House of Commons Hansard #35 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was gasoline.

Topics

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden, SK

moved that Bill C-220, an act respecting the energy price commission, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased and proud as a member of Parliament representing part of Canada to stand in the House this morning and move at second reading Bill C-220, which I have put together in consultation with thousands of Canadians.

The purpose of the bill is to establish an energy price commission to regulate the wholesale and retail price of gasoline. The purpose of price regulation is to avoid unreasonable increases that affect the cost of living and depress business activity.

The bill will facilitate reasonable consistency in prices from province to province, allowing for production and distribution costs. The regulation further minimizes the risk of collusion in pricing and prevents dominant suppliers from setting unreasonable prices.

The bill also links the issue of price control to competition. Any investigation of an alleged offence under the Competition Act related to gasoline pricing is remitted by the competition tribunal to the commission for investigation, which reports to the tribunal before it makes a determination or order on the matter.

The bill is extremely timely and important. I am asking all members to consider supporting the bill in any way they can because it relates to the pricing of gasoline. It relates to, in essence, the consumption of energy by Canadians. Whether you are a farmer, a business person or a consumer, energy and gasoline are the key components of our economic well-being.

We have a very cold climate. We require more energy in terms of industry, more energy in terms of transportation, more energy in terms of moving goods and services around the country. Moving goods takes energy; gasoline and oil.

It is a key element of our economy. We have not seen any government initiatives or a wish of parliamentarians to ensure consumers, farmers and business people are treated fairly in relation to this commodity by the oil companies.

Instead we see the opposite. Parliamentarians and the government look at this issue and say there are only five oil companies in the country that basically set the price of gasoline and we should let these five oil companies do whatever they please. It is more important for us to regulate everything else under the sun, in many cases things which affect not the entire country or the entire economy but one-tenth of one per cent of one organization or one-tenth of one per cent of this and that.

I am asking parliamentarians and the Government of Canada to consider the impact of gasoline pricing in Canada, particularly the developments over the last 30 to 35 days. Gasoline prices in most regions of Canada have increased by 10 cents per litre, a 30 per cent increase in net revenues to the oil companies when taxes are factored out.

There has been a 30 per cent increase in 30 days, and what response has the government taken? It has turned the other way. It has ignored Canadians. It has ignored this blatant effort by the oil companies to gouge Canadians on an absolutely necessary commodity and element of our economy, the engine of our economy. It has turned a blind eye to the fact that this is a non-renewable resources.

One cent of the ten cent increase takes about $375 million out of the pockets of Canadians. If this 10 cent per litre increase is upheld over the next year it will result in almost $4 billion being taken out of consumers' pockets.

Why is this happening? The oil companies say the price of crude oil has increased in the last 30 days from $18 per barrel to $23 per barrel U.S. There is some validity to that. The price has increased. However, let us put it in context and look at the average daily price of oil in Canada.

Since 1990 the average daily price of crude oil in Canada has declined year after year. In 1992 the average daily price of crude was about $20.58 per barrel U.S. For the first part of 1996 up to mid-April the average daily price is not $20.58, but 50 cents per barrel less. However, we have seen a 30 per cent increase in the

price of gasoline. My information is from energy and mines concerning the average daily price of gasoline.

This year the price per barrel is 50 cents less than it was four years ago, and the price has been lower in between. Yet the oil companies say the price of crude has gone up, that they have to jack up the prices and gouge Canadians because the government will not respond in any fashion at all.

They give the excuse that they are not doing very well in terms of profits. Let us have a look at that. In 1994 Imperial Oil had a 29 per cent increase in profits over 1993. Shell had a 43 per cent increase. In 1995 Imperial Oil had a 43 per cent increase in profits over the previous year, one of its record years. Shell, which had a record year in 1994, in 1995 had a 63 per cent increase in profits. Imperial Oil, in spite of the profits, employed 452 fewer employees, and Shell employed 471 fewer employees.

In the first quarter of this year before the price kicked in and went up in terms of the price per barrel, Imperial Oil had a 300 per cent increase in its first quarter profits over last year, which was its record year.

Factoring out some of the differentials, it says because of that we had a tax rebate. Factor out the tax rebate and it still had a 15 per cent increase after excluding the windfall rebate from the taxpayers of Canada. That does not wash.

Imperial Oil employees tell me that in spite of record profits they were called into their offices across the country and were told 10 per cent of the employees of Imperial Oil are history in the next 18 months, not on the basis of attrition, retirement or vacancies but on the basis that the 10 per cent lowest productive workers in the company are gone.

What kind of corporation is this? What kind of response does the government have to oil companies gouging at the gas pumps, making record profits and laying off people at record levels and not responding to the corporations and saying we are all in the same boat together? This is our country. We have an economy in trouble. How about chipping in and investing some of their money in employee wages or keeping their employees? How about reinvesting some of this money in capital or exploration projects in the communities in which they earn the profits, and then share the rest of the profits with whomever they want? We do not care.

Take some corporate responsibility. Where is the leadership in this country? The other reason they talk about the gas prices going up is that every day the price goes up. They have to adjust the price of gasoline. In the gulf war of 1990 they said they had a 90-day supply. There was a 90-day inventory before the prices went up. This recent increase was 90 hours, not 90 days, an obvious attempt to gouge.

As well, what about the thousands of products produced from a barrel of oil? A barrel of oil does not produce only gasoline. It produces 10,000 different products. Half the things in the House of Commons are produced from crude oil derivatives: clothing, plastic glasses, TV cameras, VCRs, fridges and stoves; all derivatives of oil.

