House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was price.

Topics

Official Languages
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, as you know, our government has shown steadfast support for our linguistic duality. In the last budget, we announced an additional contribution of $30 million over two years.

Today the Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages announced two important contributions for official language minority communities.

Could the minister provide some details about these announcements?

Official Languages
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Louis-Saint-Laurent
Québec

Conservative

Josée Verner Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Today, I announced support of $555,000 over the next two years for the Alliance des radios communautaires du Canada and $500,000 over the next two years for the Réseau des cégeps et collèges francophones du Canada.

These are concrete examples of our commitment to francophones outside Quebec.

This proves that, unlike the Liberal's star candidate for Papineau, the Government of Canada supports our country's bilingualism.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Thibault Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, on March 20, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said in committee that he has to streamline his department's spending.

The minister has already closed four consular offices in 2006, and several others could experience the same fate, as part of this streamlining process.

How many other closures will be made, and what will happen to the level of service provided to Canadian nationals and to people who wish to immigrate to Canada?

Can the minister tell us whether the review, the planning and the implementation of such budget cuts are hiding, or are signs of a future strategy to, among other things, restrict immigration to Canada?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, we continue to look for ways to expand, streamline and increase the efficiency of consular services around the world.

With our current footprint in the world, there is an increasing demand placed on consular services. Over two million Canadians live outside our borders. Much more travel and business activity is going on so there is an increased demand.

Thankfully, within the department we have very efficient, hard-working and dedicated public servants who continue to reach out to Canadians each and every day, as they do in Passport Canada, as they do at our missions. We continue to work with them to give them the resources they need to provide that service.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will be addressing this afternoon the opposition motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois, which I will outline for your benefit:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should move an amendment to the Competition Act so that the Commissioner of Competition have the power to initiate investigations of the price of gas and the role of refining margins in the determination of the said price.

The main element is certainly the refining margins. The current situation with gas prices is really unacceptable. Canada produces a lot of oil and gasoline. Yet, we have seen gas prices increase steadily since this government took office in January 2006. We definitely have to look into the situation. The government members have no desire whatsoever to try and find ways to ensure that Canadians have access to reasonably priced gasoline. People are not asking for miracles, but they want to be able to buy gas at a reasonable price, which is definitely not the case right now.

Let us compare urban and rural areas. In urban areas, people can take public transit, be it the bus or the subway, to go to work, do groceries and so on.

In rural areas, there are no such services available, and we cannot get them, even though we should probably have access to public transit. People in rural areas have to drive their personal vehicle to the grocery store, to work, and they often have to drive long distances. Rural areas are often also remote areas, large areas requiring that one drive long distances, many kilometres, if not hundreds of kilometres, to go to work.

In such circumstances, rising gas prices can certainly represent a barrier for consumers, especially since they have no choice; they absolutely have to put gasoline in their cars if they want to go to work.

Wages are not going up at the same rate as the price of gasoline. Some people have jobs in seasonal industries where the work is not always distributed over 12 months or 52 weeks a year, and they have to be able to find the money they need to fill up their cars while still being able to put bread, butter and food on the table to feed their families, their children.

We are asking so little of the government. It is incredible and shameful that all the members of the Conservative government, which has been in power for far too long, are obstructing this and doing what they can to ensure that the price of gasoline does not come down in Canada. We have a government that absolutely does not want to do anything, that does not want to take any action, that wants laissez-faire and says the market will decide.

Whenever it is said that the market will decide, that means abuses are very possible. Not very long ago, the refining margin for producers was 7.2¢. That was the average between 1998 and 2003. I have been told this was already far too much, but it was the average over this five-year period. Nowadays, the refining margin is nearly 26¢ and often even more.

If the government thinks this is acceptable, we should ask into whose pockets the Conservatives want this money to go. Do they want it to go to the oil companies or do they want to make the effort to give a little of it back to taxpayers? We should make a comparison. We should look at what the reality is.

Gasoline retailers in Canada have an average margin of 3.5¢ a litre when they sell their gas. They employ people at street corners all over Canada, and their margin is 3.5¢ or less, while the big refineries have a margin that is often as much as 26¢.

Their margin is therefore 26¢ out of the current price of $1.15, or even more in some parts of the country. That is rather abusive and excessive. If the margin for refiners were the average for the 1998 to 2003 period, or about 7¢ a litre, the current price would be about 96¢.

This would reduce the refining margin by about 19¢, and the price of a litre of gas would currently be around 96¢. I am convinced that the public would at least acknowledged that an effort has been made. All we are asking from the Conservative government is to ensure that mechanisms are in place to allow workers, families and seniors to be a little better off, as well as all those who must use their car for various reasons, such as taking their children to activities, going to church on Sunday, doing the groceries once a week, and going to work every day. We want this government to be a little more compassionate, to think about those who must use their vehicle to earn a living and be able to pay for food, hydro and shelter.

