Fairness at the Pumps Act

An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Tony Clement  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the imposition of administrative monetary penalties for contraventions to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act. It also provides for higher maximum fines for offences committed under each of those Acts and creates new offence provisions for repeat offenders.

The enactment also amends the Weights and Measures Act to require that traders cause any device that they use in trade or have in their possession for trade to be examined within the periods prescribed by regulation. That new requirement is to be enforced through a new offence provision. The enactment also provides the Minister of Industry with the authority to designate persons who are not employed in the federal public administration as inspectors to perform certain examinations.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, members will recall that when I was speaking yesterday I began by praising the member for Windsor West for his determination to force the government to take measures to stop the rip-off of ordinary Canadian families through both gas price gouging that we have seen across this country and from the whole issue of faulty gas pumps, pumps that do not give us the gas for which we are paying.

Even though the government has known about this issue for two years, and despite election promises to the contrary where it said that it would take action, rather than intervening and doing something, it has finally come forward with this bill. However, it is only because of pressure from the member for Windsor West and the entire NDP caucus pushing the Conservative government to finally take action.

As we know, the Conservatives love their gravy train and the gravy train that they give to financial institutions, the petroleum companies and telecommunications companies which does not seem to have a limit. No matter how much the public is ripped off, the Conservatives seem to feel that is okay. However, it is increasingly not okay with the public, which is why the member for Windsor West and his work is so important in this House.

Bill C-14, which is before us today, is a poor half-measure but we would not even have this poor half-measure before the House if it were not for the work of the member for Windsor West.

What we have seen from the Conservatives since they have come to power is progressively allowing the public to be ripped off and ordinary Canadian families to have their pockets picked without any sort of intervention or any sort of government responsibility being taken. We have the finance minister who, after it became clear that there was a major rip-off by financial institutions of ordinary Canadian families, wrote a letter to those financial institutions. That was the sum total of his work.

We see the same thing when we talk about gas price rip-offs. It has been very clear for years that gas prices were being manipulated. The large and incredibly profitable petroleum companies jack up world prices and automatically the retail price goes up and the retailers, the mom and pop operations, have no choice. I have talked to many of them and they say that they are being told to raise prices immediately. They have to live with that despite the fact that it is local people who are most impacted. The world prices go up on old stock and prices spike up, with windfall profits. Over the course of a weekend, particularly holiday weekends when there is a lot of travelling, those prices are maintained.

The world prices may change and they may go down. The new stock comes in at a lower wholesale price but those high prices are maintained. They are jacked up immediately on old stock, with windfall profits there, and then as new stock comes in at a lower price, the prices are maintained for more windfall profits. The petroleum companies do not want to be too greedy. They know the degree of public tolerance of their practices is really coming to an end. They are testing public tolerance every year, so reluctantly they bring the prices down to something more akin to what actually matches the wholesale price.

We have known this for years and have seen this happen for years. Ordinary Canadian families, whether they live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, in Atlantic Canada, in central Canada in Ontario or Quebec, have to live with these rip-offs and the government has steadfastly refused to do anything to stand up for ordinary Canadian families at all, not one intervention.

We now come to the issue of the gas pump rip-offs, because this has been known for years as well. A study done by the Ottawa Citizen revealed that between 1999 and 2007, government inspections found that about 5% of pumps delivered less fuel than what was reported on the pump display, which means that 10,000 fuel pumps were overcharging hard-working ordinary Canadian families who are working harder and harder for less and less pay.

We also have seen a fall in real income over the last 20 years. The only people who are doing well in this country are the very wealthy who now take most of the income pie. That is something Conservatives do not like to talk about, but it is a reality just the same.

On the Liberal watch and on the Conservative watch, we have seen a hollowing out of the middle class. Poor Canadians have become much poorer and the wealthy now take most of that pie. They just sit down and gobble up most of the pie. What is left for the vast majority of Canadian families is a smaller and smaller piece of pie. Year after year, the wealthy take a larger and larger chunk, the middle class and poor Canadians a smaller and smaller chunk, and that is why real incomes have descended, even though the average Canadian family and the average Canadian worker is working harder than ever. Overtime has gone up over a third in the same period. We are seeing Canadian families struggling to make ends meet and working harder and harder for less and less pay.

As part of that whole dynamic, we have seen the government's inability to stand up for Canada. On the Conservative watch and the Liberal watch, we have seen the loss of half a million manufacturing jobs. Those were good, family sustaining jobs that were thrown out of the country by bad trade deals and dysfunctional trade policy. As a result, people are taking whatever job they can get, whether it is temporary or part time, which is often the case. The number of burger flippers in the country is expanding monumentally. The Conservatives love to stand up and say that, sure, we have lost half a million manufacturing jobs but we have created 400,000 burger flipper jobs. They somehow think that Canadians should praise them for replacing good, family sustaining jobs for jobs that are part time, temporary and low-paying. Somehow the Conservatives feel that they are economic geniuses in having achieved that end, the hollowing out of the Canadian economy, putting all of the Canadian economic levers into Bay Street, so that if one is a wealthy financial speculator, one is wealthier than ever, and nothing for middle class families.

That is where we come to the issue of the fuel pumps. We have 10,000 fuel pumps pumping less fuel than ordinary, hard-working Canadian families are paying for and the government has done nothing to intervene. It says nothing about this being absolutely outrageous. It does nothing to refund the tax it is getting from the consumers who are paying for less fuel than they receive. It has done nothing to organize an ombudsman department, as the member for Windsor West has called for, so that consumers would have somebody to go to, an ombudsman who would stand up for them. No, the Conservatives do not do that. They do not talk about refunds or any sort of compensation. They allow the rip-offs to go on for years and then finally but reluctantly, faced by enormous pressure from the NDP, they decide to bring in Bill C-14.

