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 gasoline.

Topics

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

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

It is obvious that land occupancy is a major issue. If we want to keep our regions from emptying out and our large downtown areas from becoming increasingly polluted , we must develop the land. We must be able to develop our natural resources.

In my riding, in particular, there are many businesses, including large paper mills. These excessive fuel costs really represent an enormous problem. Companies have to travel farther and farther for lumber, at increasingly higher cost. In addition, after so many years, the softwood lumber agreement led to the collapse and closure of many companies. It also obliged our companies to leave a billion dollars on the table. As a result, there has been a drop in profit margins, which has led to mass layoffs.

Yes, indeed, this whole question of gas is crucial to our economy.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Langley.

I am pleased to rise today to take part in the debate on the opposition motion with respect to gasoline prices.

I have heard the comments of my colleagues during their speeches. Both as a member of Parliament and as a consumer, I too share their concerns about high prices, whether for gasoline or any other product.

I certainly understand the impact of high gasoline prices on individuals and businesses, particularly small businesses. No one wants to pay any more than they have to for anything.

The matter we have before us today, however, is whether the proposal put forward by the Bloc is appropriate.

I understand the reaction of Canadian consumers to recent price increases. They are frustrated and they are angry. They are looking to the government to do something to stop the increases in gasoline prices. The frustration goes even further when average Canadians hear of a petroleum company's announcement of record profits.

However, gasoline prices are a complex issue. Many different factors come into play in determining the price Canadian consumers pay at the pump. Some of these factors are international, national, regional and even local in nature. As we have seen the last couple of years, events halfway around the world can impact the price of gasoline right here in Canada.

The question we have to ask is whether the Bloc's motion will actually accomplish anything. I submit that it would not.

In the Canadian economy businesses are generally free to set their own prices, dictated by market forces. Sometimes prices go up; sometimes they go down. The setting of prices is dictated by the market forces of supply and demand. For example, rising prices are often an indication of low inventory.

The Bloc's motion seeks to amend the Competition Act to give the Competition Bureau the power to initiate investigations into the price of gas. The Competition Bureau has already investigated the price of gas numerous times since 1990. While I know some of this has already been discussed, I believe the following bears repeating.

The Competition Act ensures that Canada has a competitive marketplace and that all Canadians enjoy the benefits of competitive prices and product choices, including a convenient and ample supply of quality products that respond to consumers' preferences.

When it comes to high prices, the Competition Bureau will be concerned only when they are the result of anti-competitive conduct contrary to the Competition Act.

The Competition Act includes provisions against price fixing, price maintenance, and abusive behaviour by a dominant firm resulting in the lessening of competition. The act applies to gasoline and other petroleum product markets as well as every other sector in the Canadian economy.

Pursuant to the Competition Act, if the Commissioner of Competition has reason to believe that an offence has been committed or that a company has abused its dominant position in a market, the commissioner can either refer matters for prosecution or seek a remedial order by the Competition Tribunal respectively.

Over the years the Competition Bureau has been very active in matters relating to gasoline and other petroleum products, including prosecution and merger reviews. In addition, the bureau has commissioned expert reports on an array of issues related to the sector. Documents related to these activities are available on the bureau's website. I would encourage all hon. members to go to the bureau's website and see for themselves.

When examinations of the petroleum industry yielded evidence of conduct contrary to the act, the bureau has initiated enforcement action. Since 1972, 13 inquiries relating to gasoline or heating oil prices have led to trials. Eight of these cases concluded with convictions.

Since 1990 the Competition Bureau has conducted six major investigations related to the gasoline industry. In each case it found no evidence to suggest that periodic price increases resulted from a national conspiracy to limit competition in gasoline supply or from abusive behaviour by dominant firms in the market. Instead, market forces such as supply and demand, and rising crude oil prices were found to have caused the price increases.

Last year the Competition Bureau concluded its examination of high gasoline prices following hurricane Katrina. The bureau found no evidence of a national conspiracy to fix gasoline prices. The dramatic reduction in supply resulting from severe damage to the North American refining capacity caused the spike in gasoline prices.

It is also important to mention that the Competition Bureau monitors gasoline prices to ensure that they are the result of market forces and not the result of anti-competitive acts which would be contrary to the act.