In fact, the public is not asking for much. These people are not getting salary increases, but their costs are constantly increasing. Does a 26¢ margin not look excessive, compared to the 7.2¢ margin?

The Conservatives must believe that a 26¢ margin is respectable and acceptable. They are providing all sorts of excuses. They will say that it is the market that decides. If it is the market that decides, then they can invoke all the good reasons. Whenever anything happens, it seems as though the price of gas goes up by 10¢. Whenever we hear rumours about a war somewhere, the price of gas goes up by 15¢.

In the end, where does that money go? It is the refining margin that increases. It is the margin that refiners give themselves that goes up. Whenever there is speculation, not at the stock exchange, but about the weather or conflicts around the world, all the decisions made are based exclusively on that and, all of a sudden, prices go up. The cost of a barrel of oil has not necessarily increased by that much. However, if we look at the situation, we see that costs have gone up. It is oil companies that benefit from all this, not workers.

The government opposite claims it is working in the best interest of the people. In this case, and in many others, it is clearly not working in the best interest of the people. It is out to do anything but try to help citizens.

We have to find ways to stabilize the situation and ensure better prices. Among other things, the competition commissioner must be authorized to make his own decision about holding an inquiry. Proactive is the key word here. The Conservative government has been reactive for weeks and months. It is reacting because it is unable to correct the situation going on within its own party. It is reactive.

Why is the government unable to accept that the competition commissioner can be proactive and make his own decisions about a situation?

The competition commissioner must have the power to force oil companies to disclose information, provide evidence and prove that a situation really is serious and that prices are not going up 10¢ just because of high winds in eastern Canada or the possibility of conflict elsewhere in the world. The government must take responsibility in this situation. Right now, the Conservative government is not even able to shoulder its responsibilities. It is offloading its responsibilities onto seasonal workers, day labourers, families and seniors. It is not interested in helping these people live better lives.

Why is the Conservative government working so hard to ensure that oil companies can boost their profits not by hundreds, thousands or millions of dollars, but by tens of millions and tens of billions of dollars at the expense of workers? Why does the Conservative government not bring in these little changes that could certainly lower the price of gas and help the people in our ridings who need it the most? Why does the government not have a heart in this matter?

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the speech by the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche. I want to take this opportunity to say hello to the people of New Brunswick and tell them that, fortunately, with a Conservative government, gas prices are twice as low as they would be if our Liberal friends opposite were in power, because with Bill C-288 and its draconian reductions of greenhouse gases, and after 13 years of their inaction, our gas prices would be twice as high. This is a major concern.

I was in Lévis Monday morning before coming here and the price of gas was $1.17. I think about all the workers from Bellechasse who go to work and sometimes have to make wage concessions. This is a worrisome situation and that is why our government is concerned about this situation and is putting more money back into the taxpayers' pockets, by reducing the GST, for example, to help workers better cope with these price increases.

There is one thing the previous government did not do. Why did it do absolutely nothing in 13 years to reduce greenhouse gases, while our government has invested several billion dollars in the past 15 months to encourage people to buy fuel efficient vehicles? We are even putting surcharges on vehicles that consume a lot of energy. We have implemented tax credits for public transit and we want to ensure that our economy is no longer dependent on hydrocarbons with the ecoenergy and ecotrust programs.

My question for the hon. opposition member is the following. Why is his leader, who is in support of gas prices being twice as high with Bill C-288, pleased—it was in the Calgary Herald on August 24, 2005—that the price of gas in Canada is high for the short, medium and long terms when that is detrimental to the country's workers?

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague's question.

I just talked about speculation and indicated that, every time there was the slightest puff of wind, the price of gas went up 10¢. Every time there was a risk of conflict or if someone mentioned conflict anywhere in the world, it went up 15¢.

I hope that the speculation by my colleague opposite, the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse, will not drive the price of gas up 20¢ by tomorrow, because, once again, he is indulging in speculation when he says if this or the other thing occurs. That is precisely the problem at this time. Every time someone says “If such-and-such happens, the price will increase”, that is exactly what happens the next day. I hope my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse will be a little more careful about what he says so that prices do not increase. One way of doing this is by assuring this House that they will not increase the price of gas and ensuring greater control. Why do the Conservatives not want to accept this?

Ultimately, I could throw a question back to my colleague opposite by asking him if his party will respect the vote taken in 2004, under which the GST would no longer be added once the price of gas reached 85¢ or higher—he just said that gas is at $1.17 in his region, and I might add that it is even higher where I am from, in Madawaska—Restigouche. With the difference between 85¢ and $1.17, my colleague opposite would likely have some savings for his constituents. However, the Conservatives do not seem to have enough backbone to ensure that their constituents enjoy lower prices at the pump, that they are also respected, by giving them the tools they need to be able to drive to work every day and attend to their family's various activities.

