the system to avoid unfairness or cuts in service.”
Me: “If the private carriers are grounded, will Flight Canada be taking up the slack? I’m thinking of routes like the Red Deer to Lethbridge commuter run.”
MM: “No way. We’ve got our plate full with really essential air services, like between Ottawa and anywhere, and we cannot allow that kind of day-tripping to suck away our limited budget. The oil executives will just have to realize that just because air travel is now free they do not have license to fritter away our precious resources. They should accept that Canadians’ priorities might be different than theirs and make the necessary adjustment.”
Me: “Why not just let them continue to pay for their commute?”
MM: “That would contravene the cherished principles of the CATA. Canadians reject that kind of two-tiered system, except in Quebec where asymmetrical federalism provides for it -- the Rimouski-Chibougamou flights will continue to operate.”
Just then my cell phone beeped. My wife was furious about the line-up to the airport, which had not budged.
Me: “Has Flight Canada installed additional electronic check-ins to handle the increased demand?”
MM: “Afraid not. Fancy electronic equipment is an unconscionable drain on resources that would be better directed towards our dedicated air transport professionals. Besides, we removed all of the existing electronic check-ins to make room for the triage units.”
Me: “Triage units?”
MM: “To ensure efficiency. As every passenger presents us with a cost but no longer brings in any revenue, we have to make sure that people have a legitimate reason to be flying. Triage will sort out which trips will be allowed. Of course this is just an interim measure. When we can afford it, we will hire additional staff to undertake needs analysis a few months before each requested flight. If it’s legit, they will issue a flight prescription it would be our pleasure to fill as soon as we possibly can. By the way, tell your wife that Triage will insist on seeing her Flight Canada ID Card. She can pick one up by appointment any Wednesday afternoon at conveniently located offices across Canada. Bring plenty of ID”.
Me: “I think I’ll advise her to take the train or bus to Toronto.”
MM: “Better hurry. The morning meeting of dedicated air transport professionals is about to begin and I know that the first item on Chairman Buzz Hargrove’s agenda is the co-ordination/integration of competing means of transport, especially those that unfairly undermine air travel. Canada’s public universal, single payer, air transport system defines this country and reflects its values. Canadians are not willing to see it gutted by alternative services that cherry pick the cash patients, I mean passengers. They won’t stand for queue jumping, and neither will Buzz.”
Tags: John Lang