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.)
Not active, as of June 7, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Competition Act to authorize the Commissioner of Competition to inquire into an entire industry sector. It also provides for the imposition of an administrative monetary penalty in respect of cases of abuse of dominant position, and for an increase in the amount of administrative monetary penalties in respect of deceptive marketing cases. It repeals all provisions dealing specifically with the airline industry and criminal provisions dealing with price discrimination, predatory pricing, discriminatory promotional allowances and geographic price discrimination. The enactment also provides that the court may make an order requiring a person who made a false or misleading representation to compensate persons affected by that conduct and may issue an interim injunction to freeze assets where the Commissioner of Competition intends to ask for such an order. It also makes consequential amendments to other Acts.
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.
June 3rd, 2008 / 1 p.m.
Robert Vincent Shefford, QC
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I believe I misspoke earlier when I talked about pretending to take action or something along those lines. That is not what I meant. We can take some concrete steps. The Competition Bureau is an organization that exists, and we can ask that organization to take certain specific actions.
In my opinion, that is something that is done and that we can do. There is a bill. I don't know whether Mr. Arthur read Bill C-454 or whether he has looked at the references to the Competition Bureau. Mr. Arthur will be the first to ask why we, in Canada, are not capable of doing things on our own. The impetus always comes from the United States. I have regularly heard him serve up that line to this Committee. Today, however, he is making the opposite argument, saying that we should wait to see what they do in the United States before jumping on the bandwagon and taking action on our own. Are we not capable of doing something ourselves? Are we not capable of deciding something by ourselves? Why do we always have to wait for someone else to do it?
At the present time, we have a major problem, and when we find ourselves faced with that problem, all we do is sit around the table and wait for the price of gasoline to go up again, saying that it's a terrible thing and that we really don't know what to tell the people we represent. So, we just sit and wait until the price goes up to $2 a litre. And we wonder what caused that increase. But whether it's Peter, John or Jack, it won't change a thing in our own lives, because the price of gas is going to continue to go up.
The point is not to find out who is responsible for the rising price of gasoline, but rather, to look at what we can do to stabilize the price.
Can it be stabilized? Would it be possible to bring down the price of a barrel of oil? Could we do something to ensure that, at the refining stage, at the very least, the price does not go up further, so that a litre of gas at the pump does not cost even more? The only way that could be accomplished is with the Competition Bureau. It simply isn't possible for the price to increase by 28¢ a litre overnight. That's my own view, and I think the most effective way of dealing with this would be to work with the Competition Bureau. That is the only concrete tool we have at our disposal, and yet we are not using it, because there is no interest in doing so.
June 3rd, 2008 / 12:45 p.m.
Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON
Thank you, Mr. Chair and Mr. McTeague, for certainly an interesting issue, which we would clearly have to take a look at as to how we might proceed in the future. I think it's a separate issue but one that might be deserving of this committee to consider.
However, the item in front of us is the proposal that has been put forward, really, to give Bill C-454 essentially one day of review, line by line, on a bill that has potentially broad-reaching implications on an act that is a fundamental piece of legislation for business in our country. In the interests of trying to simply do something quickly to somehow satisfy an expectation that Parliament is responding to the particular circumstances that gas prices happen to be fuelling--sorry for the pun--and the angst that has been created in society about gas prices, I think it would be misleading to suggest that a one-day review of this bill would in any way satisfy that. At the same time, it might have the potential, without proper time to review it, to have other unintended consequences for business, and we would be stepping into that trap by doing so, so quickly.
I similarly don't favour doing this as the motion has suggested, with the greatest of respect. I suggest we continue to get our study wrapped up, continue to forge ahead on S and T. All of these other suggestions for committee business in the future I'm sure the subcommittee will take in stride and bring forward some suggestions as we move ahead into the fall.
June 3rd, 2008 / 12:45 p.m.
Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON
I just want to say that I fully understand the intent behind Ms. Brunelle's motion. It is important to let the public know that we are making progress and that we are looking at what is a very important issue for the vast majority of Canadians. It is no accident that, when we were in the Prairies, we saw that prices are much higher there than in Ontario, Quebec or British Columbia. And yet, these are the oil-producing regions of the country.
So, I think the Committee could certainly look at this, even though I believe there is an even more important matter we have to act on.
If I could be permitted, Chair, and I won't be long on this, many of the proposals in Bill C-454 were ones that I have fought for over the years. That's also one of the reasons why those are near and dear to my heart.