What does that do? Does it create the ombudsman office that consumers have been calling for? No. Does it actually allow for a refund or compensation for the years of rip-offs? No. Does it allow for any sort of refund of tax for what the government received from the consumers who were being ripped off? No.

What it does do is it allows for inspection. That is important, except that in most countries there is an impartial government inspection service. The Conservatives decide that what they can see as a profit centre. These mom and pop retailers and other retailers would now have to deal with mandatory inspections, which is a good thing. We would increase the number of government inspectors who would ensure those fuel pumps are accurate, which is also a good thing. However, instead of doing that, the Conservatives said no. They said that they would allow private companies to come in and the mom and pop retailers would have to pay whatever the private companies decide they will pay so that they have these mandatory inspections. It is not as if the mom and pop operations can stop it. They do need to have the inspection, which is not a bad thing if the government provided the service out of our taxes. However, instead of doing that, the retailers would now have to pay whatever the private companies charge.

The member for Elmwood—Transcona spoke to this bill yesterday and what he said was extremely relevant.

This is just another example of how badly this government has attacked and let down rural and northern Canadians. We see it time and time again. We saw it with the softwood lumber sellout. It is as if the Conservatives did not care about the softwood lumber industry and signed the deal because they could spin it any way they wanted. It is as if they do not care how many northern and rural jobs were lost and they really do not care about northern and rural Canada. That is the Conservative message, whether we are talking about the softwood lumber sellout, about this kind of bill, or about a whole range of issues.

As we well know, the worst farmer seats in the country are in Alberta. The provincial Conservative government and the federal Conservative government are bad news for Alberta farmers. The worst farmer seats in the country are in the province of Alberta because Conservatives do not give a damn about rural or northern Canadians. They just do not.

What the Conservatives care about is Bay Street and the petroleum industry's CEOs. They care about a very narrow range of interests. They care about lobbyists. But when it comes to rural and northern Canadians, they do not give a damn. We can see this in Bill C-14, as the member for Elmwood—Transcona said.

Perhaps this idea of privatizing and allowing private companies to enforce mandatory inspections may work in urban Canada where there is some competition. In rural and northern Canada when the private companies, perhaps the petroleum companies, decide that they are going to run the inspection operations they are going to charge whatever they want. The mom and pop operations are just going to have to suck it up because that is the attitude of this Conservative government. It will make sure that the local mom and pop operations in rural and northern Canada are forced to pay whatever the big private companies want to force them to pay. Couple that with everything else that is not in this bill that should have been.

The fact is that the government waited for years and allowed the ripoffs to go on for years before it chose to do anything about it. It took goading and determination from the NDP once again to force the government to do anything. After all of that we see it is not even a half measure in dealing with gas price ripoffs.

The government, in an attempt at irony I imagine, tried to say this is the fairness at the pumps act. Very clearly, it is not fair. It does not deal with gas price gouging. Yes, it deals with mandatory inspections, but in a way that penalizes mom and pop retailers. It does not tell the petroleum companies that they were wrong to allow this practice to continue for so long. The government does not say mea culpa and that it is sorry. Consumers need the government to say it is sorry that it allowed the ripoffs and that it will make it right.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened to the latter half of the speech by the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster regarding Bill C-14. He lives in a community in a province in which the wholesale price of gasoline tends to be a little higher than that in the rest of the country. He will recall that the mantra of the oil industry many years ago was to have Canadians pay world prices for fuel.

I wonder if the hon. member would care to comment on the fact that each and every day in Vancouver and region the wholesale price of gasoline and the price people pay at the pumps, ex tax, is 9¢ a litre above world prices.

I understand the member has taken some liberties with the issue of the Ottawa Citizen article a couple of years ago. I want to assure the hon. member that a 93.11% compliance rate in the retail gasoline sector, according to Measurement Canada, gives it the second highest rating of most industries in this country. It is perhaps a question of a dragon slayer in search of a dragon.

More specific to the question, I wonder if the hon. member could tell us what he thinks of the 9¢ a litre ripoff occurring in Vancouver today.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:20 a.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I am aware, as are all members, of the member's work on this issue. He has been very dogged. The member for Elmwood—Transcona mentioned that it is the Liberal Party that allowed this originally. I think we make a distinction between the party and the member, and the member has done an exemplary job. He has put a lot of effort into the issue of gas prices. We need more members to take an interest in this issue.

I would disagree with him on the compliance issue. I know he knows the file exceedingly well, but the reality is the compliance rate should be higher. That is why we are dealing with the bill today.

What is happening in the Lower Mainland is extremely problematic. What we have seen regularly in the Lower Mainland in British Columbia is the jacking up of prices. I described earlier, that particularly around holiday weekends we see an immediate spike up and a long and prolonged high level of what can only be called windfall profits, a high level of gas prices despite the fact that old stock is coming into the system at the lower price and then when new stock comes in at a lower price, as well, we see a maintained price level that is far higher than is justified. It is very clear from the studies that have been done by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, among others, that this leads to enormous multi-million dollar windfall profits taken from consumers, ordinary families, in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and other parts of Canada on a regular and sustained basis. This is unacceptable. That is why we pushed the government to take action. We are going to continue to push the government to take even more action. It is unacceptable that it is allowing the ripoff of ordinary Canadian families.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:25 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member made an excellent presentation on Bill C-14.

Clearly, the issue here is the empowering of the Commissioner of Competition to act against price fixing. The government has moved against monopolistic practices in real estate at least twice in the last 20 years, and against travel agents and other groups. The question is, if the government can enforce competition in real estate, travel and other industries, why can it not do something about price fixing in retail gas pricing?

To that end, the Bloc has introduced Bill C-452 which accomplishes exactly that. If the government is interested in actually doing something that would get to the root of the problem in this country, then perhaps the government should be looking at supporting the Bloc bill and allowing the Commissioner of Competition to conduct an inquiry into this issue.