The member opposite and all Conservative members of this House refuse to even look at this situation. This is the reality. I hope the Conservatives will stop speculating, because every time they speculate about something, I fear the oil companies will increase prices even further and we will be stuck in a real dilemma. Who will pay for it at the end of the day? It will be the citizens of our respective regions.

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I have been trying to get a straight position from the Liberals all day.

I think this will be the sixth or seventh time that the following question has been asked. The leader of the Liberal Party is on the record as numerous times as saying that “high gas prices are actually good for Canada in the medium and long term”. We have been trying to get a straight answer from the Liberals all day.

Now that member is standing up, a member who comes from a party that brought in Kyoto with no plan. The Liberals are favouring Bill C-288. Economists are saying that if the Liberals had their way today Canadians would be paying $1.60 to $2 per litre for gas.

Does the member support his leader with higher gas prices? Does he believe that is the right thing? Could I have a straight answer, please?

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, my answer shall be brief.

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Why do the Conservatives not want gas prices to go down? They prefer to engage in rhetoric and speculation about any number of other subjects. Why do they not want the people of this country to have access to gasoline at a fair price? Why? Why do they want Canadian oil companies to rake in profits, profits, profits, while Canadians pay, pay, pay?

It is unacceptable for a member to make such comments, when what the Liberals want is for people to pay a fair price in order to be able to go to work. The Conservatives do not want to hear about it. That is unacceptable.

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank and congratulate my colleague from Joliette, who introduced the motion before us today. This motion has no doubt been read and referred to many times already, but I think it is important to read it one more time, because the more we repeat something, the better our chances of getting the message across to the people opposite.

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should move an amendment to the Competition Act so that the Commissioner of Competition have the power to initiate investigations of the price of gas and the role of refining margins in the determination of the said price.

I should say, first off, that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé. With that, I begin my speech, which should be very short. Much could be said, however, about gas prices because many things have happened with regard to that.

We could call this a cyclical issue. I arrived in this House in 1998 and, starting in 2000, there was more and more talk about it. About two years after my arrival, and together with the Bloc Québécois industry and transportation critics, I organized with my party a tour through Quebec because at that time oil prices were on the rise again. This increase in oil prices affects all consumers and the entire population because they purchase gas for their cars or also, and primarily, heating oil for those who still use this fuel to keep warm in winter. For years, every time the price went up, some individuals almost died during very cold spells in Quebec and Canada.

It is all well and good to talk about the price of a barrel of oil but this price is not always reflected at the pump. Just because the barrel price is moderately high and it goes up does not mean that the price per litre will be adjusted accordingly. A number of factors come into play. Naturally, there is the cost of oil exploitation, refining, distribution, retailing. All these levels make it possible for some potential play in the price on the part of the oil companies.

I was saying earlier that this is a cyclical issue. People get involved and want to work on behalf of the public and to help them out. In this regard, I would like to point out the initiative of the Sherbrooke Chamber of Commerce, which decided to consult the general public. In record time, it collected more than 10,300 responses in support of the Chamber of Commerce. It analysed and studied fluctuating gas prices. The findings will be presented in the near future by the Sherbrooke Chamber of Commerce. However, we should mention that, in general, we know that there are significant regional differences. The initiative of this Chamber of Commerce will result in pressure being applied across Quebec for the Quebec federation of chambers of commerce to present an analysis as well and, for all intents and purposes, make recommendations to oil companies, retailers and, I hope, to the government. I congratulate the Chamber of Commerce for its initiative, which clearly shows that there are significant differences in the price fluctuations.

The study looked at regional variations and fluctuations over a fairly long period of time prior to the consultation. What is quite odd is that since the study started and practically up until today, the region's position has improved once the oil companies and retailers knew that someone was monitoring their prices.

The Bloc had always proposed and strongly suggested that the government implement what I would call a commission for the monitoring of gas prices and price fluctuations, to conduct analyses and make recommendations.

There has been much talk about fluctuating gas prices, but there is a problem. We must be aware of this, and at some point, we must stop making partisan speeches about an issue that affects the entire population, the companies and the economy of Quebec. There is a big problem in that it is a natural resource which can be easily harnessed and which makes oil companies rich. At the same time, it is the main source of greenhouse gases.

We are calling for a decrease in the price of gas, and at the same time, we want to ensure increased use, which also affects greenhouse gases. It is a vicious circle. But we must at least remember that the people not only pay a fair price for gas and fuel oil to boost the economy, of course, but also to ensure a decent standard of living for everyone.

In my opinion, we must really focus on social justice and on equity and the fairness of the price of gasoline, as well. There are huge variations, and people do not have the impression they are paying what it is worth, which means that the cost of fighting greenhouse gases must also be paid through the cost of gasoline.