The reality is that the current price structures we're seeing go through the roof--not just for oil and natural gas, but for all sorts of other commodities--are very much the product of a problem at the investor end, the stock market end. It is not at the downstream at this point; we can deal with that.
But I think if you want to give real expectations and give an answer to consumers, to Canadians, on why the prices are where they are and where they're going, if anything, this committee should be spending every spare minute it has--and I don't think it has any--looking at the question of energy market manipulation and at how commodities markets have been used, not in a malicious way, but certainly as the focus for numbers that consumers now have to pay, with no end in sight.
My colleague Mr. Eyking had a Maclean's magazine, and on the front cover it said, “Life at $200 a barrel. You won't be able to eat, travel or live as you do now. Say goodbye to the age of plenty.”
This is not to quash what Madame Brunelle has said, but as I suggested before, there is a bigger issue here that we are going to have to confront one way or another. It is that the excuses of supply or the problems around the world can now be magnified and distorted beyond recognition.
I'm suggesting to the committee, as I have...and Madame Brunelle, I think I made this available to several of the members of the committee in their travel last week. These are the inventory stats from the United States, which consumes 52% of all the transportation fuel of the world. Add Canada to that and it's 58% of the world's transportation fuels. Supply has been in a fairly good position over the past five years and demand is down. On that basis alone, normal commodity markets would reflect that and the prices would be at $75 a barrel, not $125 or $126, whatever it was just a few minutes ago on Bloomberg.
I'm not quashing the idea, but I think the idea that you have in your bill here is a little late, and having fought for many of those things, I'd suggest that if the committee wants to do something pragmatic and deal with something that is contextual to the problem today, the actual problem, if we're going to spend any time, we ought to be looking at the concerns that are being raised about the adverse effects of an unbridled futures market in which capital investors who have no business being there...when neither producers nor consumers are driving the price up beyond oblivion.
Where does Canada stand in that regard? That's a good question.
Are the pension funds that are being accumulated in this country at unprecedented levels part of the problem? Are the mutual funds that are being generated in this country and around the world part of the problem? Those are questions we would have to address.
I'm suggesting to Madame Brunelle that I won't support this, simply because I don't think it is proper and I think it gives false expectations to Canadians that this is going to somehow help address the more fundamental issue of a stock market...of energy markets that are now the subject of speculation. If we don't address that, we're going to continue to talk about tinkering at the other end.
The problem is not the downstream. The problem is even before the upstream; it is those who are distorting the markets. I would suggest that this committee--and I want this on record--at its earliest opportunity do give consideration to the far more fundamental and crucial part.
I know I've said a lot, Mr. Chairman, and colleagues, thank you for this. But I think it's important that we get this on the record and that at least someone who is out there listening recognizes there is a far more fundamental problem that we have to tackle.
Price of Petroleum Products
May 26th, 2008 / 11:20 p.m.
Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am taking part in tonight's debate primarily because everything the Conservative members had to say has really made me shudder. They have tried to take the debate down another path. This debate was and is something that the people of my riding wanted. My riding, which is just north of Montreal, might seem rich, since there are many new construction projects, but there are also areas in the riding where the people are older and the houses date back to 1945, 1950 and 1960, and many people there would benefit from subsidies or assistance to heat those older houses.
My own house was built in 1950 and I have renovated it. I was not rich; I did not have an MP's salary at the time. Still, even though my house is empty most of the time—I live alone now—this year it cost me $600 more to heat it. The price of heating oil—I will refrain from naming the company I use—has risen to 94¢ a litre. I have a son who last year bought a small house that was built around 1965 and it cost him $1,200 more to heat it. He also lives alone. This is not because our houses are poorly insulated; on the contrary. Since we are knowledgeable about these things, we were able to upgrade the insulation in our houses. But our oil suppliers increased their prices. Since we have oil furnaces and oil fired hot water heaters, we are forced to pay more.
I could also describe my riding as a bedroom community. People live there but work outside the riding, mainly in Montreal. On the weekend, I again talked with people who told me that they were spending $1,000 more on gasoline. Because our roads are in such poor condition, road work is required, creating traffic congestion that means we spend more on gas.
So when I hear my Conservative friends say that the debate should be restricted to the carbon exchange or past Liberal programs, I feel that they are getting away from the real problem that people want to talk to us about.
