Debates of April 19th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was marriage.
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Civil Marriage Act
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, we look forward to two things: forming government and defending the definition of marriage in the country.
I have the distinct privilege to stand and speak on behalf of my riding. The bill is definitely not a priority for Canadians. We saw that on the Hill just a few weeks ago when 15,000 to 20,000 individuals came to say to Canada and to Parliament that we should be careful in what we do, that changing the definition of marriage is an experiment that has not gone well wherever it has been introduced, only in two other countries in the world, and we should tread very carefully when it comes to this.
People are angry and upset at the bill, and rightfully so. They do not buy what the Prime Minister is claiming with regard to the bill being all about human rights. We all believe that human rights should be protected but this is not about human rights. This is about changing a definition of an institution that has been cherished for many generations in this country. In fact, it predates the state itself.
This could have major consequences, not only for the institution of marriage but for children, for religious freedoms and for society itself.
I will not be supporting the legislation and I will do everything in my power to stop it. I will do that on behalf of the people of Yellowhead and I will do it as aggressively as I possibly can. I believe that most members of our caucus are feeling the same way about this issue.
What is marriage? Marriage is an inclusive union between one man and one woman and it has been recognized as that for thousands of years. It is an institution that predates the modern states and is recognized in most of the world's cultures and religions. Marriage serves as a bond between a man and a woman and between the generations. It provides the ideal environment for raising children. Marriage is the pillar of our society and, like I say, we trample on it at our peril.
Contrary to the Liberal claim, same sex marriage is not a fundamental right. The Supreme Court of Canada did not recognize it as such and gave it back to this Parliament to decide and to deal with. In fact, no nation or international court has recognized same sex marriage as a basic human right. Marriage as a union of a man and a woman has stood the test of time and place and many Canadians are willing to extend benefits and, I should say, are willing to extend benefits to other kinds of domestic partnerships. Most people in the House recognize that as well but they recognize marriage as something distinct. It is a unique bond or covenant between a man and a woman.
The other aspect to this legislation is religious freedoms. I also oppose the bill because the redefinition of marriage threatens religious freedom and conscience. Religious freedom is already under attack in this country and I think that we can expect worse to happen if we pass the legislation.
The government says that religious officials would not be compelled to perform same sex ceremonies. That is very generous of it but this is only one of the many possible impacts on religious freedom flowing from the redefinition of marriage. That is the law of unintended consequences of this legislation. In some of the provinces, marriage commissioners right now are being compelled to affirm same sex marriages or lose their licences.
The bill would not protect these officials because it cannot. The solemnization of marriage is under provincial jurisdiction. It is not under federal jurisdiction. Therefore we should not be saying that we can protect something that we cannot.
It seems like the government's deputy House leader thinks that it is fine for marriage commissioner's to lose their licences. I do not believe that should be the case at all.
What else can we expect? Churches or temples may be forced to rent out their halls for same sex marriage receptions, which is exactly what is happening in British Columbia. A branch of the Knights of Columbus has been taken to the B.C. Human Rights Commission for refusing to rent out its hall for a same sex marriage reception.
The charitable status of religious institutions in which same sex marriages may be performed could be revoked. Religious schools or charities may be forced to hire and retain employees of same sex couples.
Last but not least there is a concern that religious officials may one day be ordered by the courts to sanction same sex marriages and allow them to be performed in our churches, mosques and temples.
The bill includes a declaration claiming that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs. However, this declaration carries no legal weight because the solemnization of marriage, as I have said, falls under provincial jurisdiction.
Freedom of religion and conscience is the lifeblood of an open society. Bill C-38 moves us further away from that standard, posing further harms to religious freedoms in Canada. As I have said, marriage commissioners are already being fired. Charitable status may already be taken away, potentially, and the outlook for religious officials and institutions to maintain their teachings and practice on marriage remains uncertain. For these reasons, too, I oppose the redefinition of marriage and this bill.
Let us move forward and look at what else might happen. The Supreme Court has not ruled on the traditional definition of marriage. In fact, it handed that back to this Parliament, which is the highest court of the country. We should do our due diligence. That is what I hope we are doing here today. Seriously concerned about this, as members of Parliament we must stand up and represent the people of Canada on this important issue.
The Prime Minister and the justice minister have turned their backs on marriage. I can tell members that we will not. A Conservative government would introduce legislation to preserve the traditional definition of marriage and would also extend the same federal benefits enjoyed by married couples to same sex unions. Our approach represents a reasonable compromise that is accepted by the majority of Canadians.
Marriage as the union of a man and a woman is a cherished institution in Canada and around the world. Not all marriages are perfect, of course, but on balance marriage is an institution that richly benefits men, women, children and society. That we would trample it and tamper with it, I would suggest to this Parliament, means that we would be on dangerous grounds and into a very dangerous experiment.
Redefining marriage would have numerous consequences. Some of them are already with us. Others will surely emerge with the passage of time. Among them is likely to be the ongoing erosion of religious freedoms in Canada.
This actually happened not long ago in Australia. Australians had the same sort of debate. The issue was in the courts and then the government was under pressure to act. There was a groundswell of support for traditional marriage in that country, just as we are seeing today. In response, the Government of Australia passed legislation preserving the definition of marriage. This government and this Parliament can and should do the exact same thing.
I urge all members of Parliament to carefully consider what is at stake. I urge my colleagues not to rush headlong into the reinvention of marriage, making our country just the third in the world to do so. I urge the Prime Minister to show true respect to his cabinet ministers and their constituents by not binding them on this bill. I urge Parliament to affirm marriage and to protect freedom of religion in Canada.
It is very important to think of the Prime Minister and some of his words over the last year, when he talked about coming in and reforming this House by giving the people of Canada a stronger voice through parliamentary reform. That is what he talked about. He ran in the last election pledging that he was going to do that when he became the Prime Minister of this country. He has been Prime Minister for a year. It took this Prime Minister six days to break his promise with regard to whipping his backbenchers into a whipped vote. Our past prime minister was notorious for whipping his caucus, but with him it was a month or two before we saw that sort of thing start to happen. It took six days in this case.
Here we are on same sex marriage, one of the most important issues that we have faced as a Parliament and as a nation. We have a Prime Minister who claims to have democratically reformed this House so that the people of Canada truly have a voice in this place, yet he stands in his place over there and whips his cabinet on an issue like this. It is not respectful to his cabinet. It is not respectful to the people of Canada those members represent. It is an abomination to this House on an issue like this.
I would implore him to change his mind and I ask this House to change its mind with regard to allowing this piece of legislation to go through.
Civil Marriage Act
Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK
Mr. Speaker, I have a preliminary comment to start off my discussion today. I found the Liberal convention very interesting this year. I place a whole lot of value on parliamentary democracy and having democracy determine our public policy. I also place a whole lot of value on our heritage, values, traditions and our social institutions such as marriage.
If someone would have told me 40, 30, 20 or even 10 years ago that a national political party, one that has been here since Confederation, would have a convention in which most of the delegates would be wearing “stupid” buttons telling people in Canada that if they believe in Parliament deciding the laws of this country they are stupid or if they believe in a social institution such as marriage they are stupid, I would not have known what to think.
