Bill C-454 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.
Roger Gaudet Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Private Members' Business
March 10th, 2011 / 6:50 p.m.
France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in the House on Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Competition Act (inquiry into industry sector) introduced by my colleague from Shefford.
Bill C-452 proposes to amend the Competition Act to give more power to the Competition Bureau. I would like to start by congratulating my colleague for this fine and very important private member’s bill. I think this is a subject that is dear to his heart and I want to salute the quality of the work he has done.
The amendment proposed by my colleague from Shefford will allow the Commissioner of Competition to initiate inquiries of his own accord into fluctuations in the price of gasoline, if there are reasonable grounds for doing so. It will therefore no longer be necessary to wait for complaints to be filed before making an inquiry. If this bill is enacted, the Competition Bureau will be better equipped to combat companies that might profit from their dominant market position to pick consumers’ pockets.
Every time gas prices rise, the governments hands us the same answer: nothing can be done, the Competition Bureau has concluded there was no agreement among the oil companies to fix prices. The truth is that there are a number of flaws in the present act. It does not allow the Competition Bureau to initiate inquiries. And when there is an inquiry, the Competition Bureau cannot really do anything with them because at present it cannot compel the production of documents or protect witnesses. Bill C-452 would eliminate these flaws by allowing the Bureau to initiate inquiries and allowing the federal Trade Tribunal to protect witnesses and seize relevant documents.
If the act is not amended, gas prices will continue to fluctuate with no justification, as is the case at present. And it will again, and still, be consumers who will continue to pay for the more dubious practices on the part of the oil companies.
Gas prices fluctuating is one thing. It is another thing when they rise stealthily and without justification. Recently, prices at the pump rose because of the political instability in north Africa. In just a few hours, prices rose spectacularly. That is completely bizarre, when we know that the events that occurred in north Africa had at that point not yet had any impact on the cost of refined gasoline that was already in Quebec. That practice is nothing more nor less than a way of making even more money on the backs of consumers, and there is a lot. It is estimated that because of collusion, retailers have overcharged Quebec consumers by as much as $100 million.
The Bloc Québécois recently supported Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act, to fix price errors at the pump. But that bill does not solve the problems of collusion like the ones recently disclosed in Quebec and does not prevent sudden increases in the price of gas. The Conservative government claims that its initiative will save the public a lot of money. Gas consumption in Canada, calculated over a full year, is so high that it is completely foolish to think that bill can have any impact on consumers’ wallets. That is why we in the Bloc Québécois believe that in order to respond effectively to gas price increases, Bill C-452 must be enacted. This bill is the only thing that will have a real impact on prices at the pump.
For years, the Bloc Québécois has been pressuring the federal government to finally take action to address the rising cost of petroleum products. It has dogged the Liberal government of the day so that it would follow up on the recommendations made in 2003 by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. In October 2005, just before the election, the federal government finally listened to the Bloc Québécois' arguments and decided to amend the Competition Act through Bill C-19. That legislation broadened the Competition Bureau's authority to investigate and increased the maximum penalty for conspiracy. However, Bill C-19 did not follow up on all the committee's recommendations. As we know, that legislation, which was only an election ploy, died on the order paper with the election call, and we certainly could not count on the Conservative government to bring it back.
In 2007, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-454, which also died on the order paper, when the election of 2008 was called.
In 2009, the Conservatives took part of the bill and included it in the budget implementation act. However, they did not see fit to allow the Competition Bureau to initiate investigations. That is why the hon. member for Shefford came back again with Bill C-452. The recent years clearly show that neither the Conservatives, nor the Liberals acted to protect consumers. By contrast, the Bloc Québécois is taking action.
For the Bloc Québécois, the only effective way to deal with the rising cost of gas is to use a global strategy. That strategy is three-pronged: to bring the industry into line, to make it contribute, and to reduce our dependency on oil.
First, we must bring the oil industry into line. The initiative of my colleague for Shefford supports that approach. It is also necessary to set up a true monitoring agency for the oil sector.
Second, the oil industry must make a contribution. With the increase of costs and oil company profits, it is important that the latter pay their fair share of taxes. How can we accept that consumers are getting poorer, while oil companies are getting richer?
Despite the recent recession and despite the rise in the price of gas, oil companies are posting record sales. In 1995, the Canadian oil and gas sector posted combined sales of $25 billion. By 2008, this figure had climbed to $148 billion. That is an increase of nearly 600%.
Now let us talk about profits. In 2003, Canada's oil sector made $17.6 billion in profits. In 2008, it made $79 billion. In other words, the net profits of Canada's oil sector more than quadrupled in just five years. The Bloc members feel that the party must end for the oil companies.