They do not fluctuate from minute to minute and region to region. The oil companies have to be accountable and called before a commission to justify their price increases. I am a business person. I have no problem with businesses making profits as long as they do not gouge people, as long as they justify the price they are charging for their products and services. That is not a key problem here. These companies are not justifying the increases they are making.

They give us comparisons. They say the price of gas in other countries is much higher than in Canada. They give me a list of industrialized nations. In all the industrialized nations gas prices are higher than ours, except in the U.S.

I asked the Petroleum Producers Institute and the oil companies how many of these countries produce oil. The only net producer on that piece of paper is Canada. Yet we are the second lowest gas sellers.

I asked about a comparison of countries that actually produce oil. "Duh, we do not have a list. We will track it down for you". They do not have to because we have the list. Of all the producing countries in the world, Mexico, Venezuela and the Middle Eastern countries, along with other parts of the world that produce oil, their gasoline prices when taxes are factored out are much lower than in Canada. We are the highest of the net producers in the world. Why? We allow the oil companies to get away with not justifying their price increases.

The most ludicrous response I heard from the oil companies was the reason the prices are going up is that Iraq may be bringing production out of the markets. Economics 101 says very plainly that argument is a laughable falsity. If more production is coming on the market, more supply, less demand, the price goes down. They think people are airheads in this country. I do not think people appreciate that sort of ridiculous response from the oil companies.

What we have to look at is what is important for Canadians, what is important for Canada. A question in a recent poll in the Regina Leader-Post , April 22, was should the federal government move to regulate the retail price of gasoline. Of 3,786 respondents, 3,519 said yes, 93 per cent; 267 or 7 per cent said no.

Saskatchewan produces 15 per cent of the oil in Canada. Looking at the regional price of gasoline in Regina, it is higher where there is a refinery than in places the oil is transported to. When the tax differential is factored out the price is actually the highest in the whole country.

Why? Spring seeding is starting and farmers make bulk fuel purchases so the oil companies say: "Let us rip off the farmers. The New Democrat member of Parliament for Regina-Lumsden keeps raising the issue across the country. Let us pull his chain a bit and gouge the consumers in his home province. There is an NDP government in Saskatchewan. It is one of only three provincial governments that have balanced budgets, fair tax rates and which are protecting social programs. Let us jerk their chains and give them a little shot".

All I am asking is that parliamentarians consider setting up an energy price review commission so that oil companies can justify their price increases before it. By the same token governments should appear before the commission to justify tax increases and make sure they are fair to taxpayers.

Governments and parliamentarians have obligations. We are obligated in many ways to be the balance to the economic powers that run our economy. We are obligated to protect consumers when they are unfairly gouged by an oligopoly, a monopoly or a company. That is our obligation. We are paid to hold those people who influence and control the economy accountable in a fair manner for Canadians. That is all we are asking people to consider this morning.

The response has been: Why would we want to regulate the oil industry? I have mentioned in some of my arguments that it is a non-renewable natural resource. It is a key engine to our economy. We must also consider that we regulate all sorts of other things.

We regulate communications. The CRTC regulates radio and television broadcasting. There are 1,000 companies out there which could give us our communications services. There are satellite dishes, cable companies and a number of television and radio stations in every region. It is good that they are regulated because consumers are provided with an even, balanced view of the world. Communications does not influence and control our entire economy, although it is important to the economy. There is no doubt about that. Energy is the key component for everything but we disregard it and let the five major oil companies do what they like.

We could mention to the competition bureau that we think the oil companies are fixing prices. In one hour all the gasoline prices in this region went up to the same level. The bureau's response was: "We do not have anything in writing from the president of one oil company to another saying they should fix prices. We cannot pursue this because we need some evidence". People have told me that the bureau of competition policy is laughable. We do regulate other business and industries to the advantage of Canadians.

I could go on. I have information members would be willing to listen to, but I know my time has almost expired. I know the Minister of Health is very anxious to hear more. I am very anxious also to meet with him after to give him more information if he wishes, particularly about health care. I could offer him some advice on that too.

At this moment, I would like to ask for unanimous consent for a vote to refer Bill C-220 to the Standing Committee on Industry.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Do we have unanimous consent to change the reference to a committee on this bill?

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden, SK

Madam Speaker, I am sorry to hear that some MPs will not give unanimous consent. I would therefore ask for unanimous consent to refer the subject matter of the bill to the Standing Committee on Industry.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is there unanimous consent to send the subject matter to the Standing Committee on Industry?

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden, SK

Madam Speaker, I notice that the Liberal member for Dauphin-Swan River did not provide unanimous consent. That is unfortunate. I was born in Dauphin and I am getting all kinds of calls from her constituents saying that we should be undertaking a review.

Finally, I would ask members for their unanimous consent to make this bill votable.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is there unanimous consent to make the bill votable?

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Dauphin—Swan River
Manitoba

Liberal

Marlene Cowling Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Natural Resources

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate about a proposed energy price commission.

The hon. member for Regina-Lumsden has provided an opportunity to discuss the cost of a commodity which is vital to the daily lives of us all: gasoline. He is quite right. The cost of petroleum affects the cost of everything in this country. Transportation is part of the cost of everything we do. It affects virtually every product and service we buy or sell.

Coming from a rural community in Manitoba I know that nowhere is this more true than on the farm. Fuel costs are a large part of farm inputs. Even the smallest change in the price of fuel can make a big difference to the farmer's bottom line. As a

government we know this and that is why we did not increase fuel taxes in the recent budget. Food, clothing, shelter and even the cost of finding and holding a job is affected by the price of the fuel which literally drives our economy.

The hon. member for Regina-Lumsden is quite right. The cost of fuel should be reasonable and affordable. However, there are several major areas on which we do not agree.