This says in spades where this Liberal Party and this Liberal government have drifted in their positions on policy. They are very quickly becoming irrelevant to the Canadian public. I think that in the next year or two they are going to find that out in a very resounding way.
I used to teach high school. I taught history for four years to grade 10, 11 and 12. I always used to tell my students that we live in Canada and we live in a democracy that emphasizes representative democracy. We hold elections every three or four years and we elect our members of Parliament to a democratic institution. On issues of conscience and moral decision making and so on, what an MP has to do is read the wishes and the minds of his constituents on those issues and represent them in Parliament in Ottawa. That is a very basic principle, one as old as the hills.
I have received thousands upon thousands of messages from people in my riding who have let me know what their position is on this issue. Over 90% of these people have said that they want me to represent the traditional definition of marriage in this chamber. That is resounding. It is not a question of what I believe on this issue. When I get that sort of resounding message from my constituents, it is not a question of what I believe. That becomes irrelevant. My job as a member of Parliament is to represent that point of view in this House.
I am appalled and disappointed with the position of the other three leaders in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister has basically beaten his cabinet into taking his position on the issue. As for the NDP, of all parties, the party of Tommy Douglas, prairie populism, democracy and so on, the leader says no, that all of his MPs have to take his position and vote the way he wants or otherwise he will kick them out of the party. I am not sure what the position of the Bloc is, but I get the feeling that there is a good deal of pressure applied by that leader as well on this issue.
In the last election there were ridings in the country in which 50% or more of the people did not vote. What were they saying? They said, “It does not make any difference. We can send MPs to Ottawa but they are not going to listen to us anyway. The party leaders are going to make them toe the line”. The numbers of voters are dropping. If we do not fix this problem in this country, our parliamentary institutions and our democratic way of doing things are going to be at serious risk.
I would like to speak on a couple of related topics. I have heard both Liberal members and NDP members say that in Canada we have separation of church and state. When we probe them on that, what does that mean in their way of dealing with things? It says to church leaders that they must shut up on the issues of the day, that they have no right to speak on those matters, and that they should stay in their churches and not speak on the issues of the day.
To me this shows a profound ignorance of that concept of separation of church and state. In Canada and the United States we have built our societies largely on people leaving other countries and looking for freedom of religion. They were fleeing from countries in which the state persecuted them for their religious beliefs. Now, in this day and age, we have a government that says those people should shut up and not talk about the issues of the day. This is indeed a frightening proposition.
On that issue, let us remind this Liberal government of a few basic concepts. Section 2 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees every Canadian, without exception, the right to freedom of speech or freedom of expression. Section 2 also says that religious freedom is a “fundamental freedom”. When the state in this country goes around telling people that they have to shut up, it is seriously violating the most fundamental rights in our Constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Let us look at the great reforms in history. Let us put this to a historical test and see how educated some of these ministers on the other side are on this issue. Let us look at the great reforms of the last couple of hundred years: the elimination of slavery, the end of child labour in Great Britain, public education reforms and the end of racial discrimination and segregation in the United States.
Who led those causes? Not politicians. Those leaders were people of religious conviction who saw things that were sinful and immoral from their point of view and they wanted public policy and reforms to address those issues. They were successful. That led to some great reforms. What a travesty for history if we had lived in a society in which the government had told those people to shut up or else and they had not led us to those great social reforms. Would we have made the progress that we say we have?
For my friends in the NDP who spout this point of view, let me say that most of them show a profound ignorance of the founding of the CCF movement. The people who created the CCF movement had strong religious beliefs. They believed in the social gospel.
One of the most powerful people in that movement was Tommy Douglas. I am from Saskatchewan and I know what his election campaigns were about. He said to the people of Saskatchewan, “Vote for me. We will take care of you. We will create a new Jerusalem in Saskatchewan. We will take care of the people. We will eliminate poverty and the need for private health insurance.” So it went. But he was preaching religion. I say to a lot of the educated people on the other side of the House, to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Justice, that they should go back to school. I think they missed something when they were going to school.
Where would we be today without people such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Garrison, Lincoln, Woodsworth, Ernest Manning, T.C. Douglas, Bishop Tutu, Malcolm X and William Wilberforce? They were people who were motivated by their religious beliefs and were successful in leading great reforms in their societies. As for members opposite who are saying that this is wrong, that somehow people speaking out on the issues of the day because they have religious points of view are wrong, I say to them that they are wrong.
I want to make another observation. Members opposite say that there is something wrong with the majority deciding public policy, that there is something wrong with democracy and the democratic system because both of those things are dangerous to minority rights. I want to point out a few facts. None of the charter points existed in this country in 1982. They all came from the British system.
The British system stands on one principle and only one principle in its constitution: that parliament is supreme. It is the democratic parliamentary system that gave us freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the democratic principles that we have in our society, the criminal justice principles, and equality under and before the law. It protected these rights for hundreds of years before we ever put it into a written Constitution.
For members opposite to say that a democratically elected Parliament is a threat to minority rights shows the ignorance of the government.
Civil Marriage Act
Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB
Mr. Speaker, before I get into my speech, I do want to thank the people of Brandon--Souris for their input on this issue. I know that for many of my colleagues and, I suspect, for many of the members in this House, this subject was part of the election issue in the last campaign. I believe that if we were truly honest with ourselves and told people what we felt, that should be reflected in the votes.
I have received many calls, many letters, many e-mails, mostly against the legislation but also some in support. I have tried to deal with all of my constituents with the same level of respect and willingness to hear their points of view.
This is arguably the most controversial and divisive piece of legislation to come before Parliament in a generation, and it does not have to be so. A clear majority of Canadians favour the proposal put forward by the Conservative Party of Canada, namely providing for same sex unions while maintaining that the term “marriage” will continue to apply to opposite sex couples. That is a position which is very Canadian in its compromise. I believe it is the position that most Canadians are putting forward. It is respectful of both the gay community and its desire for equal benefits under the law, and of those people who agree with maintaining the current definition of marriage as that between a man and a woman.
This divisive debate, in my opinion, is an attempt by the current government to detract from its shameful record of governing and trying to paint those who disagree with its view as intolerant or un-Canadian. It does not have to be this way. Our party's proposal keeps the term “marriage” and provides for recognition of homosexual couples.
I believe I am like most Canadians. I have friends who are gay and I have friends who are still uncomfortable with homosexuality. I think that I am also like most Canadians when I say that gays, lesbians and straight couples should be able to enter into civil unions if they so desire. I do not think we would find many Canadians who would disagree with that position. I have to stress, however, that because someone agrees that the term “marriage” should be preserved for a man and a woman, it does not make that person intolerant, but wrapping oneself in the charter and calling everyone who disagrees stupid does.
It is the tolerant and mainstream position of this party in regard to civil union that the majority of Canadians agree with. In fact I would go so far as to say that the majority of the industrialized world agrees with our position. This is shown by looking at comparable legislation enacted by countries around the world which Canada often compares itself to. France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Germany, Portugal and New Zealand have all brought in laws that allow couples to enter into civil unions, unions that provide all the same benefits of marriage while maintaining the important and accepted term “marriage” as that between opposite sex couples.