But obviously the Conservatives do not feel that way. In 2003, they supported the Liberal government's move to reduce the overall tax rate for oil companies from 28% to 21%. With the changes brought in by the Liberals, supported by the Conservatives, taxes for Canada's oil sector became more advantageous than in Texas.
But that is not enough. In 2007, in their economic statement, the Conservatives introduced tax cuts for oil companies that would see their tax rates drop to 15% in 2012. These tax cuts will enable the oil companies to pocket approximately $3.6 billion in 2012. These figures make it clear that the federal government chooses to give priority to the interests of the oil companies, at the expense of consumers.
I do not know how the Conservative members justify this to their constituents, but I know that when I meet my constituents from Compton—Stanstead, not a single one tells me that the gifts to the oil companies are justified. On the contrary, the people I meet feel cheated by this Conservative government, a government that is in league with an industry that exploits consumers' dependence on oil.
The third component of the approach proposed by the Bloc Québécois has to do with reducing consumers' dependence on oil. This makes sense and it is perfectly in line with Quebec's efforts to fight global warming. The less gas that we consume, the less money the industry will pocket and the better off our planet will be.
Fairness at the Pumps Act
May 12th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC
How can investigative powers be given to an institution when it must bow to the will of the minister or when this institution is only able to take action after receiving a complaint?
The Bloc Québécois wonders why it takes a complaint and a request by the minister to set the wheels in motion. If the Competition Bureau has information pointing to collusion, it should be able to initiate an inquiry immediately.
Still in 2003, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology concluded its study on fluctuating gasoline prices with some recommendations. The first was to create a petroleum monitoring agency. The second was to toughen up the Competition Act.
According to the committee, this agency would have been able to clear up confusion among the general public regarding the price of gas by providing existing data to the public. The agency would have overseen all aspects of this activity.
That same year, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology spelled out the changes it wanted to see made to the Competition Act.
Obviously the Bloc Québécois agrees with this recommendation and it pushed for the government to respect the work of the committee and agree to implement this monitoring body, something it did not do. In response to the committee, the government of the day said it did not feel it was necessary to create this monitoring agency and it argued for the status quo.
In 2005, the Liberal Party of Canada had proposed, through Bill C-19, amendments to the Competition Act allowing for measures to mitigate rising gas prices. Note that, once again, the government did not incorporate the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology into its Bill C-19. The committee had recommended reversing the burden of proof to address agreements between competitors and to make it possible for the Competition Tribunal to award damages to parties affected by restrictive trade practices, where applicable.
The purpose of the first recommendation was to make it the responsibility of the parties wishing to enter into an agreement between competitors to prove the ultimate social value of that agreement. The second recommendation of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology would have made the pendulum swing back the other way since measures restricting the business practices of the guilty parties could have been imposed.
You can guess what happened. Bill C-19 died on the order paper since it was introduced just before the election. That is why, in 2007, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-454. That bill made it to second reading stage, but another election saw the Bloc Québécois bill scrapped. In 2009, a little more recently, the Bloc Québécois noted that the Conservative government had adopted part of Bill C-454. Nonetheless, the government does not think it is necessary for the Competition Bureau to initiate its own investigations.
It is clear that in 2010 nothing much has changed. The flow of information has not improved much and there is no agency governing the attitude of the oil companies, quite the contrary.
The government must deal with problems of fairness swiftly and I want to know what it is waiting for to take action. Consumers are sick of bearing the cost of fluctuating prices at the pump.
Business of Supply
April 23rd, 2009 / 4:55 p.m.
Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC
Madam Speaker, first off, I would like to point out that I will be sharing my time with the member for Jeanne-Le Ber.
I am pleased to speak today to the motion by the New Democratic Party to introduce comprehensive legislation relating to the problem of credit cards.
Bearing in mind consumer vulnerability in the current crisis, the Bloc supports the motion. However, when the government introduces this legislation, it will have to make sure it respects the areas of jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. In Quebec, consumer protection legislation has been in force since 1971. It sets out strict requirements regarding contracts for credit cards of all sorts. It will be important therefore to respect Quebec's expertise and jurisdiction. Once again, the Quebec nation has taken the lead over the Canadian federation in protecting its merchants and its consumers. In addition, the organization known as Option consommateurs sees that the rules are followed.
In order to understand the development of credit cards, we have to understand the principle of habit, almost obligation, created by the major credit card companies.