This money, the profits made by the oil companies, which, in recent years, have recorded profits in the tens of billions of dollars, must also be made available to serve the community as a whole. Some will say, as the Minister of Industry argued recently, that natural resources belong to no one. There is an expression we use sometimes, which says that to the victor go the spoils. These people are snatching as many of the spoils as they can in their frantic race to exploit natural resources.

When I spoke earlier of gasoline, I mentioned two important aspects, namely, the environmental aspect, of course, and, in addition, the economic aspect. We will recall that the Minister of Industry reminded us of this in a speech in rather odd terms.

I quote freely from the remarks of the Minister of Industry. Of course, we should expect nothing from the Conservatives in this matter, as the party is interested more in protecting the interests of the oil industry than those of Quebec and Canadian taxpayers. And, like his colleagues, the minister and member for Beauce said without a blush during the latest election campaign that those responsible for the high cost of gasoline were the left and the environmentalists. Therefore, those responsible for the increased cost of gasoline are those working for social justice, fairness for all and the protection of the environment. I do not think that is quite the way it is.

In closing, since I see that my time is about up, I would remind the House of the measures put forward by the Bloc over time, for a number of years, and by certain Liberals who worked on gasoline matters for many months. There must be controls over the oil companies by means of the Competition Act together with a price monitoring agency, and the commissioner must be given the powers to investigate the cost of gasoline.

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, again I would like to say how amazed I am by the Bloc putting up a member who is saying that the Bloc supports consumers. If I could read for members from the Bloc's platform, in the Bloc's own words, what the Bloc Québécois would like to do is levy a surtax on oil company profits and increase the corporate income tax paid by oil companies by $500 million. In other words, the Bloc wants to add half a billion dollars to this. Who do those members think is going to pay for this?

It is the same with the Bloc's environmental program. It is supporting the Liberals, or what Buzz Hargrove would call a radical environmental program, on Bill C-288. We have leading economists in Canada who have said that if the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP got their way gas prices today would be at $1.60 to $2 per litre. That is what the Bloc would do for the Québécois and for Canadians if those members had their way.

Here we have the member standing up and saying that he is supportive of Canadian consumers, but he will not come clean on whether those members agree with higher prices for gas or not. I am going to ask the question again, for what I think is the eighth time.

Once again, the Liberal Party supports an increase in the price of gas. The leader of the official opposition said that an increase in the price of gas would benefit Canada in the medium and long terms. Does the Bloc support an increase in the price of gas? The Bloc must answer today: yes or no?

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Sometimes we also ask the Conservatives to answer clearly with a yes or a no, but we never get the answer. However, we do have an answer from Albertans. We know full well that the Conservative Party, by protecting the oil companies, wants to protect western Canada.

According to a poll published in the papers yesterday, May 7, Albertans think that fixed targets—in terms of greenhouse gases—are needed, even if that means making the oil companies pay more. Some 92% of those polled agreed when asked whether the companies working in the oil sands should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in each of their facilities. Some 92% of the people said yes.

Out of the tens of billions of dollars of the oil companies' profits—we know that profits have increased in the past few years beyond what is reasonable—very little is reinvested. When we talk about a surcharge on the oil companies, we are talking about sharing the wealth that the oil companies are acquiring through the natural resources that supposedly belong to everyone. At some point, the oil companies also have to make sacrifices because, for all intents and purposes, they are the reason we have greenhouse gases. People have to make efforts to help cut emissions, but the oil companies also have to pay.

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a little disingenuous for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry to talk about prices potentially going up as a result of a proposal in a bill. He knows full well, and his own Minister of Natural Resources is here, that a number of good initiatives have taken place. Perhaps if we were to build nuclear reactors to separate the bitumen in Cold Lake, they might find that those numbers will be reduced. At least they could try it.

The reality is that the prices are going up with the government doing nothing. The parliamentary secretary's minister said in the House just an hour ago that wholesale price for gas in the United States, and the margin on which refiners operate in the United States, is actually higher than in Canada. That is nonsense, pure nonsense.

I have a question for the member. For a long time, we have heard that the Conservatives do not want to take action on this, although the Ontario Conservatives have a much different position, or at least they did. For now, it is important to say that the former competition commissioner agreed that changes and amendments should be made to the Competition Act. The member for Oshawa, who is parliamentary secretary, does not want changes, but he has not denied everything that has been done over the past decade or so, changes supported by the Competition Bureau itself.

Opposition motion--Gas Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague, who has taken quite an interest in oil companies over the past few years. The Competition Bureau and the commissioner should have more power. The commissioner should have the power to initiate investigations without waiting for someone to make a formal complaint. She must be able to identify the causes of some fluctuations, which sometimes seem a lot like collusion.