Only two countries have legislated same sex marriage at the national level, Belgium and the Netherlands. Before some say that this proves it is possible to grant same sex couples what they call equal rights, I would add that in both of these countries there are some areas related to adoption or marriage of non-nationals which still make the relationship different from opposite sex marriages.
Even in the so-called progressive countries, same sex couples are treated differently from opposite sex couples. I am certain that the Prime Minister would not call the leaders of those countries stupid for not giving same sex couples the exact same legislation of the traditional definition.
It is true that several Canadian provinces and one territory have same sex marriage. Add to that the American state of Massachusetts and we have all the jurisdictions in North America that allow it. It should be noted, however, that all of these jurisdictions have had the decisions dictated by the courts, not by their parliamentarians.
Some jurisdictions have enacted civil union on their own initiative, including uber-liberal Hawaii and Howard Dean's Vermont. These states have always been viewed as forward looking by Canadian liberals. It should be stressed that neither state has brought in same sex marriage. That would be called intolerant by the government. I am sure Mr. Dean would find it amusing that Canadian Liberals would find his views intolerant, views that, I may add, reflect exactly the position of this moderate mainstream Conservative Party.
The Conservative position is one that is in line with the views of most Canadians. It is a compromise between those who will stop at nothing until same sex couples have marriage even if it means potentially trampling on religious rights in the process, and those on the other side who believe that same sex couples are illegitimate and deserve no recognition at all. Let us respect the views held by mainstream Canadians and enact legislation allowing civil unions and keep the term “marriage” reserved for those who are of the opposite sex.
Canadians agree. So does most of the industrialized world. In December New Zealand passed civil union legislation that is open to both same sex and opposite sex couples. It allows for same sex couples to obtain the benefits of marriage while leaving the term “marriage” for a man and a woman. It is true that the left of centre, progressive, tolerant, forward looking, inclusive, moderate and mainstream Labour Party of New Zealand has the same position on marriage as the Conservative Party of Canada.
It is not the Conservatives who are out of touch with Canadian values or those of the international community. It is the Liberals across the way.
The civil union bill was brought before the New Zealand House of Representatives on June 24 last year by the Labour-led coalition government. It sparked a huge national debate there, very similar to what we are seeing with the civil marriage bill in Canada.
Speaking to the civil union bill in New Zealand at first reading, the hon. Chris Carter, an openly gay Labour MP and minister of conservation said that he supported the legislation because it was an opportunity to publicly register his relationship with his partner and to obtain proper legal protection for their rights.
When responding to the fact that the bill did not allow for same sex marriage, Mr. Carter said:
The irony is that this bill does not allow couples like Peter and I to marry. I am often asked whether I am comfortable with this--and, actually, I am.
I accept that marriage has a traditional and religious heritage, which is why our churches are so protective of it.
I recognize that those churches often cannot include same-sex couples in their world view.
Therefore, I accept that it could be difficult for the State to apply the institution of marriage to same-sex couples until the majority of our religions have done so.
That sounds so familiar to the debate taking place in Canada. Talk like that in this country would have one branded as being intolerant or worse, against the charter, by the Liberals across the way.
The bill provides public recognition of same sex relationships while at the same time respecting the beliefs of those who think marriage, often due to religious beliefs, is between a man and a woman. That is reasonable and fair. We on this side cannot understand why the Liberals on that side do not get it.
Georgina Beyer, a post-operative transsexual Labour MP also voiced her support of the legislation, saying:
This is no more or less than we are asking for with the Civil Union Bill--for the sake of enhancing the lives of New Zealanders, not for destroying the institution of marriage, which we stand here in this House today to acknowledge and respect for what it is.
My party shares the same views as the Labour Party of New Zealand and yet is labelled intolerant by Liberals because we want to give equality of status to homosexual couples while respecting those who believe in the current definition of marriage. Canadians are willing and ready to accept this. I believe we represent the majority of Canadians.
I will be opposing the bill presented as it is. I will continue to support the values as presented by the Conservative Party of Canada.
Civil Marriage Act
Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK
Mr. Speaker, I would like to expand on some comments that I made in the debate when it began a couple of weeks ago surrounding the issues of religious freedoms, specifically the lack of any genuine protection of religious freedoms in the legislation before the House.
The lone clause included to protect these freedoms, a clause which states that religious officials will not be forced to perform marriages, has already been ruled as falling within provincial responsibility by the Supreme Court of Canada. Thus it is beyond the federal government's power.
Moreover the legislation does nothing to accommodate or even grandfather those civil officials throughout the country who serve as marriage commissioners, even though the justice minister himself has suggested the religious freedoms of these officials should and would be protected. He remarked in a recent interview, “No one should be compelled to perform a same sex marriage contrary to their religion or belief. We believe we can reach accommodations so that those who do not want to perform that same sex marriage, religious officials or civic officials, by reason of religion or conscience will not be required to do so”.
Yet presently some of the provinces are forcing marriage commissioners to perform these marriages, even when doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs. This has led to a wave of resignations and human rights complaints from civil officials who have refused to perform ceremonies on religious grounds.
In my home province of Saskatchewan, provincial officials have taken one of the hardest stands with regard to civil officials. Marriage commissioners, regardless of their deeply held religious beliefs or tenure of service, were informed that they must perform same sex marriages or be stripped of their responsibility.
Yet the justice minister, who once stated that protecting the religious freedoms of such officials was desirable, now bizarrely dismisses this as a provincial matter, no longer a concern of the federal government. It is bizarre because the government has included a clause, as mentioned earlier, stating that religious officials will not be forced to perform marriages, clearly a provincial matter.
Nevertheless, the minister is apparently content to disregard the genuine concerns of people like Regina marriage commissioner Orville Nichols. Mr. Nichols simply wants a balance. He is simply requesting that his religious belief systems be tolerated and accommodated in the same manner as others would expect their views to be upheld. If the federal government is intent on altering the definition of marriage, it should ensure protections are in place for people like Orville Nichols.
For anyone who suggests this balance is unfeasible, I refer them to the case of Ontario. Instead of taking a rigid line, like my home province, it sought and achieved a balance. When Ontario updated its laws to accommodate court rulings that legalized same sex marriages, the province was silent on rights and obligations of civil officials. Effectively this has ensured that these officials would not be obliged to perform a marriage contrary to their religious belief system.
This is the proper course of action to take. This is a thoughtful balance. Indeed, even the Toronto Star has admitted as much, stating in a recent editorial, “Sensibly, Ontario has taken a laissez-faire attitude, allowing cities and towns to accommodate staff who do not wish to perform same sex weddings for religious or other reasons”.
The government has failed to achieve such a sensible and balanced approach in this legislation. This legislation teeters too far in one direction.
Traditional religious belief systems and secular values must be recognized in an equitable and thoughtful manner. We must achieve a proper balance.