And what of Quebeckers' and Canadians' financial situation? It is true that debt is a major problem in the country. According to a survey done by the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada in the spring of 2007, 84% of Canadians reported being in debt, 14% of all Canadians reported a significant increase in their debt and, most notably, 40% of Quebeckers and Canadians in debt believe that their debt hurts their chances of being financially secure in the event of unforeseen circumstances. In the spring of 2007, the current recession was just starting. The current government did not even realize that there was a recession. Let us not forget the remarks by the Prime Minister during the 2008 election campaign.
The level of Canadians' and Quebeckers' personal savings has decreased hugely since the 1980s, dropping from a high of 20.2% in 1982 to a low of 1.2% in 2005.
It is true that the spread between the Bank of Canada's key lending rate and credit card interest rates is growing. To help Canadians and Quebeckers, the Bank of Canada lowered its key lending rate several times to today's level of 0.25%, the lowest in Canadian history. Recession oblige, you might say.
In the case of the major credit card companies, a credit card should be a matter of choice for individual consumers, but is that really the case? Just try to book a hotel room without a credit card. This is just one example.
Because of cuts by the federal government to transfers to the provinces, Quebec has had to cut funding to home economics organizations, many providing information on credit.
However, business oblige, and the major credit card companies, MasterCard and Visa, not to mention any names, are working miracles to make access to supposedly easy credit all the easier, but in tandem with a rate of interest to consumers often over 20%. Consumers increasingly use credit cards as a method of payment. We should therefore expect credit card charges to drop.
Despite increased volumes of sales, reduced fraud, lower interest rates and improved technology, credit card rates continue to rise. It seems that the main problem involves information and awareness about the benefits and the risks of credit.
A survey by Nanos Research has revealed that 55% of Canadians have a poor understanding of the costs of credit cards—63% think that the charges increase without a corresponding increase in terms of value and 67% think that the credit card companies do not explain their charges clearly.
Another survey ordered by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business shows that 82% of Quebec card holders support having the credit card industry more strictly regulated.
And what about merchants? The credit card companies charge those who accept a credit card from customers doing business with them. Approximately 10¢ is currently charged merchants on average for each debit transaction, regardless of the amount of the purchase. Credit card transactions average $45 per transaction. The credit card companies are preparing to increase transaction fees charged retailers. The consumer does not see these fees. They currently represent about 2% regardless of the amount of the transaction. Applying a hypothetical charge of 1% would represent, then, 45¢, an increase of over 400%. Who, but the consumer, do you think, is going to pay this dizzying increase?
On top of that, Canadian retailers have higher hidden costs than do retailers in other industrialized countries. True, the major banks and financial institutions reap a significant profit from this. In 2007, alone, the fees amounted to $4.5 billion in Canada.
Most credit cards are issued by a limited number of companies. Visa and Mastercard control close to 85% of the credit card market, and this gives them total freedom to impose charges and conditions on retailers. One might therefore wonder whether the hikes in hidden fees might not be a sign of abuse of a dominant position. In order to ensure that there is no abuse by issuing companies, the Bloc Québécois contacted the Competition Bureau this past January in order to have the commissioner examine the issue. The Bureau's powers are limited, however.
This is why the Bloc Québécois introduced a bill to reinforce the Competition Act during the last parliament, Bill C-454. That bill would have given the Competition Bureau the power to carry out its own real investigations into the industry. At the present time it cannot, on its own, do more than general studies that have no clout. With its own investigations, it will be able to summon witnesses and protect them. If the companies conspire together on price-fixing, they will leave no proof of having done so.If witnesses cannot be summoned and protected, it is very likely that no anti-competitive practice will ever be proven. When businesses want to enter into agreements with their competition, they will have to prove that such agreements are in the public interest. At present, these agreements with competitors are allowed, unless it can be successfully proven that they are contrary to the public interest.
This is not all the Bloc Québécois has done. Following on representations by the Quebec coalition of merchants opposed to the increase in transaction fees on credit and debit cards, my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain and I got the following motion passed by the Standing Committee on Finance.
That the Finance Committee conduct a study of the various debit and credit card transaction fees imposed on merchants as well as the standard and transactional practices that justify them and report its observations and recommendations to the House.
This study will be undertaken shortly, in the next few weeks. It will make it possible to hear from a number of witnesses as well as various stakeholders. This will enable the committee to formulate its recommendations to the government. These could then serve as the basis for the legislative measure called for in the motion presented today by the NDP.
As I said, the Bloc Québécois is therefore in favour of the motion, because consumers need legislation to ensure they are protected. The Bloc will, however, ensure that this legislative measure introduced by the government fully respects the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
June 17th, 2008 / 11:05 a.m.
