Tory Motion to Return to Pre-Pandemic Travel Rules Defeated

Tory Motion to Return to Pre-Pandemic Travel Rules Defeated
Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 10, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Noé Chartier

A Conservative Party motion to ask the government to revert to pre-pandemic rules for air travel to reduce airport wait times was defeated today in the House of Commons.

The motion, tabled by Conservative MP and transport critic Melissa Lantsman, was mostly only supported by members of her own party. Liberal MP Joël Lightbound, who publically criticized his party's COVID-19 restrictions in February, also voted in favour.

The motion, defeated 202 to 117, said a return to pre-pandemic rules and services is needed to deal with “unacceptable wait times” in airports.

It also said that the current restrictions are “ineffective,” that other allied countries have lifted COVID-19 restrictions at airports and other points of entry, and that the measures are hurting Canada's economy.

“We have not been able to find anyone who has told the government to keep the legacy health restrictions and the assault on mobility rights in place,” said Lantsman in her speech presenting the motion on May 19.

“That leads us on this side of the House to believe that there is no evidence, there are no metrics and there is no good reason, other than the ideological drive to punish those who do not agree with the government.”

Some Liberal MPs countering the motion avoided addressing the matter directly but criticized the Conservatives.

“Is it not the case that the Conservatives are quite selective when it comes to their concerns about economic damage? Will the member clearly denounce the protesters who caused so much economic harm earlier this year?” said Annie Koutrakis, parliamentary secretary to the minister of transport, in reference to the Freedom Convoy protests and blockades earlier this year demanding the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

Koutrakis later said she hears from Canadians "every day" who are angry about the ongoing mandates, but that public discontent was not enough reason to lift them.

"Like them, I would like to put this long ordeal behind us, and yet COVID is not behind us. It is very much still in our midst. One lesson that many Canadians learned over the course of this pandemic was the danger of relaxing public health measures prematurely," she said.

Bloc Québécois MPs also defended the current restrictions and deplored the low uptake of booster shots in Canada.

“The motion states that ‘current restrictions have been ineffective’. The science, however, says something completely different,” said MP Luc Désilets.

“This morning, the papers were reporting that Canada's third-dose vaccination rate ranks second last among G7 countries. Our vaccination rate is apparently 54.3%. What is my colleague's response to that?”

NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said he agreed with many points from Lantsman’s speech, but asked why the motion does not offer solutions regarding staffing to address current delays. He noted a staffing shortage was the main factor contributing to delays according to testimony at the transport committee from the Canadian Airports Council.

"Removing all of the pandemic measures and pandemic rules is not going to address the massive staffing shortage,” said Bachrach.

“One of the ways we can solve that is to bring back all of the people that the government fired because of the federal vaccine mandates,” replied Lantsman.

Transport Canada (TC) announced on May 27 that it was taking specific measures to address wait times, including creating a joint committee with stakeholder agencies to address bottlenecks at pre-board security screening and pre-clearance departure checkpoints.

TC also said both the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) were hiring more staff to increase processing capacity.

The federal government has moved slowly in removing restrictions compared to other domestic and foreign jurisdictions, taking an incremental approach to easing border rules and keeping vaccine mandates in place.

Meanwhile, travel has increased among Canadians as other pandemic restrictions have disappeared, leading to lengthy delays in passport renewals and applications.

“We knew that with the economy starting to open up, with COVID starting to be in the rearview mirror, or at least getting into a manageable phase, more people would want to travel,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on May 24 in addressing the wait times to obtain a new passport.

“Ultimately, it is good news that people are starting to travel again," he added. "It's great to put this pandemic somewhat behind us even though we know we continue to have to be vigilant and we're working to solve the challenges around passports as quickly as we possibly can.”