I would like to bring to the attention of the House a representative sample of the views of my constituents on this issue. People in my riding have devoted much time looking at this issue and have developed some well thought out opinions worthy of our consideration. It is important that their voices be heard.
Joe Jeerakathil of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a strong advocate for maintaining the current definition of marriage, reminds us that:
Marriage, as currently defined, predates governments, states, courts and charters of rights.
The Christian Church's definition - 'a union of a man and a woman' - comes from the legal Digest of the Roman Emperor Justinian.
Marriage existed in pre-Christian civilizations and has always been a union between a man and a woman.
The Catholic Church declared marriage a sacrament in the Council of Trent.
The Roman Catholic view of marriage is based on the Aristotelian principle of natural law.
Although Aristotle originated the concept, Thomas Aquinas, the giant of Christian philosophical thought, gave it theological shape. He defined natural law as participation in the eternal law of the universe by rational creatures with a built-in commitment to doing good.
A union of a man and a woman fulfills the natural law or God's law because it leads to procreation and, hence, does not fall within the term 'marriage'.
Another letter I received from a constituent, Pastor Daryl Olson of Outlook, Saskatchewan, yet another supporter of the traditional definition of marriage, reminds us of the important role marriage has in our society. He writes:
The institution of marriage is not a planned invention of human society.
Rather, it signifies a particular relationship between a man and a woman,...
...a unique way of life that has emerged from human existence and experience during the history of humanity with two obvious goals:
...the mutual support of the partners and procreation of children.
By nature, this particular lifestyle has the capacity to fulfill both of these goals...
A same-sex union, however, by its particular and unique nature is incapable of procreation.
This particular illustration of the uniqueness of these two kinds of relationships alone begs for a respectful and separate treatment for both.
In other words, ... just as the institution of marriage has been recognized and protected based on its uniqueness and merits, ...
...similarly, some form of legally formalized same-sex partnerships could be recognized and protected based on its uniqueness and merits.
The institution of marriage and a possible form of legally regulated same-sex partnership, should name and safeguard their unique rights and duties with corresponding laws and regulations.
Those were just two examples that illustrate the strong desire among the vast majority of my constituents to maintain the traditional definition of marriage. Although some in my riding have just as passionately argued the opposite position, I must defer to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of my constituents.
As a result, I would like to state that while I believe the federal government must fully recognize that same sex relationships possess equivalent rights and privileges as opposite sex ones, I am unable to support the legislation. Moreover, I base this vote not only on my own personal convictions but also, if not primarily, on the fact that the majority of the constituents I represent across my province have expressed similar reservations.
Civil Marriage Act
Werner Schmidt Kelowna, BC
Mr. Speaker, it was my delight and fortune a couple of days ago to meet a scholar and person of great skill in the art of communication. She was able to expose some of the most apparently plausible yet false positions advanced by the supporters of same sex marriage against those wishing to retain the traditional definition of marriage.
She is Margaret Somerville, Samuel Gale Professor of Law and Professor, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University. She states that the case for same sex marriage is “based almost entirely on equating being against homosexuals, disrespecting them and thereby breaking their human rights”.
The debate about the definition of marriage raises fundamental issues of mutual respect. Somerville asks, “What is required to respect homosexual people and their committed relationship and to respect people for whom marriage institutionalizes and symbolizes the inherently procreative relationship between a man and a woman?”
The least intrusive of both streams of respect response is to legally recognize same sex partnerships and keep marriage as the union of a man and a woman. “Why is this the best approach?”, she asks. “Because it is ethical. Ethics requires taking the least intrusive alternative that is available and likely to be effective in achieving the goal”.
To deny same sex marriage is to show that we have no respect for homosexuals and their relationships is unacceptable from an ethical perspective and discriminatory from a legal perspective. Not only is recognizing civil unions established under the laws of a province with the same benefits, rights, obligations and protection as those who are married, one man and one woman, ethical and legal, it is also consistent with a fundamental Canadian value of equality.
That is a matter of great interest to our current Minister of Justice. In the proposed legislation we are dealing with committed adult relationships. These relationships are different. Men and women are different. Despite those differences, men and women are equal before and under the law. Yet no one would dispute that they are different.
I would argue that same sex couples as civil unions and marriage as the union of a man and a woman while different are equal before and under the law provided the same benefits, rights, obligations and protections are accorded to both. Thus, they are different and equal.
In recognizing same sex unions and according them the same rights, privileges, protections and obligations as heterosexual couples, the equality argument falls away. It is perfectly consistent with the provisions of Canada's Constitution because it shows respect and tolerance and is therefore clearly non-discriminatory. The recognition clearly accepts that while different, same sex couples are and should be treated the same as heterosexual couples.
The House resumed from April 14 consideration of the motion.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
Order. It being 5:30 p.m., pursuant to order made on Thursday, April 14, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion relating to the business of supply.
Call in the members.
(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
I declare the motion carried.
It being 6:04 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
The House resumed from February 11 consideration of the motion.
Private Members' Business
April 19th, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.
Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this House on a topic that affects many people. The skyrocketing price of gasoline in the past few years, and even in the past few weeks, affects our fellow citizens in particular.
It is interesting to see that the price of fuel can vary considerably by several cents in a single region. I think it is important for the government do something about this problem as soon as possible.
First I will give you an outline of the current situation before discussing possible solutions. The current situation already has a direct impact on the price of transporting building materials, on prices in the food industry, and on the price of home heating. In short, no one is spared. It goes without saying that the only positive consequence of the increased price of gasoline is that, in some cases, people are driving their cars less or using other modes of transportation that do not use fuel. However, the increase in the price of fuel has an impact on the transportation industry and is putting small businesses on the verge of bankruptcy.
Coming from a resource region, I see the direct effect on the trucking industry in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean where truckers have to cover large distances to deliver their products. When forced to raise their prices, the truckers become less competitive in comparison with other carriers in large centres.
Finally, the price of gas has such serious consequences that people are getting together to find solutions. In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean for example, there has been a consumers defence coalition for more than five years concerning the increased price of gasoline. This coalition brings together about 14 very active members in the area who decry the situation. At the present time, the price of gas varies from moment to moment. Take Ottawa and Montreal for example: the difference runs between 81.9¢ and 99.4¢ a litre.
So what are the reasons for these differences in price? We will answer this question in a moment. But we see the oil companies making staggering, outlandish profits. Compare, for example, Petro Canada's first quarter in 2002 and in 2003. There was an incredible $88 million leap to $584 million. Insofar as Esso is concerned, the company let it be known that the first quarter of 2003 was the best in its history. The explanation for the variation in gasoline prices can be found within the oil industry.
Two things are mainly responsible for the increase in oil profits. First, the oil industry is not faced with any competition. The three largest refiners have 75% of the market. It is therefore easy for the companies to dictate the price to consumers or to fix the market price. In addition, according to the Association québécoise des indépendants du pétrole, the oil companies increased their base profit on refining from 3¢ to 7.2¢ a litre between 1998 and 2003, which explains the outstanding sales figures of the two companies, namely Petro Canada and Esso. What is the government waiting for?