Gasoline prices across Canada have risen lately due to increases in the world price of crude oil, the major cost component in a litre of gasoline, as well as low inventories. Nothing in what I have just reviewed indicates that there is any need to amend the Competition Act.

In considering this motion, I urge all hon. members to recall that the Competition Bureau exists to promote and maintain 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 conclusion, increases in gasoline prices resulting from anti-competitive behaviour are already dealt with through existing provisions in the Competition Act. Therefore, I see no need for this motion.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 8th, 2007 / 10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, the easiest approach to the gas issue is to do what previous governments did and what the present government is doing, which is nothing. It is simple. There is competition in the gas sector. Six big companies are constantly getting richer, and the prices rise at the same time, at the same intersection, in the same way, quite by chance. In Montreal, there are four companies at the same intersection. It is curious. Between 10 o’clock and 10:15, the prices all go up at the same time by the same amount. And they tell us there is competition. When certain products are on special at Provigo, they are not necessarily on special at Métro, because there is real competition. At a given time, the price of other items falls. That is how it works.

The gas companies tell us —and this is what my question will be about— that if the price of gas goes up, it is because things are not going well in the world. It is strange that things never go well around the Saint-Jean-Baptiste holiday, just before Christmas holidays and just before the start of summer vacation, the construction holidays.

If there is no need for closer monitoring of the gas companies in terms of competition, how does he explain that when the world price of crude increases and the price of a litre of gas should go up by 2¢, 3¢ or 4¢, it goes up by 20¢, 25¢ or 30¢? Why do events in the Middle East influence the profit margins of Shell, Exxon, Imperial, etc., here in Canada? The fact is that the world price of crude is only a pretext. We need a monitoring agency. I ask the member why he does not see the need for one.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and for giving me the opportunity to clarify things a little bit.

When we are looking at the absolute price of gasoline, it is not just as he said, one event around the world. We have to take in events in combination, internationally, nationally and locally. We are looking at issues of supply and demand, the market.

What is really curious in this debate though is why Bloc Québécois members are supporting Bill C-288. If their issue is the price of gasoline, they are supporting a bill that would cause a 60% increase in the cost of a litre of gas. I find this quite hypocritical. If today we are going to be debating and standing up for consumers, saying consumers are paying too much for gas, why would the official position of the Bloc Québécois be to support a bill that known economists say would dramatically raise the price per litre? It could be $1.60. It could be up to $2.00 per litre of gas. I see that the whole motion that the Bloc brought forward is very hypocritical.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talked about hypocrisy. He is a member of a party that has proposed changes in its own act which will in effect have the effect of raising gasoline prices.

Let us not go back that far. Let us go back to what his leader said in 2004. He ran in the campaign in the riding of Oshawa. I know him very well. He is a decent individual. The Prime Minister made it very clear at the time that he was going to drop the GST on gasoline prices as they went above 85¢ a litre. That hon. member and his party know that they broke a campaign promise.

Since the hon. member has so much faith in the Competition Act, how does he reconcile a Competition Act written in 1986 by McMillan Binch Mendelsohn representing Imperial Oil? Is it any wonder that it has never been able to find any evidence of conspiracy or collusion? Has the hon. member taken the time to look as to whether anybody has even made a request to look at conspiracy or collusion?

He knows full well that we have four dominant players who do not compete against each other right across the country. The price of wholesale gasoline is in fact 3¢ a litre this morning in Oshawa, higher than it is in the United States. How can that member stand up and say there is nothing wrong? With his arguments, he is ripping off his own constituents. He should explain himself now.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member did bring up, we did mention that we would be reducing the GST and we did reduce the GST from 7% down to 6%.

I find it ironic again that the Liberal Party would bring forward this issue when in fact when it was in government, it did absolutely nothing on this entire issue. If we are looking at the Liberal Party position right now, I have some interesting quotes and some statements made by the leader right now of the Liberal Party--

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order, please. Resuming debate.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Oshawa, for his hard work on the environment. He is doing a great job.

I am pleased to rise in the House to participate in today's debate. The price of gasoline is a serious issue and an issue of great concern to Canadians from coast to coast. But it is much more than a cost issue. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, I see how the government is balancing environmental protection and economic prosperity.