Over 125 studies have been done over the last 20 years in the area of price fixing at the pump. The fact of the matter is pretty much everybody concludes that we cannot get a conviction under the current legislation. The key is to change the legislation. That is what we should be doing in this House.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:25 a.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona is absolutely right.

I think what bothers most Canadian families is the government's absolute refusal to act and its refusal to allow a real attempt to shut down what is monopolistic practices. There is no other way to put it when we see all the major petroleum companies moving their prices in sync. Even though there me be a few hours' difference from one to the other, there is very clearly a problem.

The Competition Bureau has to be beefed up. These kinds of practices have to stop. Yet we are seeing a government that simply refuses to act. When the big companies and corporate lobbyists come cap in hand, the government is ready to shell out tens of billions of dollars at the drop of a hat. We have seen that. It is willing to spend a billion dollars for a fake lake in a few minutes. It is willing to spend $16 billion to $19 billion on jets, even though those fighter jets have problematic financial repercussions. We are seeing a number of other countries starting to back off on the purchase because of the concern around open-ended financial liability.

The government takes all kinds of decisions every day that are worth billions of dollars, without any understanding of the impact. Having been a financial administrator before I was elected to Parliament, I can say that these folks do not know how to manage money. The Conservatives have no idea how to manage money. That is why we have record deficits. They are unable to say no to a corporate lobbyist. That is part of the problem and they are financially inept. That is the other part of the problem.

That is why Conservative governments simply do not manage money as well as NDP governments do. That is understandable. NDP governments are composed of ordinary Canadians and ordinary Canadians know how to manage money. They are not corporate CEOs; they are not high flyers or jet setters. They sit down and get to work, just like Tommy Douglas did, and make sure that budgets are balanced. That is why over a 20-year period, Madam Speaker, as you well know, NDP governments have the best record of fiscal management and balance the budget far more than Conservative governments do and far, far more than Liberal governments do. It is because we are composed of ordinary Canadians and ordinary Canadians manage money better than they do.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, as I understand it, there are now going to be private inspections. This will be another privatization move by the Conservatives. Inspections will increase from 8,000 to over 65,000 per year. There will be no ombudsperson's office to evaluate any problems or investigate complaints. There will be no refund or compensation for the consumers who have been abused by these problems and no refund or restitution of the taxes collected.

I would like to ask the hon. member whether I understand this correctly.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, as always, the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North has perfectly understood the legislation. I guess the question has to be why the Conservatives would move this bill forward. Have they not read the legislation? Do they understand the legislation? Why would Conservatives vote for legislation that is, as the member for Windsor West said, years late and millions short?

As the member for Thunder Bay--Superior North has said very eloquently, there is no ombudsman's office. There is no refund or compensation for the years of ripoffs. There is no refund or restitution on taxes collected.

There is an increase in inspections which we certainly agree with, but because the Conservatives are trying to find in a shell game some way to benefit, I guess their supporters, they are saying private companies have to do it and they can charge the price they want. This means that in a riding as far flung as Thunder Bay--Superior North, if a private company is set up it will be able to enforce on mom and pop operations any price it wants.

The inspections are mandatory. We will have a situation where a mom and pop retailer will not have a choice and the price will be set by the person providing the service, particularly in rural and northern Canada. This is yet another example of the contempt the Conservative government has for rural and northern Canadians. It is not just the softwood lumber sellout. It is not just the collapse in farm incomes, particularly in Alberta. For an Alberta farmer to vote Conservative I gather after their inept policies would be a sore mistake. It is a series of measures that go against what rural and northern Canadians stand for and what is good for them.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, for obvious reasons, I am comfortable with this subject. I cannot support a bill that promotes petty treatment of small gas retailers across the country. I thought that the government was trying to help at a time when rising energy prices cannot be explained by supply and demand. This is a real problem that the government does not want to hear about or deal with.

I am very concerned about Bill C-14 for a number of reasons, which I will be permitted to expand on at some length. Hon. colleagues will know that this is an issue that I have spent a considerable amount of time on. I have devoted my time. I thank the people of Pickering—Scarborough East for indulging me over the years, as well as the people of Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge and the people of Ontario riding, all three ridings over time representing a good chunk of Canadians, or well over half a million Canadians in that period of time.

I am concerned because this bill suggests, lends itself to or gives the impression that it is doing something which is patently false. The government is not going to give the public any reassurance whatsoever that prices they will pay at the pump, or in fact the measurement, are going to be accurate.

I mentioned earlier the concern I had with respect to how the government is portraying this particular issue. To suggest that somehow it is achieving fairness at the pumps, or as the Minister of Industry lamentably, and I would suggest slanderously, suggested that retailers in this country are chiselling people is simply not only incorrect; it is misleading and it is wrong. The minister ought to have apologized.

Given that the minister has not, he has constructed a body of regulation, which in my view and I think in the view of Measurement Canada, in and of itself will do very little if anything except to undermine the integrity of what is left of competition at the retail level in the gasoline industry in Canada.

Just before the Prime Minister provoked an election, breaking his own word, the industry committee had an opportunity to look at one of the major reasons why energy prices were going up in 2008. It had everything to do with a loophole created that allowed a lack of oversight to the commodities industries around the world. We can recall that energy prices in July 2008, as far as oil was concerned, reached $150 a barrel virtually. The price at the pumps went up substantially. There were a number of other causes and effects, including commodity costs for food and other forms of energy.

The industry committee had one day to look at this before the Prime Minister pulled the rug out from under us in order to obtain an election. Rather than looking at the issue that was confronting Canadians and undermining their standard of living and undermining, as it continuously does, their issue of balancing the cost of living, the government instead chose to pick an article that appeared in May 2008 in the Ottawa Citizen and give it some credibility by talking about it without any actual verification of the numbers, to allow wild extrapolations in terms of the number of pumps that are askew.