The Chair James Rajotte
I'll just go through the three items that the subcommittee agreed to. It was agreed that the committee travel to Toronto, Waterloo, Montreal, Sydney, Boston, and Washington; and we will try to go Halifax, and to Sydney for sure. It's for the period, September 15 to 19, 2008, for the purposes of visiting sites and hearing testimony related to the study of science and technology in Canada.
As for the second item, it was agreed that the committee hold meetings for the purpose of receiving testimony relating to Bill C-454 at meetings scheduled for October 7, 9, 21, and 23, 2008.
In the third and final item, it was agreed that the Subcommittee on Oil and Gas and Other Energy Pricing meet on Wednesday, August 27, for two separate two-hour panels, and that possible additional meetings be scheduled as required.
Is the subcommittee report agreed to?
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
Statements By Members
June 16th, 2008 / 2:10 p.m.
Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, the citizens in my riding are exasperated by the rising price of gas. The people of Haut-Saint-Maurice have taken action to make the government aware of this.
Jacques Bouchard from La Tuque is circulating a petition. More than 1,900 names have been collected, and I salute this initiative.
People in the so-called remote regions do not all have access to public transit. They sometimes use more than 30% of their net income to buy gas to get to work. People who are planning their summer vacations are worried. The tourist season may be jeopardized in a number of regions, such as Haut-Saint-Maurice.
In order to support this civic action, I also launched a petition in my riding, calling on the government, among other things, to quickly adopt Bill C-454 introduced by the Bloc Québécois. I will be presenting this petition shortly.
June 13th, 2008 / 11:35 a.m.
Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry
Mr. Speaker, first of all, the Bloc member does not understand his own bill. Bill C-454 would do nothing to lower the price of gas.
The government is taking action because we will not tolerate high gas prices. If we look at what the Bloc proposes in its platform, it is a $500 million increase in taxes for petroleum companies. As always, the Bloc members say one thing, but their platform says the other.
We will not tolerate high gas prices.
June 13th, 2008 / 11:35 a.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, if these are the first charges since 1955, that is proof that the law is not working. The Bloc Québécois wants to give the Competition Bureau some teeth through Bill C-454. Having the ability to shed some light on an entire industrial sector will reduce the risk of price fixing. The Prime Minister knows all too well that this situation is not unique or limited to service stations. He must pick a side: consumers or oil cartels.
June 12th, 2008 / 1:55 p.m.
Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON
Chair, more headlines this morning are suggesting that a barrel of oil will be at $250 by December. Energy costs are going through the roof. I realize that we have set a date of August 27 to discuss this urgent matter, and we may be able to dovetail it with Bill C-454. I'm suggesting that if it is at all possible, with consent, we as a committee try to at least give a couple of hours to what is a growing concern.
I don't know if it's speculators on the markets or if it's in fact rabid competition for scare resources that's driving this, but clearly there has been no Canadian response, very little in the way of anything by this committee, and certainly nothing from a governmental point of view, addressing what I think is the most critical issue facing the country, regardless of where we are in the political spectrum.
I leave it to the committee that we try to have at least a day well before that. I realize that some of us have great obligations, but if we could at least find a day well before August 27, which is about two and a half months from now, I suggest we try to delve into that for at least a day. I realize it's very onerous on members, but I think all of us are getting the letters; all of us are getting concerns.
As for the issue of Bill C-454, we're prepared to go as soon as possible, even if that means sitting during the summer.
June 12th, 2008 / 1:50 p.m.
June 5th, 2008 / 12:30 p.m.
The Chair James Rajotte
I call the meeting back to order. We have two motions before us today.
I want to touch upon two items before we go to the motions. As those of you who were on the trip know, at the end of the trip, on the bus, I read out the main topics emerging in this study we're doing on science and technology. The research document has been put together by Eleanor and will be e-mailed later today. I'd like members to review the list. This is something we'll constantly review as we go through the study. If there are any more topics or any questions, please ask Eleanor. I think it's an excellent way to keep the main topics at the top of our minds.
Second, there will be a subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, June 10, at 10 a.m. There are at least two issues I want to discuss there, and if you have more items, please let me know. We should talk about Bill C-454. We have to report the bill back by October 26 or 27, so we need to decide exactly how we'll handle it.
We should also talk about travel and doing the central and eastern parts of the trip in the fall.
If anyone has any further items, you can let me know after the meeting.
Now we'll go to the motions by Mr. Eyking and Ms. Nash. You should have them both before you.
Mr. Eyking, we'll have you introduce your motion.