Clause 8 of the bill states that every person who sells gasoline must obtain approval of the price from the government. That is not at all what Canadians want. The taxpayers of Canada do not want another bureaucracy as a solution to a perceived problem. The people of Canada do not want a new petroleum price police investigating who is paying what price for what product.

If this bill were passed, the federal government would be, according to Canadian law, infringing on provincial jurisdiction, intruding unnecessarily into competitive markets and spending large amounts of taxpayers' money.

I can assure hon. members that the idea of a new energy price commission cannot be supported by the Minister of Natural Resources nor the Minister of Industry. The reason is that study after study has concluded that government regulation on petroleum prices simply does not work.

Over the last 20 years, in every province except one, provincial governments have abandoned, rejected or never even considered the regulation of gasoline prices. The sole exception is Prince Edward Island and where are the highest gasoline prices in Canada, excluding taxes? Prince Edward Island.

In Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, petroleum prices and proposals to regulate them have been studied by government boards, task forces, commissions and legislative committees. The federal government has also studied the matter extensively. Here is a small sampling of the reports.

In 1987 a commission of inquiry into gasoline pricing in Manitoba declared:

Regulation of gasoline-markets by means of hearings and the usual process of regulatory bodies is-not advisable-.Crude oil and gasoline markets-continuously change, making regulation impractical, and introducing distortions, since it would not be possible to adjust prices quickly enough.

This form of regulation would-force the price upon all market participants through legal coercion.

Canadians consider that coercion, legal or otherwise, is not a norm in this country.

In 1986 in a report on the petroleum industry, the federal Restrictive Trade Practices Commission discussed the maze of restrictions which inevitably follows the introduction of price regulation:

Such restrictions (in facilities, hours, types of operation) cripple the ability of the industry to meet consumer demand, and to charge lower prices made possible by lower cost of distribution-induced by competitive measures or pressures.

The variety of offerings across the country by independent marketers and by integrated firms illustrates the value of allowing each business the freedom to meet consumer needs as it sees fit-to strive at all times to maximize its appeal to-the public by giving them what they want.

Giving the public what they want, not what a government, a board, a committee or a new national energy price commission thinks they want.

What is remarkable about these many reports is how relevant they are today. The same analyses, assessments and judgments apply today as they did 10 or 20 years ago. The principal difference is that today Canadians are more conscious than ever of the advantages of business versus government in delivering goods and services, what they want, when they want it, at a price they want to pay. The fact is gasoline markets today exhibit all the characteristics of a competitive market.

One of the roles of Natural Resources Canada is to provide Canadians with current data. The department constantly monitors prices across Canada to determine relevant facts about gasoline marketing.

The federal government already has an agency with a mandate to monitor competition and investigate complaints: the competition bureau. This is where dealers or consumers can bring any evidence they have of anti-competitive behaviour.

It is illegal for retailers to agree among themselves to set prices that may lessen or prevent competition, to try to influence another retailer's prices by agreement, threat or promise, or to persuade wholesalers to cut off gasoline supplies to discount retailers because of their lower prices. Any Canadian may report alleged offences to the competition bureau by mail, by fax, or by calling a toll free telephone number.

With regard to this bill, I offer three principal facts. Petroleum prices come under provincial jurisdiction. Agencies which regulate prices have in the past consistently led to prices which are not lower but higher. Most important, there is overwhelming evidence that we do indeed have vigorous competition in the marketing of petroleum products. These are compelling reasons why in 1996 informed Canadian consumers and taxpayers do not consider, do not need and do not want an energy price commission.

Few people are ever completely satisfied with the price and quality of goods and services they buy. No doubt all of us would like to buy gasoline at prices lower than they are today.

From the report of the groups commissioned over the last 20 years to study petroleum prices the conclusion is clear, unequivocal and straightforward: In 1996 the last thing people want in this country is a new petroleum price police. The last thing we need in this country is an energy price commission.

This Liberal government is committed to the future, not the past. What we want is not more but less bureaucracy, not closed but open markets and not less but more choice.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Terrebonne, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I will admit that after listening closely to the two previous speeches by our colleagues from the other two parties and despite our friendship for our colleague from Regina-Lumsden who introduced this bill, we unfortunately cannot support Bill C-220 for the various reasons I will explain during my presentation.

Again, the purpose of this bill is to establish an energy price commission to regulate the wholesale and retail price of gasoline. In our opinion and that of the government party-and according to my own observations-this bill would give the government the authority to meddle in a flagrant and unjustified manner in the normal process of free market pricing, which goes against the global trend of market pricing of gasoline in this case.

On the one hand, history shows that setting a ceiling price on gasoline can be dangerous and even create some serious shortages since oil companies tend to sell less when prices are low-and this is normal-while demand increases. They thus stockpile their products. These shortages can lead to quota problems, waiting lines and corruption, as we saw in some countries in South America and Asia.

On the other hand, the setting of a ceiling price by the commission could also result in an economic slowdown for oil producers in western Canada.

An example of an unsuccessful attempt to control gas prices is the national energy policy-as many members on the other side will recall-initiated by former Prime Minister Trudeau during the oil crisis, which, as you may recall, caused widespread discontent at the time.

In fact, every time the federal government interferes in the oil or energy sector, as in the case of the Varennes tokamak, Quebec loses out. If an energy price commission is established, as my colleague proposes by introducing Bill C-220, it should review not only gas prices but also the injustices done to Quebec through past federal interventions. This commission could perhaps recommend that the House give Quebec a generous compensation like that given to the maritimes for harmonizing the GST.

We would then try to set the amount of this compensation. An example of the injustices that could be reviewed by this commission is the impact of the famous Borden line imposed by the federal government in the 1960s. Members will remember that the Borden line energy policy systematically blocked the development of Montreal's oil production from Venezuelan and Middle Eastern imports by completely closing the market of those provinces located west of the line, to protect western oil development.

