House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was price.

Topics

Commission of Inquiry Report
Routine Proceedings

November 1st, 2005 / 10 a.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, a copy of the first report of the Commission of Inquiry into the sponsorship program and advertising activities.

Copies of the report are available in the government and opposition lobbies. Copies are also being provided to all members' offices by the House of Commons distribution office. The report is also available on the Internet at www.gomery.ca.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 12 petitions.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand this morning to present to the government a petition by concerned constituents in my riding concerning the CBC and its future.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from constituents of the riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke with respect to Justin Schwieg, a student in his final year at Queen's University and a member of the football team, who was murdered at the age of 22.

On March 24, Justin was stabbed to death during an unprovoked attack by a perpetrator who had a previous history of crime and a reputation for always carrying a knife. The petitioners would like the Government of Canada to have the House of Commons enact legislation that enforces more severe penalties for people who commit violent crimes.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all question be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-66, An Act to authorize payments to provide assistance in relation to energy costs, housing energy consumption and public transit infrastructure, and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, during my remarks on this bill the other day, I referred to the three objectives the ministers have for this bill: first, to provide financial assistance to low income seniors and low income families with children; second, to help Canadian families reduce their heating costs by making their homes more energy efficient; and, third, to make the market more transparent and increase accountability.

Let me quickly say that there has been much discussion of whether the government ministers chose the right target group. We have to recognize that energy is so pervasive in the economy that essentially we come to a certain point of trying to help people affected by high costs where the government is trying to pull itself up by its bootstraps. In other words, the government is taking tax revenue from the same people it is giving the benefit to, so it makes sense to focus the attention on low income Canadians in particular circumstances as outlined by the government. I certainly agree with that approach.

The second point, however, is more difficult for us to get our minds around fully. Certainly there is a substantial increase in the amount of money being put into assisting people to be more efficient in the use of energy in their homes and of course we all applaud that. The trouble we face is that we keep hearing that the government intends to increase energy efficiency in Canada because of climate change reasons, high cost of energy reasons, and many reasons, but it only does a very small amount.

For instance, with respect to the houses that are to be assisted in this bill, not a large percentage of the Canadian stock of homes will be affected. In terms of homes in Canada, we are talking about 11.5 million and with respect to single-family dwellings or detached housing probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of 8 million; I do not have the exact figure. Here we are dealing with only a small percentage of that number, probably less than 5%. The question is simply this: if it desirable to do, why are we doing so little? That is the question I would put to the parliamentary secretary of the minister who will be handling this bill in the House.

We certainly agree with these issues such as energy efficiency, but that clearly is not being done on anything approaching a major scale and is clearly not a national objective, as outlined in this bill, despite a great deal of talk about a national objective in this area and also in the area of climate change.

The second point related to that is of course the increase in money for public transit. It is a very good thing to do. It is very desirable. I believe that our bus fleets in Canada are about four years older than the bus fleets of United States cities. A lot more can be done. This is just one indicator of many that we can do more to make sure public transit is efficient, quick, clean and of course more attractive for the public to use than the private automobile.

We must do that right across Canada. The companies attempting to provide public transit are doing so. They are doing a great job and I admire the work they do, but we certainly need to have a much more substantial system. The municipal governments, let us face it, must do much more in their field to give the advantage to public transit, such as one way streets for buses or public vehicles only or changing parking regulations to encourage the use of transit. This is the type of thing that can be done.

It is not just a question of putting money into buses. If we put money into buses that run on roads and the buses are empty, they are worse than useless. In those circumstances, of course, we would be blocking the roads for other vehicles and using a lot of diesel fuel for the buses, or natural gas in some cases, or whatever the fuel might be, but we would not be achieving the objectives of the bill.

I think there is a question that really has to be answered here. Why is so little being done here? Why, when it comes to the private dwellings, is so little done? Why, when it comes to transit, is so little done?

With respect to commercial buildings, I believe the number in the background information suggests that there will be a little over 2,500 assisted with this program and yet that is probably less than 2% of the total number of commercial buildings in Canada. Why are we only dealing with such a small fraction? Why are we not trying to deal in a comprehensive way with what we and this bill recognize is a serious issue?