As Canadians, we want a safe and healthy environment, one that contributes to our well-being and quality of life. Canadians care about the environment. They expect government to lead in acting to protect the environment. At the same time, they want a government that balances environmental protection while ensuring a successful economy. The record of the other parties in achieving that balance is miserable.

Let me turn for a moment to the record of the other parties in this House on the cost of gasoline to Canadian consumers. On August 24, 2005, the Montreal Gazette published the following:

Canadians and many of his own colleagues might be cringing when they see the price at the pumps these days, but high gas prices are actually good for Canada in the medium and long term, said [the] federal Environment Minister.

That person is now the leader of the Liberal Party.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

An hon. member

Unbelievable.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

It is unbelievable.

Of course, then there is the deputy Liberal leader who, during the leadership debate, called for a form of carbon tax that would push up the price of gasoline. Just a couple of months ago, the Liberals were praising a $100 billion carbon tax, which again would have increased the price of gasoline.

Then there is the Liberal member for Ajax—Pickering who was quoted in the September 11, 2005, Toronto Star as having said, “A lot of analysts say gas at $1.50 a litre is well within sight”. Then there are the Bloc members who have signed on to supporting the Liberal carbon tax plan, Bill C-288.

The costs of this so-called environmental plan were independently analyzed by some of Canada's leading economists and experts, people like Don Drummond and Mark Jaccard. Don Drummond was a former senior public servant under the previous Liberal government and is now a vice-president of the TD Bank and Mark Jaccard is another well-respected expert on environmental issues. What did they find? They found that under the Liberal plan, backed by their buddies in the Bloc, Canadians stand to lose 275,000 jobs. That is terrible. Also, under the Liberal plan, the price of gasoline would increase a whopping 60%.

I am from the Vancouver area, the riding of Langley, and the price out there right now is $1.269. If we add 60% on to that, it is over $1.90 a litre. That is what the Liberals want and that is what the Bloc wants. I guess that $1.50 a litre predicted by the member for Ajax—Pickering just was not enough tax on the backs of Canadians and families and businesses. That plan from the Liberals and the Bloc does not get it done on the environment or the economy.

Let us talk about the actions that our government is taking, not only to improve the environment but also the economy. For example, our government is taking a number of actions to reduce pollution from the transportation sector. These actions would not only reduce our greenhouse emissions but would also have economic benefits for Canadians.

The government is also assisting small communities and large cities by investing $33 billion in infrastructure, including public transit. The tax credit for public transit passes, first introduced in budget 2006, is being extended to initiate fare products, such as electronic fare cards and weekly passes.

All these resources are designed with one goal in mind; and that is, to help Canadians make better and more environmentally responsible decisions.

Renewable fuels are cleaner fuels that reduce air pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The government recently announced its intention to develop a regulation requiring a 5% average renewable content by volume, such as ethanol, a Canadian gasoline, by 2010. Renewable fuel production is a new market opportunity for farmers and the rural communities.

Budget 2006 included $365 million to assist farmers in realizing opportunities through agricultural bioproducts, including renewable fuels. To meet the requirements of the proposed regulations, over 2 billion litres of renewable fuel will be required, creating tremendous business opportunities for Canadian renewable fuel and agriculture producers.

Budget 2007 invests up to $2 billion in support of renewable fuel production in Canada to help meet those requirements, including up to $1.5 billion for an operating incentive, and $500 million for next generation renewable fuels.

Support under the program to individual companies will be capped to ensure that the benefits are provided to a wide range of participants in the sector, not just the large oil producing companies. That is fair.

Budget 2007 also makes $500 million over seven years available to Sustainable Development Technology Canada to invest in the private sector in establishing large scale facilities for the production of next generation renewable fuels. Next generation renewable fuels produced from agricultural and wood waste products, such as wheat straw, cornstalk, wood residue and switchgrass, have the potential to generate even greater environmental benefits than the traditional renewable fuels.

Canada is well positioned to become a world leader in the development and commercialization of next generation fuels. For example, the Ottawa based Iogen is one of Canada's leading biotechnology firms. It operates the world's only demonstration scale facility to convert biomass to cellulose ethanol using enzyme technology. I encourage a visit to that wonderful facility.