The report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology submitted in November 2003, proposed two solutions, which the Bloc Québécois strongly supports.
First, a petroleum monitoring agency must be set up. The oil companies are not non profit businesses.
However, the motion before the House calls on the government to oversee the petroleum sector. The federal government has never done anything to help consumers and has a fine opportunity here to set up a system to monitor the petroleum industry.
In November 2003, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology strongly recommended the creation of this agency to monitor the sector. In addition, the creation of such an agency would enable us, the government and legislators, to keep a close eye on the industry.
The committee also recommended strengthening the existing legislation. The Competition Bureau, for example, must have greater freedom to act.
The Liberal government, citing all sorts of reasons over the past two years, chose not to establish measures that would have minimized the impact of rising gasoline prices for many. So, today, we face the same situation as two years ago.
I hope all members of this House will support the motion, which would put a real system in place to deal with the problem of gasoline prices, a system that would include the creation of an agency to monitor consumer gasoline prices.
Private Members' Business
Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the House on Motion No. 165.
Motion No. 165 contains two separate proposals. One deals with the creation of a petroleum monitoring agency and the second deals with amendments to the Competition Act. Today I would like to comment on the first part of the motion, which proposes the creation of a petroleum monitoring agency. The motion states:
That...the government should take action with regard to gasoline prices by: (a) setting up a petroleum monitoring agency responsible for preparing an annual report on all aspects of the industry, including how prices are set and competition issues....
The report would be considered by the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology.
The government has frequently been asked to create a federal commission or agency to monitor gas prices. Such proposals usually surface when petroleum product prices are increasing or fluctuating. The most recent proposal was made by the former Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in November 2003.
Its report, “Gasoline Prices in Canada”, recommended that the federal government create an independent agency that would undertake the collection and dissemination of information on gasoline prices. The purpose of this report was to make consumers more fully aware of the competitive nature of the industry.
After careful consideration of the recommendation, the government responded to the committee in April 2004. While the government agreed with the committee on the importance of having publicly available information on petroleum product prices in Canada, it indicated that current government activities, along with the gasoline pricing information collected and publicly distributed by other levels of government, agencies and the private sector, provided the most practical and cost effective method of informing the consumer.
When gasoline prices rise, Canadians naturally are concerned. High prices directly affect our cost of living. We all sympathize with those who have had to cope with these increases, and all of us in this House have had to do that as well.
To handle the issue of gas prices, we must first clearly understand what causes these increases and what action the Government of Canada can take under our Constitution.
The law of supply and demand dictates the price of gas in competitive markets.
Since 1985 the government has been committed to a market-based energy policy. Oil prices are set in the international marketplace. This is the basis for our domestic crude oil prices and ultimately for the price of refined petroleum products.
The current increases in oil product prices are largely due to developments in international markets over which Canada has no control. First, there is the growing world oil demand in China and the United States which has pushed crude oil prices up. Second, the tight supply-demand balance in petroleum product markets, particularly in the United States, is forcing wholesale prices up. Third, speculative commodity forces are affecting prices further.
Although there are no shortages of crude oil or products, these market conditions result in higher petroleum product prices for consumers.
Besides the price of crude oil, numerous other factors influence prices at the pump. I will mention the costs to produce and transport the product, and the level of supply, inventory and demand, on both local and international markets.
As you may know, the price of gas includes federal and provincial taxes.
Information collected by the International Energy Agency shows that on an excluding tax basis Canadian gasoline prices are comparable and even lower than those of most industrialized countries.
As I indicated earlier, there have been calls in the past for the federal government to take action with regard to gasoline prices. The Government of Canada continues to be actively involved in addressing the concerns of all Canadians regarding petroleum product prices. For example, a few years ago Industry Canada and Natural Resources Canada co-sponsored two separate studies by the Conference Board of Canada.
One study focused on Canadian gasoline markets and the other on diesel markets. The purpose of the gasoline study was to take an independent and comprehensive look at the nature and functioning of the wholesale and retail gasoline markets in Canada. The diesel study looked at changes in the Canadian diesel industry over the previous decade and the impact of those changes on the trucking and farming sectors.
The final reports released in 2001 indicated that Canada was well served by our market policy. Overall, it operates efficiently and generates some of the lowest gasoline prices in the world.
In May 2004, in response to consumer concerns, the Competition Bureau undertook a new examination of Canadian oil and gas markets in order to determine if retail price increases in the spring and summer of 2004 were the result of anti-competitive behaviour.
On March 31 this year, the Competition Bureau released the results of its extensive examination. Its general findings indicated that the rapid rise in retail gasoline prices was due to low inventories of gasoline in North America and worldwide increases in the price of crude, that the pricing behaviour in the major centres in Canada was in response to normal market forces and that prices in Canada continued to be lower than in most countries in the industrialized world.
Only in the case of an emergency does the federal government have the authority to take measures to affect product pricing. Those authorities and the broad circumstances in which they can be used are set out in legislation. Under the Energy Supplies Emergency Act, a system of price and allocation controls can be imposed in a national emergency caused by shortages or market disturbances affecting “the national security and welfare and the economic stability of Canada”.
Under the Emergencies Act, the government can take special temporary measures during a national state of emergency. A “national emergency” means an urgent or critical situation of a temporary nature that seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and that cannot be effectively dealt with by a province or under any other law of Canada.
Declaration of a national emergency requires approval by the governor in council. It is not a power to be exercised lightly. There are currently no shortages of crude oil or petroleum products in Canada that would necessitate such actions.
Under Canada's Constitution, the provinces have the authority to regulate retail prices and some provinces have taken this path.
Currently, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec regulate prices in some manner. In Prince Edward Island the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission regulates the timing and the frequency of wholesale price changes and determines the minimum and maximum mark up between the wholesale price to the retailer and the retail price to the consumer. In Newfoundland and Labrador the Petroleum Pricing Office within the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities is responsible for regulating fuel prices by setting the maximum retail price at the pump in each region.
In Quebec, the Régie de l'énergie is responsible for monitoring gas and diesel prices and calculating the minimum retail price that retailers in each region can set. Clearly, the provinces and the federal government do not view regulation as a power to be exercised lightly.
Public information on petroleum product prices is already available through various sources, including provincial governments, petroleum agencies, the private sector, international agencies and governments. Natural Resources Canada is working to ensure that Canadians are aware that such information is available and that they can access it by NRCan's website.
At the federal level, the Competition Bureau plays a role in overseeing competitive aspects of the gasoline sector.
The creation of an agency could confuse consumers about the federal government's role with regard to gas prices. As a result, the public might believe that the federal government can intervene in the regulation of gas prices. This runs counter to the fact that, in the absence of a national emergency, retail price regulation comes under provincial jurisdiction, as I stated earlier.
In conclusion, because gasoline pricing falls under provincial jurisdiction, because the federal government's action is limited to emergency situations and because anti-competitive behaviour can be appropriately addressed under the Competition Act, I would ask members not to support the motion.