My time is limited. I have already had a few minutes in the previous discussion of the bill, but now I would like to turn to the third aspect of the bill: where does the money come from?

If we look at the papers provided with this bill, we will realize that of the $2.3 billion or $2.4 billion, more or less, that this is going to cost, about $1.3 billion is from new sources, new revenues, new moneys, and the remainder comes from other programs. Of this total package, a large amount is recycled moneys. We must not get away from that. It really is a much smaller package than it looks at first.

Of the new money, the more than $1 billion that needs to come into this, it is coming from general tax revenue. It is coming out of money that would otherwise be used for health, education, paying down the debt and the many things that public funds go to in Canada. There are of course many benefits to the public that come from the use of their tax dollars. That is what is happening here.

What really worries me is the fact that there has been such a massive increase in the price of energy, with a corresponding massive increase in the profits of the producers and the refiners of crude oil, and indeed of the distributors, and yet we have done nothing to have that massive bubble of money, and it was in the billions, diverted to pay the costs for these low income Canadians. In fact, what has happened is that instead of that unearned increase, that windfall profit of dramatic proportions, going to help the poor, we are having to take this out of the moneys that normally would be used for other public purposes. That is the worst problem we face in this area.

Let me give members a few examples. We all know that at somewhere between $10 and $20 per barrel even the oil sands break even and make money, yet we have seen the price of oil go up to over $65 a barrel, to virtually $70 U.S. a barrel. We are seeing really dramatic increases in profits.

Let us say there has been an increase from $20 to $60. Then $40 is profit for producers of crude oil. Of course the argument is made by the industry that nothing can be done about this, that it is a world market and so on. Nevertheless, it is a massive increase in profit and nothing was done to recoup that profit to help the low income people who had to pay the dollars that made those profits for the companies.

That, I think, is a very important issue that has to be answered for by the government. Why was nothing done to increase the taxation level so that we would in fact have a transfer from those who made the money, these enormous profits, to those who had to pay them and therefore are suffering financially? That is point one.

Point two is about the refiners. The refiners happily said it was the price of crude going up that caused this massive spike in the price of gasoline when it went up to $1.35. If we were to take the $10 increase in crude between the beginning of the summer and September and work it through the system, we would find that the maximum the refineries and distributors should have charged by reason of that increase in crude oil would have taken the price of gasoline to 90¢. Yet it went to $1.35.

That is another massive increase in profits. That is okay. That is the way the system works. I am not questioning that. I am simply asking why some of that was not transferred to the people who actually paid out those profits, the people who bought the fuel. I do not know why that was not done. Again, that question relates to both the production side and the crude side.

Let me quickly deal with the third part of the legislation about how we are going to have a new agency set up to deal with this problem of whether the oil companies are on the straight and narrow. As far as I can see, this agency is going to be useless, useless because we already have the Competition Bureau, which time after time correctly says there is no collusion among the companies. It says the prices go up because of competitive factors, not collusion.

I believe that, because it is the system causes the prices to go up. The companies do not have to collude. They do not need to have a few people sitting in a room dishonestly trying to say what the price will be. It does not happen that way. That is why we are trying to set up our organizations like the Competition Bureau and this new agency to look at petroleum prices. That is what they will focus their attention on: the system means that the price goes up. Then we see in the bill that there is going to be a $25 million fine if it happens that the organization finds anything wrong.

On the Labour Day weekend when the spike occurred in gasoline prices, in regard to the extra made by the companies--and not the producers of the crude, but the companies that refined and distributed the crude and gave us the gasoline--the extra profits they made per day over what they were otherwise legitimately entitled to make and in accordance with the price of crude was $49 million to $50 million a day. Yet under the bill, we are going to have 12 hours of that profit as the maximum fine. It would make sense to collude under those circumstances if the fines are going to be so trivial.

I would like to know from the parliamentary secretary to the minister shepherding this bill through the House or some other parliamentary secretary, particularly the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, why is it that we are setting up this new organization?