Transportation is one of the largest sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases in Canada. Cars, trucks, trains and planes all add to air pollution and they account for over one-quarter of all greenhouse gases and air pollutant emissions in Canada. For the first time, the Government of Canada will regulate cars and light trucks to ensure they use fuel more efficiently. Our standard will be based on a stringent North American standard. We will work hard with the United States to pursue a clean auto pact that will create an environmentally ambitious North American standard for cars and light duty trucks.

We will make air pollution rules for vehicles and engines that are sources of smog, like motorcycles, personal watercraft, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, and align them with world leading standards. We will also continue to take action to reduce emissions from the rail, marine and aviation sectors and we will work with our U.S. neighbours to administer these regulations as efficiently as possible.

Those are all great things that the government is doing to balance the environment and the economy. Unlike the Bloc members, who have done absolutely nothing but complain in this place for years and have nothing to show for it, it is this government that is getting it done for Canadians and the environment.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the speech of my colleague from Langley and I feel that he does not understand the purpose of the motion that has been introduced today. The motion ensures that the free market can operate in our current system of free enterprise.

The party in office is a great believer in the free market, but members of the public feel they are being held hostage by the oil companies. As my colleague from Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean pointed out earlier, when prices increase disproportionately, or in different ways, all the businesses at an intersection increase prices by the same amount. Thus, people do not feel that they live in a free market economy.

That is the purpose of our motion today. It is not because we find that the price is too high. Perhaps a high price is quite justified and really reflects the market value. The problem is, we feel we are hostages to the price imposed by companies.

Thus, the purpose of the motion is so that the government will at least ensure the normal operation of the free market in the country.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member said that the goal of the motion was to deal with the price of gas.

Canadians are very concerned when they go to the pumps and see the high gas prices. However, the reality is that the Bloc members are trying to present themselves as being concerned about the high price of gas. The Competition Bureau already has the power to do what the member is asking so why would members of the Bloc be trying to act like they care about high gas prices? The fact is that it is the Bloc that supports dramatically higher gas prices through a carbon tax under the Liberal plan, which would mean billions of dollars in new carbon taxes and sending billions of dollars outside of Canada?

The Liberal plan is a bad plan and it would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It would permit unlimited dumping of carbon into our atmosphere.

The Bloc members are trying to present themselves as caring about high gas prices but that is not the truth. The truth is that they want higher gas prices than we are already looking at. They would like to see gas prices at $2 a litre, which is not what Canadians want. Canadians want a cleaner environment and they want gas prices under control.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is citing issues dealing with the environment, which we could have a debate on, but I want the hon. member to deal with the reality in his own province.

The British Columbia commission of inquiry into gasoline in 1996 pointed out several deficiencies with the Competition Act, the Competition Act and the Competition Bureau in which the member and his party clearly have so much confidence. I do not know if the hon. member realizes this but in 2002-03 the Competition Bureau agreed that amendments were necessary for the Competition Act to become more effective.

However, in his own province and given that I have had several calls from radio stations and from constituents in his region, would he not want to at least learn a little about the process to understand that what we are asking for is no less than what has been recommended by a number of bodies, including the previous commissioners and, more important, two bills that came before this House to allow that price discrimination and predatory pricing be found under civil provisions? Therefore, we could stop them before they happen as opposed to the criminal provision, which is impossible to prove.

I would point out to the hon. member that several of his colleagues, many of them from Ontario, agree with this position, as have many of his provincial counterparts. If he would just focus for a moment on the motion, could he actually tell us whether he agrees with his own findings in his own province or will he expatiate in a whole different area that has nothing to do with the resulting concerns that his constituents have with respect to the regional prices of gas?

On that point, if I could, whether it is new, clean technology or whether it is burgeoning technology from different areas, the same deficient structure in the Competition Act continues to exist. It does not matter whether it is ethanol or hydrogen. If the same companies rely on the same faulty document, the Competition Act, the hon. member will need to explain to constituents, beyond all the rhetoric, why it is that they never had an opportunity, when given the opportunity, to change that act. Will he do that now?

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

He does not have any time left to do it.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment.

Opposition motion—Gasoline Prices
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows very well that the Competition Bureau has conducted six investigations since 1990. He also knows that the Competition Bureau already has the power under the Competition Act to investigate.

The reason we are here today is to debate the price of gas and he knows full well that under the Liberal plan there would be dramatic increases in gas prices.