However, the policy was abolished when world prices started to rise quickly between 1973 and 1977. This resulted in the oil production from Sarnia and the prairies flooding the eastern Canadian market, in the closure of most Montreal refineries and in the loss of thousands of jobs. In addition to refineries disappearing because of this totally unjust policy towards Quebec, our whole petrochemical industry was also severely affected.

To this day, Quebec, and particularly the Montreal region, still suffers from the consequences of this policy implemented by the federal government of the day. Unlike the maritimes now, for the GST, Quebec was never compensated for its heavy losses. If the commission that the hon. member hopes to establish with Bill C-220 does become reality some day, perhaps it ought to take a look at the issue of compensation for Quebec.

The commission could also look at the development of the Athabasca tar sands. It should definitely not limit its role to regulating gasoline prices, but should look at the current investments being made to produce gasoline in Canada. Perhaps it should also examine the famous Hibernia project, that cock-and-bull story which has cost taxpayers in Quebec and Canada astronomical amounts of money. This is another example of failed federal involvement in the energy sector, which has had serious consequences on the economy as a whole. This project was launched before the 1989 federal election. Now, the current government is trying to get out of it.

At election time, the government had decided to withdraw from that project. However, it has since absorbed 25 per cent of the production costs. The government allocated over $1 billion to that project, but that was not enough. In addition, the present government promised loan guarantees corresponding to 40 per cent of construction loans, up to $1.66 billion.

A promise was made to stop using the taxpayers' money for this scheme. But a promise was made to scrap the GST and that was not kept, a promise was made to cancel the helicopters and that was not kept, a promise was made to cancel the Pearson Airport contract

and that was not kept, a promise was made by the Clark government to put a limit on the price of gasoline-which led to their defeat-and that was not kept. However, the federal government was probably quoted out of context or forgot about that promise too, and continued to pour more money down that drain.

The energy price commission, which my hon. colleague would like to see established, would have a field day if we gave it a mandate to investigate this matter.

But getting back to Hibernia, Ottawa then spent $350 million buying back 25 per cent of Gulf's shares in the Hibernia project. In addition, Ottawa financed the shares acquired by Murphy. And to top it off, it gave deductions and tax credits to Murphy, Mobil and Chevron, oil companies raking in billions of dollars, to reduce their income taxes, poor things, and the government gave them interest free loans, guaranteeing them benefits in the event that they were unable to take advantage of these deductions and these credits.

Chevron and Mobil each took advantage of $40 million in interest free loans from the federal government. Thus, while the federal government was increasing the tax on the price of gasoline, it was squandering public funds at a terrible rate. The increase in the gasoline tax is being used, among other things, to offset the accumulated losses in the Hibernia project.

I very much doubt that federal intervention with respect to the price of gasoline can solve any problems and provide even the remotest additional guarantee of fairness. I also very much doubt whether the creation of this commission can give taxpayers in Quebec and Canada a degree of stability in gasoline prices. I do, however, recognize the good will of my colleague. But they say the past is an indication of the future, and I would far prefer that the federal government stay right out of areas that, in any event, do not concern it.

When the Hibernia project was first launched, the federal government's top advisers predicted that the price of a barrel of oil would reach $70. We, as taxpayers, have paid billions of dollars for their mistaken forecasts.

We Quebecers fervently hope that this government will not get involved or, if it does, that it will do so only with the consent of the provinces so that they can have a say in the appointment of commissioners as well as in the operation and mandate of the commission. All the money invested in Hibernia, the billions of dollars wasted, could have been spent on reducing the gasoline tax, thus giving taxpayers a much needed break.

While presenting his plan to harmonize-or rather to hide-the GST last Tuesday, the Minister of Finance said that the federal government had an obligation to help the poorest regions and provinces, that there should be a more equitable distribution of wealth. He should now put his money where his mouth is.

Instead of wasting vast sums of money on foolish projects like Hibernia, it would be better to reduce the gasoline tax. If they simply want to offer a fair compensation to the regions or the Atlantic provinces, it would be better to reduce the gasolinetax rate.

If this government wants a more equitable Canada, it should put its money where its mouth is by finding more legitimate uses for this money. It should see to it that these oil companies, which too often benefit from unjustified tax exemptions, pay their fair share of taxes.

Finally, this government should let the provinces take responsibility for their own areas of jurisdiction and let the market set the prices. In short, the federal government should mind its own business.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on private member's Bill C-220, an act respecting the energy price commission.

This bill would establish an energy price commission to regulate the wholesale and retail prices of gasoline. The purpose of price regulation is to avoid unreasonable increases which affect the cost of living and depress business. This is the reason for the bill and the justification for setting up an energy price commission as given by the hon. member for Regina-Lumsden.

I too am extremely concerned about the price of gasoline. Every time I pull up to the pumps or get a load of bulk fuel delivered to my farm I am concerned about the price of gasoline. I often wonder why it is as high as it is.

This legislation does not provide a answer to the problem. This is a typical NDP solution to the problem, a socialist solution to the problem. It is not a practical solution. It has been tried before for other commodities and in other countries. This type of action has completely failed. In fact, as the hon. member who spoke from the Liberal Party said, regulation often leads to higher prices. Clearly this is not the solution.

Setting up an energy price commission would provide another opportunity for patronage appointments. Such a body would employ high priced, taxpayer funded civil servants. There is no other way to make a commission like that work.

Canadians do not need a higher cost of government. We need smaller government. We need less money spent by government. We do not need any more bodies to provide opportunities for the government of the day to make patronage appointments. It is clearly the wrong way to go.