Private Members' Business
Brian Jean Athabasca, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to rise to speak to Motion No. 165. This is a motion that concerns all Canadians and one that constantly grabs the headlines in our national newspapers, as it does affect every Canadian in their pocketbook.
The motion is about gas pricing and what the government an do to discourage and prevent price fixing. The motion requires that the government should take action with respect to gasoline prices by:
--setting up petroleum monitoring agency responsible for preparing an annual report on all aspects of the industry, including how prices are set and competition issues, whose director would be...appointed for a three-year term after consultation with sector representatives and the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology...and by bringing forward amendments to strengthen the Competition Act, including measures to ensure that the Competition Commissioner has the power to launch investigations, summon witnesses and ensure confidentiality.
In essence it is to set up an agency to monitor and report on pricing and to strengthen the Competition Act.
The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology recommended legislation that did not go as far as this motion. The government has still not acted on any of these recommendations.
The Conservative Party does not support the motion as we believe it is the first step to regulating gas prices in the country which would ultimately hurt consumers and taxpayers.
On Thursday, March 30, the federal Competition Bureau ruled, “Low inventories of gasoline in North America and worldwide increases the prices of crude oil”. This led to the increase in retail gasoline prices in 2004 and indeed it was found that there was no evidence of collusion among gasoline companies.
This industry in Canada has been investigated by the Competition Bureau for collusion more times than any other industry, in fact 19 to 20 times. All these investigations have found no evidence of collusion among gasoline companies.
The Conservative Party of Canada does not support the idea of regulating gas prices. We believe competition is the right road to follow. We believe supply and demand in a free market economy is the best regulator of prices for consumers.
However, we must encourage those through legislation the ease of entry of other players into the market to keep prices fair without unconscionable profits by oil and gas companies. The Conservative Party recognizes, however, that there is a problem of perception or consumers in Canada. That perception is that there is price fixing, but there is no evidence of that so far. High prices are seen equally at every gas station.
We support further efforts by the industry itself and we also support further efforts by non-governmental organizations and by the federal natural resources department to provide more information to Canadians on the price of gasoline. Information is the key to beat any perception.
In short, the Conservative Party believes that the price of gas is an important consumer issue and that the government and industry should do more to explain to consumers: first, how the price of gas is set; second, why it fluctuates so greatly; and third, to ensure regulations are in place to promote a competitive environment and a competitive pricing environment that eliminates all forms of collusion in the industry.
This recommendation would go a long way to help Canadians' perceptions about the oil and gas industry itself with regard to the issue of price fixing.
In November 2003 the Conservative Party called on the government to immediately contact the oil and gas industry to encourage the industry to fund and appoint a petroleum information commissioner to provide information to all Canadians and help address consumer concerns.
Quite simply, gasoline is one of the most heavily taxed products in Canada, with taxes reaching approximately 40% to 50% of the retail price. If we take out the tax component, Canada ranks in the lowest percentile of all countries in the world as far as gas prices.
The leader of the official opposition has repeatedly demanded that the Liberal government take immediate action on the soaring gas prices by using its tax power to lower prices at the pump through tax reduction. Canada's gas prices have reached record highs and prices have nearly doubled since the Liberal government took power in 1993.
The fastest and the easiest way to give Canadians relief at the pump is for the federal government to stop charging GST on top of gasoline excise taxes. It is time to axe the tax on the tax.
Industry analysts estimate that for every 1¢ increase in gas prices per litre federal reserves swell by $32 million per year. Tax. Tax. Tax. That is the Liberal way.
The rapid changes in prices are a sign of healthy competition, not a sign of collusion, with the exception of course of the percentage of taxes levied by the Liberal government. Taxes are, indeed, the fastest growing component of the final price of gasoline.
Some other recommendations from the Conservative Party, other than tax reductions include: first, that the Competition Bureau should be provided with the resources necessary to ensure the effective enforcement of the Competition Act; and second, that the government should bring forward amendments to strengthen the Competition Act, but not for the sole purpose of regulating gas prices.
Due to the healthy competition of oil and gas prices, infrastructure developments in Canada by oil and gas companies and the government are part of everyday life. We are looking forward to, in my riding of Fort McMurray--Athabasca, some investment in infrastructure from a reduction in taxes and from the gas tax rebate.
I would like to give some examples of recent developments in my riding due to the fact that the government does not regulate gas pricing. Unfortunately, because the amount of investment in our infrastructure requirements in northern Alberta is, quite frankly, so pathetic, given our fast growth of 15% to 20% per year, there are no examples I can give of this type of investment.
We in northern Alberta continue to wait for investment for our infrastructure needs to replace our collapsing water and sewer systems, to replace our dangerous roads, and to fund our overtaxed municipalities. There is no question that a deregulated, competitive oil and gas sector would give us lower pricing, and would create more and better infrastructure in my region.
I am giving notice now, though, that I am not going to hold my breath and wait for the Liberal government to provide that type of investment. I am wondering however if the Liberal government would be prepared to hold its breath until we receive a fair return in northern Alberta for what we invest in Canada every year.
Private Members' Business
Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to motion M-165 by the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. This motion calls for the creation of a petroleum monitoring agency and amending the Competition Act so that the Competition Commissioner would have the power to launch investigations, summon witnesses and ensure confidentiality.
I am speaking in favour of this motion because we are very familiar with the plight of Canadian families all across the country. For 10 years these families have been suffering from an income shortfall. All across the country, average workers have lost 60¢ on their hourly rates. They have lost 60¢ in real terms. At the same time, we know that they have been working longer and longer weeks. All this means that Canadian families have fewer and fewer resources.
In this state of affairs, it is very important to protect these families when the industry or companies decide to take advantage of the situation to raise prices unnecessarily. It is a way to boost their profits, but on the backs of consumers of course.
I am speaking in favour because when we look at gas prices we know that it is affecting people across this country. In the Vancouver region, the riding of Burnaby—New Westminster where I come from, gas prices have now hit $1.03 a litre. In other parts of the country it is approaching $1 a litre. In Sydney, Nova Scotia, is at 97¢, Halifax is at 96¢, and Yarmouth is at 98¢. In other parts of the country it is approaching $1 a litre.
Some declarations in the House over this motion have stated that it is not because of windfall profits that the prices have been moving so extremely high, but that it is because of the price of crude per barrel. That is indeed why these prices have risen so much.
Historically, we know that prices of retail gasoline, adjusted for inflation, have remained on average fairly stable. However, the prices have decreased. The price of crude, for example, was about $15 a barrel in the 1990s and we did not see significantly lower prices at the pump during that period. In fact, the normal rule of thumb is that when a barrel of crude goes up $1, the price at the pump goes up 1¢.
Over the last three months we have seen the price of crude increasing per barrel by $14 and the price at the pump has not increased by 14¢. In places like Burnaby and New Westminster the retail price of gasoline has increased 20¢ to 22¢ a litre. We are not talking about a situation where wholesale prices have made the difference in the retail price at the pumps. In fact, it is quite the contrary. What we are seeing is an acceleration. As the price of crude is going up at the wholesale level, we are seeing a marked increase for consumers across this country.