Rather than dealing with the fact that we have lost a significant number of refineries in this country due to mergers and acquisitions, rather than dealing with the fact that wholesale prices now move up in lockstep in most provinces and most large communities across this country, rather than dealing with the unfairness of temperature compensation, and I will explain that in a moment, the government chose to narrowly go after the odd gas retailer.

All this would be correct if in fact we learned that the government knew full well that 94% of all the pumps it tested over a rigorous years' period proved to be accurate. Of the 6% that were found to be inaccurate, 2% actually gave consumers more product, and while 4% may have been askew, one would really have to make an argument, both in court and in the public domain, to suggest that somehow gas retailers were involved with chiselling the public.

If the hon. members in the government who proposed this bill had taken the time to actually learn how a pump works, they might find, as we see in so many other instances, that there is obviously a duty of care but retailers may not know that a pump is broken, they may not know that the pulser, which is part of the electronic process, may have malfunctioned, they may not know there is a mechanical problem even after they have tested and even after they have calibrated.

Why is that important to know? It is because they may realize there is a problem, through no fault of their own, and they will test that. Why do they want to test that? It is very simple. No reasonable retail gas retailer in this country is going to want to have a gas pump that malfunctions. The reason is that their volumes will be out, and their logistics and inventory report, which they have to make day in and day out to ensure accuracy for their own economic reasons, are there.

The incentive to do something wrong is certainly not there, but more importantly, there has been no jurisprudence here. There has been no case, to my knowledge, where someone has been convicted of deliberately defrauding someone. If that is the case then I want to hear about it because I have not heard a single cogent argument coming from the government to justify this. It is in fact a solution in search of a problem.

We know that it can lend itself and head toward some very unintended consequences, including penalizing and skewing an industry whose representatives, mom and pop gas station retailers and other people, are working day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to try to make a living. The government has the audacity of penalize them and call them chisellers and suggest somehow it is going to remedy the situation with a magic wand saying, poof, we now have new effective fairness at the pumps. This is misleading to Canadians. This is telling Canadians that something is going to happen that does not. I am surprised to see in a few media reports that somehow they have bought this line. It is not going to do anything to help Canadians. Let us understand that when we target a particular industry we had better back it up with facts.

The facts we have before us are very simple, and I suggest this to the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. I have measurement compliance rates from 2005 to 2009, which will take in the period of the Ottawa Citizen article and all the other little things the government says it has done, through Measurement Canada by sector. I have about 30 of them here, which includes sectors where there are less than five data points, where there is not a lot of oversight and inspection, but it has a number of areas: hardware stores, retail rubber products, general merchandise, laundries, cleaners, piece goods, precious metals and stones, alcoholic beverages, honey and apiary, non-metallic minerals, quarries and sandpits, waste collection, transportation, metal scrap, fruit and vegetable, fur and skin, retail gasoline, dairy farms, dairy products, textiles, chemical products, food and beverage manufacturing, electricity, livestock, poultry and there are a few others.

In looking at Measurement Canada's own guide of these 30 or so industries, we find that retail gasoline is the second highest most compliant in the country. So we are going after an industry whose reputation is very good by our own analysis and yet we have a government that wants to target them. With a 93.11% compliance rate, it is only slightly behind honey and apiary at 93.33%. That surprises me because if it is not an admission that the government has this terribly wrong and is targeting the wrong industry, why for goodness' sake has it not gone after the quarries and sandpits industry with a 47.42% accuracy rate? Why has it not gone after the electricity industry? The government says that we use gasoline. Well the last time I checked, this place was lit up by electricity. Its compliance rate from Measurement Canada is 74.19%. One-quarter of what we are buying may not be accurate, and industries and consumers use it day in and day out. Our country is driven by this and yet Measurement Canada, through the direction of the government, decided we are going to target the good guys here.

We are going to go after them because we do not want the public to know that currently energy prices are being manipulated through a lack of oversight both in terms of the trading platforms at NYMEX and around the world. We do not want to let people know that there have been a number of strategic withdrawals of refineries in Canada, removing supply and as a result artificially bumping up the price of gasoline. We do not want to talk about a Competition Act, written in 1986 by the oil industry at the invitation of the then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to go and rearrange the Competition Act in such a way that it would be the first time that a western country has allowed its very act of policing the commercial industries to be policed by the very people it is meant to police.

It seems to me that we have missed the point here and the government has done something that is classic smoke and mirrors. This is a distraction. This is to give people the impression that somehow when they are pumping gasoline in fact they are not getting what they pay for.

There are probably in excess of 130,000 pumps in this country. There are about 70 billion litres of gasoline and diesel dispensed. I was able to get this document finally from Measurement Canada after three and a half months of requests. They finally gave it to me with one week's notice to review this in advance of this debate and of course for our presence in committee. I was surprised to learn that the $20 million from Measurement Canada, which the government is trotting out as being the annual average rip-off of Canadians, actually turns out to be $8 million, because it recognizes that $12 million of that could have actually gone in favour of the consumer.

That being the case, we know the government is somewhat challenged when it comes to statistics. We know it has a problem with Statistics Canada as it relates to the census, but that should not be surprising, given how it extrapolates its views with respect to statistics and data that it tends to trot out, which it knows to be wrong, which it knows to be false.

Let us put that into context. The average skew of gasoline in Canada is 0.018. That pales in comparison to what is occurring today, which the government does not want to talk about. I am not sure whether it believes that this is acceptable. We have not heard much from it. I have put forth changes to the Competition Act and suggested that we have a petroleum price monitoring agency, for which the Liberal government advocated and implemented and which the Conservative government killed as its first act upon taking over in Parliament in 2006.