I would like to mention a few figures presented by Michael Ervine, president of QIS Solution Inc., in his presentation to the House of Commons natural resources committee when speaking on the topic of the price of gasoline. Mr. Ervine pointed out that the average price of regular gasoline in Canada today is 55 cents a litre.

Of this price about 15 cents a litre represents the cost of the crude oil. About 30 cents a litre is the tax on this fuel at the pump. Only 10 cents a litre is what is left for the oil companies to refine the fuel, to transport, to lease equipment and to sell the product. Therefore, 10 cents a litre out of 55 cents a litre is to provide all of these costs.

When looking at a breakdown of costs of gasoline the tax component is by far the highest single component. What is a practical way of dealing with the problem? There is one most effective way for the government or the New Democratic Party to deal with this issue of what they perceive to be high gasoline prices. Again I say I feel they are high too. I feel it every time I buy a litre of gasoline for my farm or for my car. The most effective thing to do is to lower the tax component.

Saskatchewan has a reputation for having high taxes on gasoline in that province. Again, the way to deal with the problem is to reduce the tax component which is over half of the total cost of gasoline.

How is the tax component reduced? There is only one way to do that. Reduce government spending so that it does not have to tax at these totally unreasonable levels.

The hon. member for Regina-Lumsden is correct in one respect. The price of gasoline is too high. It is higher than it should be because the tax component is too high. That is the area on which the hon. member should be working.

The hon. member referred to a survey which appeared in the Regina Leader Post . In that survey about 93 per cent of the people who responded said they favoured this type of a commission. When going to the people on an issue it is important to do the background work before the survey or the poll. The background work is to make sure that all the information gets out before the survey or poll is taken.

I wonder if on this issue the Regina Leader Post or the hon. member for Regina-Lumsden did their work and got the information that I just presented on the cost of gasoline, which stated that over half the cost is taxes. Did they do their job to get the message out to the people that the tax component is the problem here?

I do not know for a fact that gasoline is not higher than it should be even acknowledging the high portion of tax. I am not saying it is not too high. But the way to deal with the problem is not by setting up an energy price commission, but to make sure of fair, good, strong, competition legislation which is enforced.

I acknowledge that some progress has been made over the last 10 years. The body that deals with the Competitions Act has made some progress. I believe it is much better than the old legislation that was in place. This Competitions Act, and the people who administer it, have gone a long way in trying to make it easy for people to let the bureau know if they feel there is unfair competition. I am sure it has heard from a large number of people who feel that the price of gasoline is too high.

The competition bureau's services are readily available to people through a 1-800 toll free number. This allows people who feel there is not fair competition to complain that companies are not dealing with prices fairly.

Progress has been made. I cannot determine if there really is a problem of fuel prices being too high other than the tax component which is clearly much too high. Over half of the cost of gasoline is tax at the pump, plus royalties and other taxes built into the rest of the price.

The way to deal with this is to make sure that we do have good, fair competition legislation, that the Competitions Act is strengthened if it needs to be strengthened, and that it be used and enforced.

I cannot support the legislation. It is up to other members of the Reform Party to determine how they will vote on this issue. Some Reform MPs may support the issue, but I doubt it very much when we look at the facts behind this.

I will not support the bill. Other Reform MPs can make their own decision. I believe this is a socialist, bureaucratic solution which will not work. The matter must be dealt with it through the competitions bureau.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Erie, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address the House on private member's Bill C-220, an act respecting the energy price commission, which was introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Regina-Lumsden. I would like to thank my colleague for the research and effort that was put into Bill C-220, leading to its introduction on March 4 of this year. He is a sincere, hard-working member.

The bill, as drafted, would establish an energy price commission which would confer on the Government of Canada the right and mandate to regulate the price of gasoline throughout the country. As I understand it, the commission would approve wholesale and retail gasoline prices across the country. Indeed, no person could offer gasoline for sale at a price not approved by the commission.

At the outset, I would like to explain that competition in an unfettered market rather than regulation leads to the lowest possible prices, both for the consumers and industrial purchasers of gasoline. Competition is seen as a means rather than an end unto itself. It is only through the process of competition that resources are allocated impartially, with the consequence that the efficiencies derived therefrom lead to lower prices.

This is the current view of the government and the majority of our trading partners. At a time when Canadians are attempting to

improve their competitive position in international markets we must steer away from regulations which, by their very nature, lead to the kind of production and distribution inefficiencies that eventually cause an increase in the price of inputs and in distribution costs.

On the issue of regulation, it is worth noting that at the Toronto economic summit in June of 1988 the G-7 countries first explicitly enunciated the goal of intensifying both individual and collective efforts to remove unnecessary controls and barriers to the operation of competitive market forces and to rely on increased competition to achieve economic efficiency and adaptability.

Reform of the regulated sectors of our respective economies has been in the forefront of economic agendas over the past 10 years. It is widely understood that less rather than more regulation is desirable. Barriers are descending within industries, between markets and across national borders. Trade, directed both north and south and east and west, has thus been encouraged. The potential for increased wealth for Canadians has been augmented.

The purpose of Bill C-220 and the commission is said to avoid unreasonable gasoline price increases. In addition, it proposes to maintain consistent prices for gasoline from province to province, all the while allowing for production and distribution costs. My colleague in his bill would exempt purchasers who enter into supply contracts for the supply of gasoline to their vehicles or to a storage facility owned by these purchasers from the authority of the commission.

From my reading of the bill, the underlying suggestion is that we need to regulate the price of gasoline in Canada. There has been a great deal of attention in this House and in the media about the price of gas in some specific local markets in parts of Canada. Before we decide that federal regulation is the answer to these localized problems, should we not ask if the price of gas has risen significantly and whether or not increasing the regulatory burden on this industry would actually improve the current situation?