I feel it is important that the Bloc Québécois requested this emergency debate this evening. I do not mind speaking at a quarter to midnight when I am speaking on behalf of my constituents who need dual energy programs to reduce their heating costs, who need assistance programs, if only to improve public transit, and who, because they pay taxes, also should be able to receive grants and support so that they can continue to have a certain quality of life.
My colleague, the Bloc Québécois member for Montcalm, introduced Bill C-454. I feel it is an extremely important bill. When we talk to people, they ask us to reduce gasoline taxes. It is important to understand that the current situation is hurting the public not necessarily because of the taxes, but perhaps because of the fact that no study has been done of the extent of competition in the oil industry, because of the game played by the oil companies, which claim rights for themselves, enjoy huge shameless subsidies from this government and the previous government, make exorbitant profits and pay no attention to what the public really needs.
The Bloc Québécois wants the Competition Bureau to have real investigative powers in order to see exactly what goes on, explain how the industry operates, get to the bottom of things and, especially, try to discipline this industry. Businesses make agreements with their competitors; we know that many oil companies make arrangements with one another. It is not rare to see one oil company suddenly raise its prices and on the next corner, where another oil company has a gas station, see that the price has soared again. These companies stick together. The Bloc Québécois wants the oil companies to prove that the agreements between them are not detrimental to consumers.
In the Bloc Québécois, we think that many measures could be put in place. We could focus on energy efficiency to rapidly give some leeway to Hydro-Québec, on one hand, and help consumers, on the other hand. I previously talked about dual energy. Before my present house, I had a house that we converted to dual energy. This change actually was helpful. I live in the old part of Terrebonne and I had houses that needed this type of heating system.
We also believe that the government should promote programs to encourage alternative energy so that people can take advantage of programs for wind, geothermal and solar, among others. It should also do something to help people struggling with heating costs. Proposing such programs, even on a pilot basis, could reduce the cost of fuel and heating for some families.
Our industries are also suffering because of rising fuel costs. We must not forget that to be unable to predict how much heating will cost means uncertainty for businesses that are left wondering what will happen to them. We could curb increasing fuel consumption for intercity transportation. We could also reduce the use of trucks for intercity transport. We could curb increasing fuel consumption for local freight transportation by increasing the load that trucks can transport.
I see that I do not have much time left. I know I talked about my own personal perspective, a perspective I share with many families in Blainville, Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines and Terrebonne. I am one of them. I pay for gas and heating oil, and I buy it from the same company that everyone else on my street buys it from. I am doing well because, as a member of Parliament, I get paid well, but the same cannot be said for my neighbours, who earn $35,000 or $40,000 a year, who have to commute, who have to pay for gas, and who have to listen to the nonsense we have heard tonight from the current government, nonsense that does not even offer a glimmer of hope for a way out of this. That is just terrible.
Last weekend, people knew there might be an emergency debate. This evening, I called some people and told them to watch their members and to keep an eye on the ones who rose tonight. I hope they will not forget this government's indifference.
Price of Petroleum Products
May 26th, 2008 / 11:10 p.m.
Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member from Terrebonne—Blainville.
During these 10 minutes, I would like to speak in this House about this emergency debate that was obtained by the Bloc Québécois thanks to the efforts of the member for Trois-Rivières. It is very important to tackle the issue of the price of gasoline and to find solutions. In our society, every problem has a solution. We need only make the effort and, in this case, have the political will to correct the situation. That is what we are hoping to do.
The Bloc Québécois proposed this debate because people from all segments of society have told us that we must deal with the issue, that it is important and that it is affecting consumers' lives, businesses' finances and the most disadvantaged in our society, such as seniors who, in rural and urban areas, are experiencing difficulties. Today, our public transit systems in urban and rural areas are inadequate and we have to find solutions to these problems.
I have found it very discouraging this evening that the government has no proposals and no plan. Its sole intervention is to state that market forces prevail. It says that we must live with very high prices and that we cannot solve the problem. Yet, the Bloc made some very constructive suggestions.
Barely two weeks ago, Bill C-454 was adopted in this House at second reading in order to send the bill to committee as quickly as possible and to give the Commissioner of Competition the authority to conduct an inquiry without having to prove that there is collusion. The current legislation has serious limitations that require proof of collusion in order to proceed with an inquiry. We believe that if the Commissioner of Competition were given the right to inquire in this area, we could make recommendations or suggestions to change the market organization and to find ways of dealing with the matter before us. This bill would give us a chance. This evening's debate will also give us an opportunity to talk about difficulties experienced and to encourage the government to propose solutions.