Canadians would have what Americans and others around the world have, a better understanding of the inventory picture in the country, but no, Conservatives do not want Canadians to have that. They want Canadians to believe that 0.018% of the time, there might be a skew and they might not actually get what they pay for, but they say nothing of the fact that in Toronto today, there is a 5.3¢ ripoff. In Vancouver it is 9¢. In Montreal it is 6.3¢. In Ottawa today it is 6.1¢.

This is ludicrous. We are worried about 0.018% on a litre of gasoline, but we do not think that 5.5¢, 7¢, 8¢ or 9¢ is a problem. Do the math, and for the media that happens to be watching this, maybe they could do the same as well because, frankly, this is unacceptable. It is in fact not only false; it is a fraud. I cannot, in all good conscience, support something like this, which is meant to do something that it will not do, that is, to give false expectations to consumers who rightly ask the question, “Why has Ottawa failed us?” I could go into substantial detail of why that is, but let us talk about the bigger picture.

We know this morning that commodity prices on food, particularly corn, have skyrocketed. This may be in response to certain economic conditions around the world. The media seems to be focused on potash, but the bigger question is this. How do prices get manipulated? How is it possible that we have abandoned regulatory oversight of how trading on these markets, the energy markets above all, is avoided? Why do we not understand or care in this country, and why do we hear nothing from the finance minister, or anybody on that bench, about what the Americans and many other parts of the world, particularly Europe, France and Britain, are saying? They are saying that it is time to get control of the derivatives, the swap dealers. These are dealers that were created in light of a loophole created in 2000.

Some colleagues here in the House will remember that the year 2000 was the famous year in which the 262-page report of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act took place that allowed energy traders to establish their own exchanges in which to trade contracts and then of course be exempted on exchanges in their entirety from government regulation. That has led to the direct impoverishment and to the consequences of the 2008 period of time in which energy prices spiked.

We could talk about collusion and conspiracy, which is always a convenient argument that is brought out, but I have to remind colleagues that we have to have competitors who would otherwise have different prices, meeting in the dark of night under little lamps, conspiring to bring prices together. That era of competition at the retail level and, more importantly, at the refinery level, is gone. It is over.

Wholesale prices by city are established usually by a leader. In Canada, nominally that tends to be Imperial Oil, at about 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. every day. That wholesale price is simply followed within a microsecond, and whatever that price is, it is traded publicly. It is available to most Canadians if they want to see it. It is not, as a result, price-fixing but rather a distinct, severe and almost pathetic lack of competition in Canada at the wholesale level.

We had very little discussion recently regarding the affect of declining suppliers on the Canadian market. In eastern Canada the Shell refinery closure in Montreal has meant that a once slack supply situation throughout eastern Canada, particularly the Maritimes, Quebec and part of Ontario, is now affected. How is it affected? Let us look at it this way.

Three months ago, wholesale prices in Montreal and Toronto were on average a penny and a half below Toronto. As of last night, those wholesale numbers have changed rather dramatically. They are now a penny and a half above Toronto. As a result of the closure of the refinery in Montreal, Canadians, not the industry, not its apologists or those who ignore it in the media, pay the freight.

Canadians will have to pay more. Looking at that difference of 2.5¢ a litre in the past three months added to the bill of every ordinary Canadian, who uses 100 litres a week, winds up being $2.50 to the average family multiplied by 52 weeks. Canadians have now been told they can pay another $250.

The fact that we cannot look at this issue more intently means Canadians will continue to suffer. It means Canadians will continue to realize just how irrelevant Parliament, and more important the Conservative government, is with respect to coming up with solutions.

I know of no jurisdiction, particularly the United States or Europe, that would tolerate the exit from the market of a player. It would not tolerate the level of concentration in our country. It would it accept that the Competition Act, written by the very people it is meant to police, would ultimately be chaired by somebody who worked for the industry.

We all recall the issue in 2000 of Superior Propane. I brought a bill before the House to prevent a monopoly to occur in the propane industry, and it passed. Our friends in the other place, many of whom sat on the boards of directors of many of these companies, decided they would not allow the bill to go through. I was surprised to learn that the current Competition Commissioner, with all due respect, was counsel for Superior Propane, which obtained that monopoly. Talk about the fox marching into the chicken coop.

Nothing has amazed me more than this industry because money talks. We have been woeful in our ability to address the real substantive dollar and cents issues that Canadians want us to tackle. I am not against this industry. I want the industry to flourish. I want energy markets to behave in a way that responds to the fundamentals of supply and demand. However, what I have is thin drool and dribble coming from the government by it saying that it will target the very people who have been targeted for years.

The people who have lost in our country are hard-working independent gas retailers. Day in and day out they try to eke out a living with very skinny margins and are often subject to predatory pricing created by a Competition Act that has been decidedly in favour of one thing, and that is intensification of monopolization.

If I have done anything in 17 years as a member of Parliament, it is to try to illustrate the economic injustice that is occurring. I will not lend my name to this bill. I will not support this bill. I encourage members of Parliament to look at the bill, look at the bigger picture, look at the real issues and vote it down.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his long-standing interest and work in this area. I also thank him for sending me a copy of the measurement compliance rate, which indicates that retail gasoline has a current compliance of 93%.

The fact is Bill C-14 proposes that the inspection process will cover another eight areas, with perhaps more areas in the future. It proposes to cover retail food, which has a compliance rate, according to his chart, of 90%. Dairy farms have a compliance rate of 89%. Downstream petroleum has a compliance rate of 66%. There are also mining, metals, grain and field crops. It will cover a number of the areas that have a high compliance of the current rate and some which are under compliance. Interestingly enough, It does not include quarries and sandpits, which has the lowest compliance of 47.42%.