In fact, the price of gasoline, in real terms, excluding all taxes, has been on a downward trend since 1990. In addition, there exists no significant differences in the base price of gas, excluding taxes and exchange rates, between the United States and Canada. Given this situation, should we as legislators impose a structure on the industry which would deny to consumers and businesses alike the benefits derived from real competition and retail gasoline markets?

In addition, the introduction of such a bill appears somewhat premature. I am informed by officials of Industry Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute that they are nearing completion of a regional competitive analysis of petroleum products. This report will examine pricing issuesin various urban and regional markets in the context ofdetermining the key factors which derive competitiveness in specific Canadian markets.

I would now like to provide my colleagues with a number of examples of the benefits of competition. Consumers could no longer benefit from the price wars that presently occur in retail gasoline markets, nor could they enjoy the benefits of the entry of a new competitor who would lower their prices to gain a market share.

Prices set by markets rather than governments tend to be lower to the consumer. The decision in July of 1991 by the province of Nova Scotia to discontinue its gasoline pricing regime reflected in part a recognition that such decisions should be left to competitive market forces. When prices were no longer regulated and a new independent entered the market, gas prices fell in Nova Scotia from 58.9 cents to 52.9 cents a litre, a very significant decline.

As is well known, gasoline stations communicate what they charge by posting large signs on their properties. This informs motorists and competing gas stations. Because gasoline is essentially a homogeneous product, motorists see one brand as being more or less identical to another. Gas station operators fear that if they charge a higher price than a competing station they will lose business. For similar reasons, if they charge a lower price they know it will be matched. In the end they make less money selling the same volume of product.

Retailers that monitor their competitors and independently take action that best serves their interests are simply following rational economic logic.

On the larger stage, such a commission would remove the incentive for petroleum producers to be more efficient. Price controls weaken the stimulus for firms to either swiftly adapt themselves to changes in demand or to developing more efficient methods of distribution. It is easier for the firms that have experienced cost increases to ask the regulatory body to increase the controlled price than to attempt to lessen their operating costs.

When prices are controlled at the retail level, retailers in turn may avoid passing on any discounts that they have been successful in exacting from manufacturers to the ultimate consumers for fear of breaking the law. In this manner retailers are constrained in their attempt to aggressively compete.

Competitive markets incur no cost of administration to governments, nor do they impose on the firms involved the cost of compliance with more laws, both of which would be borne by consumers over time.

Turning now to another subject in relation to this bill, I have further concerns with respect to the wisdom of raising yet another issue which impacts on the Canadian Constitution at this stage in our country's history. The regulation of petroleum products falls within the jurisdiction of the provinces. The federal government

does not currently intervene on these matters. This could very well be a fatal flaw in this initiative of my colleague.

I would now like to discuss the Competition Act which is Canada's legislation governing trade and commerce affecting competition. The act is a framework law of general application. It applies, with some exceptions, to all sectors of the Canadian economy, namely manufacturing, resources and services. The law touches on the every day life of all Canadians by maintaining and encouraging competition in the marketplace with the objective of providing consumers with competitive prices and a variety of choices in the goods and services which they purchase.

As the hon. member is aware, in 1994 the Minister of Industry, in response to concerns raised about gasoline pricing, asked the director of investigation and research who heads the Competition Bureau to review the provisions of the Competition Act to determine their adequacy in dealing with anti-competitive behaviour in the petroleum industry.

In response, the director reported that he actively enforces the Competition Act by monitoring developments in the marketplace and reviewing complaints from consumers and those in the petroleum industry to determine whether there is evidence of anti-competitive activity.

While there will always be fluctuations in markets owing to competition and other factors, the director's view is that the provisions of the legislation are adequate to deal with anti-competitive behaviour in relation to gasoline prices.

The director regularly reviews the act and the minister will propose amendments whenever he deems it appropriate. The above mentioned report is public and I encourage concerned members to read it. I also encourage anyone who has information that anti-competitive activity is ongoing to bring it to the attention of the director.

The act is available to deal with any competition problems that develop in petroleum product markets. As a matter of fact, on January 26, Mr. Justice David Dempsey imposed a find of $50,000 against Mr. Gas Limited which was found guilty of having influenced upward, by threat, the prices charged by one of its competitors, Caltex Petroleum Incorporated in September 1992 in the Ottawa area.

It should be noted that contrary to the context suggested in Bill C-220, matters involving anti-competitive pricing are most often treated as criminal offences under the Competition Act and as such proceed through the criminal courts under the auspices of the Attorney General of Canada.

The competition tribunal has to date only adjudicated on matters of a civil nature. A select set of pricing matters which may be brought before the tribunal are usually the result of disciplinary or

punitive action taken by dominant firms in a market rather than those arising from a criminal agreement among competitors.

In conclusion, it remains my view that gasoline prices should be set in the competitive marketplace. Anti-competitive behaviour will be appropriately addressed under the Competition Act.

Energy Price Commission Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and this item is dropped from the Order Paper.

Supply
Government Orders

April 29th, 1996 / noon

Reform

Randy White Fraser Valley West, BC

moved:

That the House urge the government to direct the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs to proceed with the drafting of a Victims' Bill of Rights, and that, in such areas where the Committee determines a right to be more properly a provincial concern, the Minister of Justice initiate consultations with the provinces aimed at arriving at a national standard for a Victims' Bill of Rights.

Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to bring to the House of Commons an issue of paramount importance.

Many people have helped us work on this bill since the summer of 1994. We have turned it into a motion to try to get some action in the House of Commons. The motion to establish a national bill of rights will be voted on this evening at 6.30. I encourage everybody watching and listening to see where the House of Commons stands on a national bill of rights for victims. This is when we will separate fact from fiction, right from wrong.