We know that we have to address the situation. We cannot simply agree because the industry says, “The price of crude went up so much, we have jacked the prices up and that is all right”. We have to look at all the facts. The facts are that the big five oil companies in Canada have had skyrocketing profits estimated at $7 billion this year. Imperial Oil was $1.68 billion, Husky was $1.3 billion, and Petro-Canada was $1.66 billion. We are seeing record profits in the oil industry as well.
As prices have gone up at the wholesale level a certain amount, we are seeing windfall profits being forced upon consumers because the Liberal government has done nothing and, same old same old, the Conservative opposition says, “Yes, let the oil companies gouge consumers”.
One of the speakers before me said that there was no evidence of collusion. There is certainly not any from the Liberal government that is not looking after the interests of Canadians and consumers, but let us look at the senate permanent subcommittee on investigations in the United States that has some experience dealing with antitrust and anti-competition efforts to gouge consumers. In an April 2002 report by the U.S. senate permanent subcommittee on investigations, it found that markets, in which a few firms dominated, such as Canada, tended to decrease supply in order to raise prices.
The Competition Bureau looked into this issue and because it is toothless under the Liberal government, rather than look at the entire issue of how wholesale prices have gone up a certain amount and retail prices much more and rather than look at the issue of how we have reduced supply and how that is being manipulated for windfall profits, it chose to simply look at the retail price at the pump. That is not defending consumers; that is not defending Canadians. That is why this motion is so important. We need to monitor this in the best interests of all Canadians.
I would like to mention that the efforts of the Liberal government, when we talk about environmental efforts and initiatives, have been absolutely pathetic. We are looking at a situation where, when the government set targets to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, it missed the mark so badly that greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by 20%.
We have seen a government that, in dealing with both the oil industry and the auto industry, has dealt with voluntary compliance measures. Voluntary compliance is as good as any other request one makes. There is no meaningful way of meeting targets that are set for voluntary compliance.
I should mention that we had a reduction in what the oil and gas industry should have put in to meet the Kyoto objectives. We had talked originally about 55 megatonnes. The Liberals capitulated, as they have in so many other areas, and reduced the annual emission targets to 37 megatonnes. I should also mention that 20% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions came from the oil and gas sector in 2002.
Unfortunately, we have no action from the Liberal government to protect consumers and Canadians. We know that at the retail gas level, gas station owners are hardworking business people, but they are dealing with reduced supply, a small number of refineries, and they are in a bind as well, yet the government has done nothing.
In this corner of the House we are doing things. We called for a competition inquiry into the relationship between corporate concentration and gas price increases that have gouged Canadians. As well, the hon. member for Windsor West brought Motion No. 177, dealing with the petroleum monitoring agency, to the industry committee. As a result we had the industry committee itself recommending that we create and fund a petroleum monitoring agency to ensure that we understand what is happening with the oil and gas industry and to ensure that consumers and Canadians are protected.
In two corners of this House, the Liberal corner and the Conservative corner, they could not care less about consumers and Canadian families that are dealing with more and more challenges as their actual real wages fall, and as government programs get cut, but in this corner of the House we are standing up for consumers and Canadians. We have seen windfall profits. We have seen the gouging of consumers by taking advantage of a moderate rise in the wholesale price to bring about a huge rise in the retail price.
We will continue to speak out. We will support this motion because it is in the interests of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and we will not let up. We will continue to fight for Canadians.
Private Members' Business
Paul Crête Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak to this motion introduced by my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. He has particular reasons for wanting this motion adopted. Living in a outlying region, he is more aware than anyone of the impact on regional economies of increases in the price of gasoline.
He is therefore proceeding with an idea that had been suggested in the Standing Committee on Industry, National Resources, Science and Technology, namely creating a petroleum monitoring agency. It is not a question of controlling prices but simply of having an agency that can report to the House for three consecutive years on market developments.
Another recommendation had to do with strengthening the Competition Act to enable the Commissioner of Competition to conduct investigations. It was the current Commissioner's predecessor, Mr. Finckenstein, who proposed this, claiming that the act did not give him the necessary powers and that he absolutely had to prove collusion before he could do anything else.
We do not mean to say by this motion that there is collusion. We do say, though, that there are unacceptable increases now in the price of gasoline on the market and that this has harmful effects on the economy. Our position was greatly strengthened at the end of last week. The G7 finance ministers, including Canada's, agreed on one of the main elements, and I quote one of the sentences from their press release:
The group of seven countries endorsed more timely and accurate information about the oil market, which officials said could help control price fluctuations and make companies more willing to expand production.
In other words, the G-7 finance ministers have said that the rise in gasoline prices has negative impacts on the economy and that some way absolutely must be found, not to control prices, but to gain a better understanding of the situation so that it will not recur, as it is at present.
So there are some major consequences for the economy. I might add that the U.S Secretary of the Treasury—and I do not believe the Republican party in power there can be accused of any leftist leanings—has said that the purpose of the press release is to indicate to the financial community that the G-7 is handling the situation. The proposal on the table is the outcome of an in-depth study in the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology.
What we in the Bloc Québécois emphasized was that the committee ought to call in the oil companies, hear what they have to say, and hear the other experts, and that was done. This was followed by an analysis and a four part recommendation. The Alliance, as it was at the time, was opposed, because it was particularly representative of western Canadian interests. We were surprised that the petroleum products institute was in favour of the creation of the petroleum monitoring agency, because they too are totally fed up with having to justify price increases every six months, year in and year out.
How then today could we not adopt a motion relating to the creation of that very monitoring agency? It is important, because this agency is needed in the immediate future in order to ensure there is no sudden price fluctuation, which would have a very negative impact on the economy. In an economy such as ours, where trade is so important and there are more and more international exchanges, it is very important for gas prices not to reduce the efficiency of our economy. There can be major consequences; we need think only of the airlines and the trucking industries.
At present, the Government of Canada has more or less washed its hands of the situation. They tell us gas price data can be obtained from the private sector and that there is the Department of Energy, which does analyses., but there is insufficient transparency. The intent of this motion is to ensure that there is in fact transparency and that the committee can make recommendations to the House of Commons so that the appropriate changes may be made.
There is a major problem. Earlier the government member told us that the Competition Commissioner had said the problem is due to low inventories of gasoline in North America. This is the tip of the iceberg. Why are inventories low in North America? Because in recent years, refinery capacities have shrunk considerably. When a person has a well and a set of one or more strictly controlled taps, it is easy to set the pump price. Profits increase at the refinery stage and are out of step with the market, according to the way it should work. So, this situation needs to be analyzed and solutions found.
The G-7 release also refers to it. North American refining capacity must be increased. At the moment it is operating at the bare minimum. Whenever a refinery in Canada or the United States is experiencing difficulties, even technical ones, the price can go up. No market should be in this situation. In a typical capitalist market, some people perform better, businesses disappear and others appear. There are always people to meet the demand. In the current system, in terms of gasoline prices, refining capacity was reduced considerably. Now this gives those controlling the refining market a powerful hold. It has a negative effect on the whole economy.