We have been observing that we would favour government inspectors over privatizing the expansion process. We are seeing an effort to outsource, to privatize the inspections and increase the number of inspections, which would create a lot of extra expenses for some of the smaller mom and pop operations, no matter what sector they happened to be in.

Could the member comment on that?

In 1995 when the Manitoba Conservative government privatized the car inspection process, the price of used vehicles went up substantially overnight and there was a lot of abuse. The CBC did some undercover operations that showed garages were ripping off customers by fixing all kinds of things that really did not need to be fixed.

Could the member also comment on that?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member does raise some very important points. However, he should not be swayed by what Measurements Canada says. If we look at its website today, we will find that it says “fairness at the pumps act”. That is a very political, crass, irrelevant and, I would suggest, dishonest reflection of what the bill is purported to try to accomplish. We were told by Measurements Canada that was not the title. However, if we go to its website right now, and I am sure it is probably going to take it down in the next few minutes, we will see that it says “fairness at the pumps act”. Just punch it into a Google search.

The hon. member should not be swayed or somehow led down the garden path by either Measurements Canada or the government. This really is about going after and targeting, as the minister said, chisellers, chisellers who do not exist and are a figment of the government's imagination.

It is also important to know that with a compliance rate of 93% or 94%, it means the other 6% or 7% may in fact be favouring consumers, but through no deliberate attempt. Things can and do break down. If we find out there is an inspection process, it is in our interest to ensure that it is correct. If the inventory is lost or off, it can mean terrible consequences for the people who have throughputs or gas stations across the country, where they have hundreds of thousands of litres every year. If they are off by 1%, that is a lot of money at the end of the year.

The question is about private or public inspection. The issue is the NDP has a reason on this, and I do not disagree with it. There has to be absolute concern. One of the amendments I wanted to see was to ensure that our officials were in fact governed by, adhered to and are sworn in as public servants. It is important for the Crown to demonstrate due diligence.

One thing the Liberals did in committee was to ensure absolute due diligence by the minister to ensure those people were held to the highest account, that there was accuracy in their testing, in the various methods that they use. It is very difficult to test these things. There is not one universal way in which we test.

Because the government did not get rid of temperature compensation, it means we lose 4% or 5% of the amount of volume of gasoline we buy because we are at 15° Celsius. Fifteen degrees Celsius assumes that we have had over a year of that temperature. It is 6° in Canada. In Hawaii it is 15°. Therefore, the public is being ripped off by 5% or 6%. Again, the government wants to go after retailers who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to make ends meet. That is disgusting. That is an outrange.

Frankly, I hope the media is looking at this. I want to talk to it about its lack of understanding and precision on this issue. What I see is a target of an industry that has done very well, has done its best and is still the whipping post of the government.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to ask a question of my colleague, but I will begin by prefacing just how critical the issue of fairness at the pumps is for the Canadians who I represent in northern Manitoba. We have an area with extensive distance between us as communities. We have roads that, unfortunately, due to the lack of federal investment, are substandard in many cases. People have to purchase heavier duty vehicles, which costs them more money for gas.

On the other side, we also have communities with high rates of unemployment or people with very low incomes. They struggle to make it by and do not have money to waste at the gas pump.

In recent years, especially a couple of years ago when the prices went through the roof in our part of the country, there was a serious concern about the gouging and its impact on northerners and people who lived in parts of Canada like mine. There was much discussion about how we could solve this real challenge facing Canadians. Yet despite the work by many in the House and the push to get this issue dealt with in a timely way and effective way, nothing has happened.

Could the member comment on the effectiveness of this bill and the lack of an ombudsman's office to evaluate the problems that Canadians have brought forward and the absence of a refund or compensation for consumers who are ripped off? Their concern is they are spending more money and they are being ripped off, yet the plan is not looking at that. There is no refund or restitution on the taxes collected on the phantom gasoline purchases, the pumps which do not dispense as much gas as is shown. There are so many pieces that do not respond to what Canadians have talked about. I would like to hear the member's thoughts on these points.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for North Bay, a rural riding though it is a little closer to the smoke of Toronto, also brought forward very much the same concerns about the less travelled parts of the country, where there is a greater dependence on energy-intensive transportation fuels.

It will probably help the hon. member to know a couple of things about the price. In Winnipeg the gas is about 65¢ a litre wholesale, plus whatever the taxes are in the province of Manitoba. It is not very far from Ontario, so it would not have the HST, thankfully. That would be the tax passed by the federal Conservative government.

What concerns a lot of us, though, is the issue of transportation. If I understand the member correctly, her riding is about 500 to 700 miles within a geographic area. Transportation cost is about 2¢ for every 1,000 kilometres. One would think if it is at the outside, 2.5¢, maybe 3¢, that should make the wholesale price about 69¢. If we add the usual taxes, which come up to about 25¢, we are talking about 94¢, plus the GST, plus 7¢ for retailers, which is about what they need to turn the pumps on, especially in areas where they do not get a lot of activity. Therefore, the price should be $1.04 $1.03, $1.05, and I am sure it is a lot higher than that.

When we talk about calibrating and checking these pumps out, one of the unintended consequences I was referring to earlier in my speech would be that the inspection would have potentially the effect of removing gas pumps that currently exist because they would not compliant. I am not suggesting that should be the case, but we have to find a mechanism that takes into consideration rural Canada. The government did not it that into consideration. I propose a sliding scale that will see reviews take place in a way that will not be unduly burdensome of rural Canada.

The other thing the hon. member needs to know is that gas pumps can be faulty sometimes in favour of the consumer, based on how little they are used or based on overuse. There is a number of reasons, electronically and mechanically. These are all internal parts. When we look at the way a pump works, and there are 3 metres per every 5 or 10 or 12 pumps, the reality is the retailer will not know. That is why they inspect them periodically, usually within a three month period. In communities like mine in Toronto, for instance, they are inspected more frequently because retailers do not want the pumps to be off. They cannot afford to have them off. It is not in their interest to rip off the public. Not that the government would understand that because it has never actually taken the time to look at how a retailer runs.