I have another point on this same issue. I have on my desk a series of documents from Statistics Canada dealing with what are called fuel facts. I cannot wave them around because that would be a prop and that is not allowed, but day after day, week after week, month after month, Statistics Canada gives out extraordinarily detailed information on the industry, which we can use. All members can use it and all Canadians can acquire this information from Statistics Canada.

Why are we setting up yet another organization to look into this? We seem to set up organization after organization in the House. They all overlap, they get in one another's way, and they do not necessarily do a great job.

I would like to know why we would not continue with Statistics Canada, which has a phenomenal reputation for accuracy and precision. Why do we not continue with its work rather than setting up a new agency? If we are going to set up a new agency other than the Competition Bureau and Statistics Canada, what, really, is it going to do? Is it just that the people who drafted the bill did not know about the good work done by Statistics Canada? I do not know. We have that as another factor.

Going over the bill as a whole, we can see a number of issues that I think are really important for us.

First, with respect to who gets the money being allocated, we could argue until the cows come home about whether to add a group such as truckers or another group, but ultimately we reach a point where we are just taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. We are taking tax revenue from ordinary Canadians and passing it back to them as a so-called rebate for high fuel prices. We really have to concentrate on low income Canadians.

The second point that I think is really important, which we must stress and recognize, is that in the whole area of trying to be more energy efficient, this bill will do very little. Furthermore, it will do it on the basis of money that was already allocated in other speeches by ministers, basically for climate change and eco-efficiency measures.

The third point I want to stress is that we have not actually touched at all on these unearned windfall profits of the oil companies. We should have. I actually wrote a letter to the Prime Minister--and if anyone wishes to have a copy, I will provide one--asking him back in September to call in the heads of the companies and say to them that we would not tax those windfall profits, but that they should be using that money to help people in distress from hurricane Katrina, the people whose misery led to these windfall profits. Of course I received a reply, which was less than satisfactory, I unfortunately have to admit.

Nevertheless, what I am saying is that if we are not going to do it through taxation, it is about time that the oil industry itself stepped forward and started dealing with some of these issues on their own, using their own enormous windfall profits to assist. ExxonMobil, which in Canada we call Imperial Oil, has never had such profits as it did in the last quarter. Company after company, with the exception of EnCana or Enbridge, I think, which gambled wrong on futures, have had these enormous profits.

We have a tremendous amount of money sloshing through the system. There has been a tremendous amount of money. It is not all needed for increasing supply. Some of it should be devoted to some of the purposes of this bill, namely, achieving eco-efficiency and helping people who are in need to meet their bills.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address a couple of issues. I hope there will be time to do so.

The member has expressed a concern about who is getting the money and where the money will be going. It is a valid concern, especially given the previous program and some of the places where the money ended up. He also said that this is basically taking tax revenue from ordinary Canadians and then passing it back to them. Because of that, I guess, he concluded that middle class Canadians should not be getting this money. He said we should concentrate on low income Canadians.

I have a question. I am wondering why he does not think that those hit hardest by energy prices should get some relief as well. I am thinking particularly of farmers and truckers. He mentioned truckers, but I come from a farming area and the situation right now is that things are as bad as they have ever been. Prices are very low and obviously the farmers are hit almost ahead of anyone else by high energy prices, spikes in fuel costs and those kinds of things.

Why does the member not seem to be concerned at all about those who are hit hardest by those energy prices, truckers and farmers in particular, especially when the farming community is in the emergency situation that it is in right now?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has just honestly admitted that he is speaking on behalf of the constituents in his own riding. I am sure members on all sides of the House would like to ensure the constituents in their ridings are given cheques by the government.

However the fact is that middle class Canadians, who again are singled out as a group, pay the basic tax burden in Canada. Therefore if we start handing out regular tax money to middle class Canadians we are simply taking from one hand and giving with the other. It is like taking from Peter to pay Paul or, in this case, it is taking from Paul to pay Paul and taking from Peter to pay Peter.

The issue is quite straightforward. We reach a certain point in these rebate schemes where it becomes self-defeating because of the very people who are paying. My hon. friend has perhaps missed the point of the enormous importance of getting the oil industry, both the production side and the refining side, to cough up the money to assist his farmers perhaps, if we had a bigger pool, and not to take it out of the normal money that is used to help farmers, that is used for education, for health care or for the many other things that people get.