As I stand in the House I find it quite embarrassing today to find that the government is to table legislation on gay rights when victims across the country and the Reform Party are fighting to get victims' rights. It is a total embarrassment that the priorities are on one aspect and not on the other in this society.

I dedicate this speech to the hundreds of thousands if not the millions of victims in Canada today. In particular I dedicate my speech to Sheena who was taken from us by a drunk driver. We shall never forget the good times and her family will always remember.

Many people think victims' rights in Canada today are things like changes to the Young Offenders Act, the repeal of section 745, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the gun law or the many other bills in the great jungle of criminal justice laws in Canada. That is not the case. Those are the laws we use to help judge right from wrong. Those are the laws which are supposed to protect people from becoming victims in the first place. Those are the laws which victims seek to change.

On the other hand, victims' rights reflect the protection victims require after a criminal act has been perpetrated. They are the rights victims must have to ensure justice and equity exist and to protect them from being revictimized by the system.

Keith Kempt, a gentleman I met in Mission, British Columbia, said it best to me. He lost his young fellow when another individual shot him and killed him. Keith said to me not too long ago that criminals need correction; victims need rehabilitation. How appropriate a comment by a victim.

I hope the debate today will be constructive. We know a large number of victims have been advised of this debate and are watching as I speak now. I ask the people watching and listening to listen closely, to see if they will come to the same conclusion we have that a national victims' bill of rights is necessary. If you listen to the content and the sincerity of the speeches, you will see why we need this bill of rights. I encourage people across the country to write to us. Write to your MP, write to me in the House of Commons with your comments. Victims need our help. They need a national bill of rights.

Some provincial jurisdictions are involved. There are some actions within this bill of rights that would require administration by the provincial system. Just as the provinces co-operated with the federal government to implement reforms to the plea bargaining process, the same co-operation would be required here. Let us not blame one another for currently not having a victim's bill of rights; let us build one now.

I quote Somerset Maugham: "It is a funny thing about life, if you refuse anything but the best you very often get it". Let us develop the best together for victims, with victims.

The provinces of Ontario and British Columbia have recently attempted to address this issue through legislation. I looked at the legislation and I can see these rights are conditional to some extent; conditional to the Privacy Act, to the Freedom of Information Act and to the rights of the criminal. I do not think today we should be in the position to say the rights of the criminal are more important that the rights of the victim. I think we have to say there are unconditional rights of victims. Victims need more reassurance than having things conditional today. Victims need more consistency than that.

There are many victims' rights groups in the country that agree with our position and the criteria from which we set out what victims' rights are. Let us not leave them alone anymore. Let us support these groups, their membership, those victims.

There are groups like CAVEAT, CRY, Victims of Violence, Citizens United for Safety and Justice, Victims Resource Centre, Fair Justice, Move the Rock, and Peace and Justice for Canadians, to name some of the ones that have supported this initiative.

The standards we have established for a Canadian victims' bill of rights are here, and I wish to read them and table with them in the House. Afterwards I want to present an explanation for each article so that Liberal members can understand what is behind this incentive.

It is important to give an idea of some of the hurdles we have to cross in this country. To quote from the legal industry, Russ Chamberlain, a criminal defence lawyer, said in the Vancouver Province that crime victims want an eye for an eye. He said they want someone else to fix their petty problems and that their pitch for personal vengeance can improperly affect a jury's verdict.

Victim impact statements are just venting the spleen and do not serve justice and should be allowed, banned completely.

The consequences of criminal conduct are obvious to any intelligent person. It does not assist-to have persons who are the victims of criminal conduct spend all their time weeping in front of the jury.

I ask any reasonable and logical individual in this country to think about what this criminal lawyer has said. I sincerely believe the justice industry, the legal industry, sees victims as excess baggage in the process, and that is unfortunate and that is what we are to change here.

Let me read into the record exactly the criteria we want and then I will explain why. A definition for a victim, if you can believe it, is not existent in this country nationally, nor is it in many provinces. A victim is anyone who suffers as a result of an offence, physical or mental injury, or economic loss, or any spouse, sibling, child or parent of the individual against whom the offence was perpetrated, or anyone who had an equivalent relationship, not necessarily a blood relative. That is what a victim is.

Let us see what victims require. Victims have the right to be informed of their rights at every stage of the process, including those rights involving compensation from the offender. They must also be made aware of any victims' services available; not too much to ask.

Second, victims have the right to be informed of the offender's status throughout the process, including, but not restricted to, notification of any arrests, upcoming court dates, sentencing dates, plans to release the offender from custody, including notification of

what community the parolee is being released into, conditions of release, parole dates, et cetera. All information is to be made available on request.

Third, victims have the right to choose between giving oral and/or written victim impact statements before sentencing at any parole hearings and at judicial reviews.

Fourth, victims have the right to be informed in a timely fashion of the details of the crown's intention to offer a plea bargain before it is presented to the defence; not too much to ask.

Fifth, victims have the right to know why charges were not laid, if that is the decision of the crown or police.

Sixth, victims have the right to protection from anyone who intimidates, harasses or interferes with the rights of the victim.

Seventh, victims have the right to have police follow through on domestic violence charges. Once a victim files a complaint, police should have the authority to follow it through to the end.

Eighth, victims have the right to know if a person convicted of a sexual offence has a sexually transmittable disease.

I do not consider any of those difficult issues. Having worked with many victims since I was elected, I have come to realize that what they are asking for is fairness, something reasonable, something that gives them the feeling that they, too, are equal citizens to the criminal.