However, in rural regions of the country, this would be a recipe for disaster, especially when we do not know who is inspecting the pumps. What if the inspector does not happen to like the retailer? There is a number of considerations about which the government did not think. As a result, in my view this is not a bill worth supporting.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 25th, 2010 / 1:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure this afternoon to speak to Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act. We are at third reading.

The bill is an important piece of legislation that goes a long way toward establishing fair business practices in industries that measure or weigh the products they sell.

It enhances consumer protection, something that is important to this government and to all Canadians. Bill C-14 promotes measurement accuracy, and encourages consumers and retailers alike to have confidence in a fair and competitive marketplace.

With this in mind, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology heard from a wide range of expert witnesses: consumer groups, industry representatives, and civil servants. Their testimony contributed to lively and informative discussions.

I would like to take a few minutes to remind the hon. members that Bill C-14 is about fairness for both consumers and businesses, and it depends on the accuracy of the measurements of goods.

Every day Canadians make countless purchases based on measurement. With each transaction, these buyers, as individuals or as representatives of organizations and businesses, trust that the amount of produce they get at the grocery story, the amount of fuel they get at the gas pump, or the amount of milk they get from a farmer is precisely the amount they paid for. They trust that goods are measured meticulously and dispensed appropriately.

Under existing legislation, namely, the Weights and Measures Act and the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act, measurement inspectors conduct random inspections of measurement devices, and consumers have an avenue through which to file complaints of suspected measurement inaccuracies.

More stringent legislation is needed to maintain the credibility of Canada's market system and to ensure that the trust of consumers is well placed. More people are needed on the ground to validate measurement equipment. More inspectors are needed to detect non-compliance.

It is for these reasons that the bill before us today is of such vital importance. This legislation will encourage a fair processes and fair business transactions for Canadian consumers and businesses.

The hon. Minister of Industry is charged with ensuring that consumers and businesses receive fair and accurate measures of the goods they purchase. Although the importance of enforcing accurate measurements may sound obvious enough, experience has shown that only through a carefully monitored regulatory regime can Measurement Canada accomplish this task.

The proposed fairness at the pumps act provides the foundation for such enforcement. Bill C-14 amends the Weights and Measures Act and the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act. Specifically, Bill C-14 addresses weaknesses in existing legislation with three timely updates: first, mandatory inspection frequencies for devices subject to the Weights and Measures Act; second, increased fines and penalties for non-compliance; and finally, ministerial power to designate authorized service providers to assess the accuracy of measurement devices at check-out counters, gas stations, and everywhere else consumer goods are quantified.

Allow me to speak more on this last point. Authorized service providers will be private businesses trained and designated by Measurement Canada to inspect the accuracy of various measurement devices. They will provide private businesses driven by market forces to offer competitive rates and flexible schedules. They will be private contractors whose quality of work will be ensured through the public oversight. Measurement Canada's own inspectors will perform random follow-up inspections to make sure that authorized service providers evaluate equipment impartially, precisely, and reputably. Measurement Canada inspectors will also continue to respond to complaints from the public, to take cases in which non-compliance is detected, and to enforce actions as required.

As an added benefit of mandatory inspection frequencies, increased demand for authorized service providers across several trade sectors will create hundreds of jobs. It will create jobs for front-line workers who travel to the sites to inspect the accuracy of measurement equipment.

Designated authorized service providers must also be fair to retailers. Honest and fair-minded business operators, not just consumers, feel the sting when their less conscientious competitors inaccurately measure the products they sell.

The proposed fairness at the pumps act would help level the playing field for small businesses. Bill C-14 would ensure that all players in the retail petroleum, the downstream petroleum, dairy, retail food, fishing, logging, mining, and grain and field crops sectors are held to the same moral and business standards.

The industry's input has been invaluable. Consultations underscored the fact that retailers could also be victimized by inaccurate measurements, whether by their own inadvertent errors or their competitors' deliberate miscalculations. In fact, it was through our consultations that we saw a need for mandatory inspection frequencies and took action to bring these new inspection intervals into use.

Some businesses have implemented inspection frequencies voluntarily. They have seen solid benefits from inspections, because the companies know beyond a doubt how much they are selling. They face fewer inventory problems, and this streamlines their business practices and saves them time and money.

All consulted stakeholders, including consumer groups, reiterated that mandatory inspections are necessary to uphold the integrity of the industry and to help retailers remain competitive in high-stakes markets.

Consumers welcome this legislation as a means to re-establish the principles of fairness, honesty, and decency in commercial transactions.

Retailers welcome the legislation as a means to ensure that companies compete ethically to win the business of Canadian buyers.

As members of this House, we must welcome and endorse fairness at the pumps and in the marketplace. We must uphold integrity in transactions that depend on the measurement of goods. We must promote and protect the interests of consumers and retailers alike. Canadians have done their part. It is now time for us to do ours. What is fair must remain fair. I call on all hon. members to vote in favour of Bill C-14, a bill whose time has clearly come.

I have one item I would like to add. As a past employee of an oil company, I audited gas stations. These audits included reviews of inventories. There was nothing more important to the gas companies than making sure that we had accurate measurements of inventory. As this product is held underground, it becomes an environmental issue if it is found to have gone missing. It is not only an economic issue but also an environmental one.

Gas companies welcome this government's approach to making sure that we have fair and accurate measurements at their pumps and at all scales across this country.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 25th, 2010 / 3:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I cannot really say that I am pleased to be debating Bill C-14 because, in actual fact, the bill has very little substance.