I am in no way unsympathetic to the concerns of anyone or any group affected by these high energy prices but I think the member will have to admit that where the incomes are lower the impact is worse.

The increase in the consumer price index was 4.3%. Half of that is due to energy cost increases, a full 50% of the increase in the CPI.

Therefore it is not a question of us disagreeing. We would all like to hand out cheques to everyone, but it is a question of where the money comes from.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Boulianne Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member. The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill. It is important to say so. However, it contains some fundamental flaws.

I want to come back to a subject he mentioned: making housing more energy efficient. This is good, but there are always problems or surprises when it comes to program eligibility. I think that we must point out one of these problems, and I want to hear what the member has to say about it.

Families must make significant investments up front without knowing if they will qualify for government assistance. Assistance is granted in accordance with the resulting energy efficiency. This means that an individual may undertake extensive renovations without knowing for sure if a refund will be forthcoming.

Would it not be possible to amend the rules so that homeowners can obtain financial assistance from the government when renovations start instead of when they are completed, so there are no nasty surprises?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Victoria, BC

Yes, Mr. Speaker. What the hon. member has stated so clearly most definitely applies to any government program. There are areas that the programs do not reach, and so some people, some citizens, are not helped.

In his speech he has proposed changes, or perhaps he will do so later. I am in favour of a good discussion on points of contention, but in the time I have allocated to me I cannot say that we can settle this to the satisfaction of the 307 or so members. Each one has something different to propose, as the hon. Conservative member who has just spoken did. Each one of us needs to propose something. I hope the government will listen carefully to the comments from all parts of this House.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, in our region there has been a great deal of concern about where we are going in terms of energy policy.

People who leave Toronto, fill up their gas tanks, drive six hours up the road to Englehart and pay 20¢ to 30¢ more and then when they go into towns like Kirkland Lake and Iroquois Falls they pay even more. They have a sense that they are being ripped off.

We have families and widows on fixed incomes who do not believe they will be able to actually heat their houses this winter. Where are the teeth in any government policy to ensure that the oil companies are not ripping the public off and gouging the public continually? Every time we turn around it seems that our working families in the north and our farming families are paying through the nose while these companies profiteer off their backs.

It is well and good to give a rebate but where is the commitment from the government to actually hold these companies to account so they stop ripping off our people?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to hear the hon. member agree with me on the basic point of my speech, which is that we are taking moneys, normal tax revenues contributed by every Canadian who pays taxes, that could be used for education, environmental purposes, health or to pay down this terrible debt we are leaving our children, and we are helping poorer Canadians to meet the energy increases.

We are not taking it from those whose very profits have come from those poor Canadians as well as other middle class Canadians. That is the point. The oil industry has made a substantial profit. One senior executive told me that in his entire lifetime in the industry there has never been a year like it. He would not comment any further than that, and he was right. This has been a remarkable windfall year but we made no effort to take the excess profits, the windfall profits, which came, let us face it, largely out of the misery of hurricane Katrina. To profit from misery and disasters of that kind raises a major moral issue, and I think my hon. friend agrees with me.

In any event, if we are not going to do it from the government side, and I certainly have urged them to do so but I have failed to do that, I suggest we ask them to voluntarily to do it. They should make their own funds available for the impact of those dramatic spikes that have led to these enormous profits. It is ridiculous to say that they will use it up creating more energy sources, discovering more, expanding refineries, et cetera.

They have so much money. If we look at the Imperial Oil quarterly results and the results in the United States, which again, for the same company were astronomical, I think it was $8 billion. If we look at that kind of money we have to wonder why some of that has not been diverted to the people who need it. The government needs to answer that question. Why did it not do it through the tax system or why did it not call in the people, as I recommended to the Prime Minister, and tell them that this should be done?

I told the Prime Minister that this issue was about the unjust enrichment of the industry through the totally unearned price increases. The issue is the immorality of allowing the industry to benefit from the natural disaster of hurricane Katrina, from the misery of those affected and from the financial exploitation by the industry of gasoline consumers everywhere. That is the nub of what happened and that is why something should be done about it.