Let me go back and indicate why some of these are in here. Why do we define a victim? Shortly after the death of Sian Simmonds, a young girl in my riding, I was sitting with her dad, Chris, in his living room. Sue, the mother, had a very difficult time after Sian was murdered. They were both enraged and saddened that they could not get any counselling assistance for Sue. Why? The officialdom out there said Sue was not the victim.

If the mother of a girl who has been murdered is not a victim, who is? It is not the dead person, it is the remaining parents. We have to define what a victim is today.

Victims have the right to be informed at every stage of the process. Two weeks ago on a Friday I went to a sentencing hearing in my riding. Tami McKenzie, the mother of the victim, was going to it. I asked her whether she would make an attempt at having her victim impact statement read into the record rather than have it go in through the back door where the judge reads it and puts it on file.

She did not even know what a victim impact statement was. I had to tell her. I should not be telling her. There are many people in this country who have no idea what victim impact statements are, or any other part of the process. We need a process and a commitment to advise victims of their rights.

When I was watching "To Serve and Protect" one evening on television, I saw the RCMP reading rights to a criminal who bashed a lady who was laying on the street crying with blood on her hands. They were ignoring the other individual, who probably never did find out what her rights were. Where does she go? Who lays the charges? Will she go to court? If she goes to court, will she get assistance? Not done in this country, but it has to be.

Victims should have the right to be informed of the offender's status. In my riding an lady who was separated from her husband found that he came home one night, threw gasoline throughout the house and torched it. They escaped. He got a year or so in jail and she specifically asked: "Let me know if he is getting out, when he is getting out, the terms and conditions of getting out, where he will live when he does get out". What happened? No one told her. She got a call and there he was out and the nightmare started again.

This is not isolated. This is time and time again across the country. I am happy to see the justice minister intently listening. There are many victims today listening to what we have to stay in the House of Commons. I sincerely hope we get some answers.

The right to choose between giving oral and written victim impact statements should be a common right. However, as I read earlier, prosecutors and defence lawyers have a very difficult time with victim impact statements. This is mainly because the crime is against the crown and not the victim. When it is, a victim is seen as an extra, a difficult situation for the lawyers in the trial which is wrong.

Victims need to be informed in a timely fashion of the details of the crown's intention to offer plea bargaining. I wish I had more time to tell the House about Allen and Debbie Wayne in my riding. A young offender who was currently under prohibition from driving stole a 4 X 4. He smashed into young Allen Junior's car, broke Allen Junior's two legs, his arm, his pelvis, crushed his head and he still does not have much of a chance of living. In fact his mom, Debbie, told me several weeks ago they had to make the decision to cut his leg off. They explicitly asked that charges not be plea bargained and if they were, they asked that they be told if they were being bargained down.

The offender had eight charges against him. They found out from me and no one else that the eight charges were reduced to three minor charges. As a consequence this guy gets off but he is not a nice fellow. He was already under a prohibition from driving. What was he given? Fifteen months, I believe, open custody, he can go home; one day concurrent open custody for driving while prohibited; and something like three years prohibition from driving which

he was already under in the first place. I cannot tell the House how sick and crushed that makes victims feel. Allen and Debbie Wayne today are angry and I do not blame them.

Victims should have a right to know why charges are not laid, if that is the decision of the crown or the police. Is that not such a common sense solution to some of this? My secretary in my riding office had her house broken into by the same group three times last year. Charges were not laid. When I pursued it, and pursued it and pursued it again, I found out that charges were not going to be laid. Why? Because they were looking at some drug charges against these guys. She never did get charges laid against those people.

Victims should have a right to protection from anyone who intimidates, harasses or interferes with their rights. Why not? The justice minister may say we have that in the charter of rights and freedoms and so on, but it is not the case. We have to put some emphasis on it.

Joan in my riding was sexually assaulted with a weapon. We got the guy. We found out who it was and he was charged and has gone in. He was writing her letters. Joan is 63 years old. This fellow was writing letters from Vancouver remand, telephoning her and so on. We have got to do more in that area.

Police must follow through on domestic violence charges. We only have to look at what happened in the Vernon situation. One of the victims went to the police and said: "He is stalking me. He is going to come after me, but do not do anything because if you do, I am going to be murdered". So the police did not do anything. All they had to do was to follow it up from there and they would have found out that the fellow had purchased and registered guns.

Finally, we should know whether a person convicted of a sexual offence has a sexually transmittable disease. I could talk a lot about Jose Mendoza, and I have in the past. Tasha who was raped, not sexually assaulted, could not find out whether this guy had a sexually transmittable disease. Why? Because he did not want anybody to know. He did not want Tasha or anybody else to know. They are to keep their hands off of him.

Well done is better than well said. We have to do the job we have been sent here to do. This is not a partisan issue. I sincerely hope the Liberals particularly the justice minister think about this. Give the motion an opportunity to get to the justice committee for consideration to work out with the attorneys general in this country how we can improve on a system which needs improving.

People like Darleen Boyd, Chris and Sue Simmonds, Corinne and Ron Shaeffer, Chuck and Dona Cadman, Dawn and Bill Bakeburg, who are all people I have worked with, Debbie and Dan Mahaffy-Debbie is here today-Gail and Terry Smith, Paul and Marilyn Cameron and millions of other Canadians are hoping a national victims bill of rights can happen. It can start today. It can start at 6.30 this evening. Let us get away from looking at the gay rights issue today. Let us look at victims rights. Let us make a real attempt to do something positive in the country.

I will finish with a quote from Robert F. Kennedy who said it best: Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream of things that never were and say, why not. To me that says just about everything on the issue. It is not impossible. There is no need for excuses. There is no need to say that the Reformers voted against Bill C-68 or any other bill. That is criminal justice legislation. There is a need for a commitment today.