Now that the G-7, the largest representation of politicians representing the largest economies in the world, wants this situation to be addressed, why does Canada not take a leadership role in all this? Why not set up this petroleum monitoring agency, not to control prices, but to collect and distribute, during a three-year mandate, data on the price of crude oil, refined petroleum products, and retail gasoline in all North American markets?
The director should be appointed by the federal government upon consultation with the oil industry, individuals and consumer groups. An annual report should also be prepared on the competitive aspects and there should be a parliamentary review of the report by the committee for the duration of the three-year mandate. We are not creating an eternal bureaucracy. We want this to be in place for the next few years in order to determine what steps to take to correct the situation.
The second part of the motion refers to the fact that the Competition Act is currently lacking teeth. The committee made recommendations to amend the legislation. The government kept only the sections regarding fines. It is positive, but a major portion was set aside and there is no solution.
The government may not want to do anything about the Competition Act, but it should at least agree to set up the petroleum monitoring agency. I think the two tools are important in ensuring better management of this market. It is not a matter of controlling prices, but of structuring the market in a way to prevent the current situation from happening again.
In addition to the overall economic impact, there is the personal, humanitarian impact. Renters are seeing heating oil prices increase dramatically. These are often people who need every penny and have not planned for such increases in their monthly budgets. There is no relief program in Canada to offset this reality.
The United States created a relief program to ensure that energy prices correspond to reality and, on the other hand, that a specific program creates a balance. There is no such program in Canada. There should be. Representatives of the energy industry, who appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Sciences and Technology, made this recommendation. It suggests not manipulating the rules governing energy prices, but rather ensuring that low-income earners can make ends meet. Ultimately, when these people can pay their bills, their money drives the economy. So I think that this is an appropriate initiative.
So I invite the members of the House to re-read the text of the motion itself. We must not simply argue about whether we are moving toward price control. We are not talking about that or trying to find a way to circumvent the issue. That is why I am asking the members of the House to vote in favour of the motion. This recommendation was made by the Standing Committee on Industry, Sciences and Technology and is now consistent with a desire by the G-7 countries to better monitor energy prices so as to minimize sudden economic change. That is what the Bloc Québécois is asking this House to do.
Private Members' Business
Jerry Pickard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to address Motion No. 165 now before the House. It contains two distinct proposals. One concerns the establishment of a petroleum monitoring agency and the other concerns unspecified amendments to the Competition Act. I will address each proposal in turn.
The first proposal is not novel in any way. As everyone in this place recalls, the petroleum industry has been monitored many times over the last several years and we have found through that monitoring that there are high and low fluctuations.
Following studies of the gasoline price increases during the winter of 2003, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology recommended the establishment of a petroleum monitoring agency to be responsible for the collection and dissemination of data on gasoline pricing.
The committee's report found that significant increases in prices had been as “the result of competitive reactions to a series of international crises and abnormally cold weather that gripped northeast North America last winter”. Furthermore, the report also found no evidence that prices were being fixed or that market participants were engaging in any anti-competitive business practices.
The purpose of this report and the committee's recommendation was to increase the awareness of consumers regarding the dynamics of gasoline pricing and the competitive nature of Canada's petroleum industry. Members on this side of the House would agree that it is important to make information about the setting of gasoline prices widely available to the public.
However, we do not believe that an independent petroleum monitoring agency is necessary to accomplish this objective. Establishing a government agency charged with monitoring gasoline pricing may create a perception that the federal government is regulating gasoline prices. Retail price regulation is by and large the jurisdiction of provincial governments.
Also, current government activities, coupled with the data on gasoline prices collected and disseminated by the private sector and provincial governments, represent the most practical and cost effective means of raising consumer awareness about the competitive nature of Canada's gasoline industry.
Moreover, the Competition Bureau already exists to promote and maintain fair competition in all sectors of the economy, including the petroleum industry, by educating businesses and consumers, promoting compliance with the Competition Act and taking enforcement action when necessary.
In the past 15 years, the Competition Bureau has conducted five major investigations into allegations of collusion in the gasoline industry. The most recent one concluded in March of this year. Each time it found no evidence to suggest that a rapid rise in retail gasoline prices resulted from a national conspiracy to fix prices.
Establishing a gasoline monitoring agency will not do anything to further the objective of inspiring public confidence in Canada's competition framework.
That being said, we think this Parliament can do more for consumers than simply create a petroleum monitoring agency. That is why in November 2004 we tabled Bill C-19, an act to amend the Competition Act in Canada.
This bill represents a necessary step in strengthening Canada's competition framework so that it can adapt and respond to the rapid pace of economic change in the 21st century. By strengthening Canada's Competition Act, we can ensure that consumers have confidence not only in the competitiveness of the petroleum industry but in all sectors of the economy.
Bill C-19 follows extensive consultations with the public, including large and small businesses, consumer advocacy groups and legal and economic experts. The proposed legislation would provide concrete measures to address their concerns. Bill C-19 would give the Commissioner of Competition the authority to seek restitution for losses of consumers resulting from false or misleading advertising.
It also would increase the level of administrative monetary penalties imposed for deceptive marketing practices and introduce administrative monetary penalties to address the abuse of dominance in any industry, including all sectors of the petroleum industry.
This legislation would repeal the criminal pricing provisions dealing with price discrimination, geographic price discrimination, predatory pricing and promotional allowances. These pricing behaviours would be addressed under the abuse of dominance provision with the administrative monetary penalties.
The bill would also return the Competition Act to a law of general application by repealing the airline specific provisions of the act which were adopted in response to Air Canada's merger with Canadian Airlines. These measures are necessary to ensure that as an economy grows and evolves the Competition Bureau has the necessary tools and remedies at its disposal to effectively address the anti-competitive business conduct of industries and markets, and to encourage compliance with the Competition Act.
The motion before us proposes the government bring forward amendments to strengthen the Competition Act. As described, we have taken concrete steps to do exactly that. The motion proposes measures to ensure that the competition commissioner has the power to launch investigations, summon witnesses and ensure confidentiality.
We believe that the motion is proposing that the commissioner of competition be granted additional authority to conduct inquiries into the competitive nature of the market sectors where there is no reason to believe that the Competition Act has been breached.
While some of the stakeholders support allowing these types of general or market inquiries in recent national consultations, many raise serious concerns regarding these proposals, such as the types of procedures that would be used, the length of time they would take and how much they would cost.
The Competition Bureau is carefully examining the concerns raised by stakeholders regarding these market inquiries. Similar initiatives have found some support in jurisdictions, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, among others. The Competition Bureau is looking into the approaches taken by these countries to determine if these types of inquiries should be incorporated into our competition framework, while addressing the concerns of Canadian stakeholders.
We urge the members of this House to allow the Competition Bureau to complete its work on the issue so that we can ensure all proposed amendments to the Competition Act are carefully considered and well measured.
All factors taken into account, there is no evidence that a petroleum monitoring agency is needed or even desirable.
Furthermore, as the motion does not address the serious issues, such as jurisdiction of the provinces over gasoline pricing, and as we have already tabled Bill C-19, I urge all members of the House not to support the bill.