Let us be frank: as it currently stands the bill is not very credible because it is a bare bones proposal in response to something the Prime Minister himself observed during the 2008 election campaign. If he believes that consumers are being totally ripped off at the pump, why wait two years? The fact is that the government is acting grudgingly, and so the bill, as it currently stands, is mere window dressing and will simply shift the financial burden of the rising cost of gas onto retailers.

The Conservatives are on a witch hunt and are cracking down on independent retailers who, in their eyes, are alleged fraudsters. It is nothing but smoke and mirrors. Why does the bill not contain measures to support healthy competition rather than volume-based measures that would be extremely expensive for consumers?

The bill does not appear to deal with the real problem. There are few documented cases of retailers tampering with gas pumps, and they have no incentive to do so.

Let me share a few telling facts with you. The oil sector is ranked second when it comes to playing by the rules. So why would these kinds of measures apply only to this sector and not others? Are my colleagues aware that losses due to meter issues are in the order of $8 million, not $20 million as the government asserts? Currently, Measurement Canada inspects 34,000 gas pumps nationwide every two years, which accounts for a quarter of the 130,000 pumps across Canada. Enforcing this bill would mean hiring some 300 additional inspectors under contract to retailers. This would cost independent retailers between $50 and $200 per pump. Who will the bill be passed on to?

Most gasoline retailers are small, independent businesses, which in fact operate on very small margins, as we know. The additional cost of these inspections would certainly hurt their bottom line. In switching the onus of inspection to the retailer, the demand for private inspectors would increase drastically. I and many of my Liberal colleagues are concerned that retailers in northern and rural communities may not have access to the private inspectors required to ensure that they can stay within the letter and the spirit of the law.

If the government wants to keep going in this direction, would it not be better to review the way in which the law is enforced in order to ensure that the cost is not simply passed along to consumers? The ideal would probably be to increase the resources at Measurement Canada’s disposal. We need to face facts. Does the government have the resources or the money necessary to implement a measure like this? Independent retailers and consumers should not have to pay for this bill.

We will also have to ensure that it is uniformly enforced. My fear is that the penalties could be arbitrary, and that is why the inspectors should be trained according to very specific guidelines. The inspectors should definitely be under a very clear code of practice.

There is another point. In order to reduce certain difficulties for retailers, why not provide a 30-day grace period, as suggested by my colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East? The equipment these retailers use is not infallible, and sometimes they may not know that the readings are faulty. They should not be considered automatically guilty.

If the government were truly concerned with helping Canadians at the pumps, it could turn its attention to any number of issues, such as refinery closures and the anemic state of competition at the refinery level. In fact, when it comes to higher gasoline prices, the Prime Minister himself has said that there is nothing the government can do to help Canadians.

In the three elections since the Prime Minister has been leader of the Conservative Party, he has made no less than three specific commitments to help Canadians with ever-increasing fuel prices. Members will remember that in 2004, lest we forget, the Conservatives promised to eliminate the GST on gasoline prices above 85¢ a litre when they came to power. I do not think that happened. In 2008, they promised to lower the diesel excise tax. I do not believe that happened either.

I think the real reason behind the legislation being introduced right now is so the government can pretend to be helping consumers while they complain that prices are rising.

At this stage and in its current form, I see the fairness at the pumps act more like the Conservative farce at the pumps act.

A responsible government that really had Canadians’ interests at heart, including the price of fuel, would focus in particular on the competition among the refineries and look at the Competition Act. The important thing is to make the market more effective and competitive, as the Liberal government proposed in 2005.

How is it that despite the increase in prices and the industry’s claims that supply is very low, we see refineries closing? Why does the Conservative government remain impassive in the face of such a situation?

It is in the interests of Canadians that the House review whole parts of this bill and tailor them to deal with the real problem, which the Conservative government is trying to hide.

When a sampling was done of the gas pumps in this country, it was discovered that 94% of them were within specifications and only 6% were out of tolerance. Out of that 6%, one-third, or 2%, were actually delivering a little too much fuel to the consumer. The other 4%, in other words, 4% out of 100%, were delivering a little less fuel and a little outside of tolerance.

In terms of the devices that Measurement Canada is responsible for monitoring, measuring and inspecting, gas pumps are among the most reliable devices in this country. The question is why the government felt that it needed to legislate, through Bill C-14, the need to measure pump accuracy when the numbers were certainly extremely respectable. My guess is that the government wanted to do some grandstanding. It even gave it the name, “fairness at the pumps act”, which sort of left a hint that somebody was being unfair. Unfortunately, the retailers had to wear that name when, in reality, the situation was really very respectable.

From my point of view, the government has created a bill and has put us through the hoops when in reality there was very little need to create such a bill as Bill C-14. In the end, it has smeared retailers and will end up costing Canadians additional sums because of all the inspectors required to carry out the aim of this legislation.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 25th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was very well done. I appreciated his parallels to what I would consider to be typical retail politics. I think fairness at the pumps act is the title and, quite frankly, if we bore down to the depth of this, there is not a lot to it in my opinion. Some of it may be fair but only in a small, sparse way. Therefore, unfortunately, when it comes to retails politics, we are dealing with dollar store legislation.

In the meantime, if it is the fairness at the pumps and the weights and measurements, I do want to address one of the issues he raised which had to do with the effect on rural areas. In some communities we may find in a radius of maybe 200 kilometres that there is only one outlet that provides gasoline. Therefore, it becomes problematic when these people are compelled to do the measurements and weights and they need to rely on the private sector to do this. Not only is it the fee for doing it, they have travel costs, they need to bring the person in, pay their wages and so on and so forth, and that takes time to do and therefore lineups are created and it causes lots of problems when they are the only retailer in a large area.

I would like the hon. member to comment further on that, please.