Last week I invited Frédéric Quintal, a specialist on gasoline issues, to come and give a talk in my riding. I invited the public, and about 50 people came. We had an excellent discussion. The title of his talk was “Faire le plein ou dormir au gaz”. In other words, do we stay deluded, decide to do nothing and believe that there is no way to change anything, or do we take the steps to bring about change? During this talk, I also invited a representative from ACEF, an organization that helps people with financial troubles. They run the Éconologis program, which gives residents concrete ways to reduce their heating costs in apartments and private homes.
They provide concrete measures and actions that can be implemented. They also dispel myths. It is often said that we should lower taxes in order to solve the problem of gasoline prices. In the past seven years, taxes have risen by about 55%, while gasoline itself, without taxes, has risen by 550%. There is a problem. Either we find a way to control how the market works so that there is healthy competition with useful results, or we find another way to tax oil companies who are making record profits. We have helped them out in recent years. In the last budget, their taxation rate was lowered again. This year is the ultimate year for oil companies. They are selling gasoline at record prices and, at the same time, their taxes are being reduced. Once again we are left out in the cold, and are expected to accept and tolerate the situation, without taking any action.
In my opinion, the Bloc is making a heartfelt appeal today. It is saying that the petroleum monitoring agency that was recommended by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, and the bill the Liberal government introduced before the Conservatives took office, have to be implemented. There also needs to be the will to decrease our dependence on oil. The profits made by oil companies have to result in the development of new renewable energies in order to decrease this dependence on oil. We have the means, we just need the will. The government needs to get the message and take appropriate action.
I hope that in the coming days many people in Quebec and Canada will call their MPs and say that they listened to part of the emergency debate the Bloc Québécois requested and that they will ask their MPs to take appropriate action.
I put out this call to create a broad coalition to resolve this issue last week and I have already received some responses. I will read one quickly: “In the local papers on the weekend I read of your intention to create a coalition against the rising price of gasoline. As a representative of the Parti Démocratie Chrétienne du Québec, riding of Kamouraska-Témiscouata, at the provincial level, I would like to join your cause. Are you taking action against the government or the oil companies? In any case, we have to look for solutions. Thank you for your cooperation.”
That is the kind of spirit I would like to see in this House. We saw it in the opposition parties today. Not everyone had the same solutions necessarily, but at least they had ideas. We did not see this in the Conservatives, not even those from Quebec who know all about this dependence on oil. They instead tried to tell us that nothing could be done about this.
We must end this inaction and start implementing concrete projects that can produce results. This evening, I am also appealing to all those who are watching us. Join our coalition and express your desire to see the government establish a concerted action plan to deal with the rising cost of gasoline.
Solutions have been sought for many years. Work has been done on this issue and many options have been put forward but a comprehensive solution has yet to be found.
I was spurred into action a few months ago when I met some people at my two constituency offices, in Montmagny and Rivière-du-Loup. It was the end of winter, and the price of heating oil was very high. These people told me that something should be done, that I had to set out on a mission and go ahead and put solutions forward.
That is what is behind tonight's emergency debate requested by the Bloc Québécois. It pervades the entire debate that will go on all through the evening until midnight. But come tomorrow, we will have to carry on the fight, and find ways to move forward and pull away from that dependency.
We have one more reason to act today. It is not just a matter of paying less for gas, but organizing tomorrow's society so as to foster sustainable development. We have to ensure that our children will be dealing with an acceptable energy situation, where there is room for sustainable development and renewable energy sources. We have to put an end to the polluting that is going on right now.
In the past, things like that were accomplished. At the end of the 19th century, London, England, was probably the most polluted city in the world. That pollution was due to the use of coal. Today, the air in London is cleaner than it was 100 years ago. Why? Because actions were taken. There are means to remedy the present situation and we must take them.
It may be possible to do what we want at a reasonable cost. I am all for paying taxes on gasoline if, in the end, we get services. I am in favour of oil companies making reasonable profits but today they are unreasonable. We have not yet devised the tax tools that would return that money to good use for the benefit of society as a whole. We must succeed in doing that.
We could give a lot of scientific explanations, but tonight, the message we must all understand is that we must convince the government to act. It must adopt a carefully planned strategy to get control of the gas price issue. That is necessary for our society. We must do our part for the future. It is also a better way to distribute wealth.
I call on my colleagues to continue the work. Building on the initiative of my colleague from Trois-Rivières, the government must put forward concrete solutions in the days and weeks ahead.