MONTREAL — A coalition of business leaders in Canada’s largest cities is putting pressure on Ottawa to reduce security screening times and cut travelling costs to bolster a prime engine of the country’s 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 will unveil a series of recommendations Thursday morning 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 Canada’s top seven airports collectively contribute $59 billion of economic activity and support 272,000 jobs.
The group 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 expects 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 added.
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 reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving 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 has driven 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.
Air Canada says it supports initiatives that foster growth at Canadian airports and reduce high taxes and fees.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced in November that the government will work to reduce waits at airport security to international standards and introduce an air passenger rights regime.
The voice for Canada’s airports said it’s optimistic that years of talk will result in changes in the country’s airport policy.
“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, president of the Canadian Airports Council.
Montreal Board of Trade president Michel Leblanc said the coalition will push the government to adopt changes 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.”
After addressing airports, the coalition plans to speak out on other subjects including infrastructure and the availability of skilled workers.