House of Commons Hansard #86 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pumps.

Topics

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, on the clarity of his remarks regarding the impact of a lack of oversight on consumers. The Competition Office should regulate these matters.

I would like the member to elaborate on the price monitoring agency proposed by the Bloc Québécois. Would it not be possible to transfer the responsibilities to be vested in the monitoring agency to the Competition Bureau so that we can better understand why such an agency is necessary and also attempt to define its role?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Chambly—Borduas.

I would be happy to elaborate. If we go back a few years and if I am not mistaken, our former colleague Paul Crête was the first one to champion this issue in the House. He proposed the creation of a petroleum industry monitoring agency, because there was a desperate need for such an agency. People were at the mercy of the oil companies and their excuses. I gave a few examples earlier. The oil companies would give excuses about what was going on in the world: a pipeline in Afghanistan or Azerbaijan caused problems, an oil rig was hit by a hurricane off the coast of the United States, and so on. Any excuse might explain a price increase.

A petroleum monitoring agency would enable us to see the real reasons, such as the cost price and the profit margin at the refining stage. We cannot always get these explanations and understand them. They must be put together and verified by independent people who can advise consumers on what a fair price would be. If the fair price is $1.05 a litre, even if that seems expensive, consumers will understand the reasons behind that price and will accept it. It is also possible that a litre could cost 90¢ at certain times of the year. Consumers want to be certain that they are paying a fair price for their gas.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me a few moments to ask a question. At one time, oil companies were each a single entity. They either made a profit or ran a deficit at the end of the year. Now each oil company has split itself into several companies, which allows them to make a profit or run a deficit—and we know they always make a profit—in various entities and increase their global profits, something that used to be impossible to do.

Does the government's bill address this confirmation, this assurance? We must have some control over the companies' ability to split up into several smaller companies and thus bring in larger profits than in the past.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his second question. I did not see that in Bill C-14, but I think he makes an excellent, very relevant suggestion. This should be discussed in committee, if the bill makes it that far, which is quite possible. That would be one of the questions to consider. I am not certain that studying Bill C-14, which has to do with the accuracy of measuring gas at the pump, will be the best forum for discussing the oil companies' practice of splitting into smaller companies to spread out their profits. It would be very interesting to confirm that. The government would have to do some very precise calculations of oil companies' profits. Everyone knows they are making billions of dollars in profits.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-14 today.

I wanted to start out by making some comments about the Bloc's initiative in Bill C-452, because I really feel that that is a game-changer. That is an actual solid response to a long-term problem.

The bill is a very short bill, but it basically amends the Competition Act to authorize the commissioner to inquire into an entire industry sector. As the previous Bloc speaker has pointed out, in order to launch an investigation under the Competition Act, a complaint has to be made, and that is essentially the problem that has occurred over the years. We really need the Competition Bureau to be able to act very independently and be very proactive when it sees price-fixing going on in the gas industry.

I have been dealing with this issue now since probably 1988, when we went from government to opposition in Manitoba, and my job was to ask a lot of questions every day about gas prices. We looked at a whole range of ways to deal with the issue. As a matter of fact, the Conservative minister in Manitoba at the time, Jim Ernst, who was very frustrated too, I might say, was determined to follow this issue through as far as he could. He was aware that there were already 125 studies on this very topic sitting on the shelves gathering dust. Nevertheless he went and commissioned another one, so we are up to 126 now probably, and at the end of the day that study came up with the same conclusions that all the others did, that yes, in fact there was price-fixing going on but the Competition Act would have to be changed in order to get a conviction. So we found that that was not going to be the route to go.

Once again, he was the minister and I was the opposition critic, so we were not exactly working together on the subject because I was asking him questions every day as to what he was doing about the matter.

That was the issue of the study. Then we looked at the regulatory options, and we were aware that in the Maritimes there were regulatory boards available, regulating gas prices, but we watched them closely over the years and found out that they were not the answer either, because in fact they tended to regulate simply to the highest price.

I think the public would be very supportive of a monitoring agency or a regulatory agency if in fact they were going to see a regulatory agency with teeth, one that was going to be able to reduce the prices and not just approve the increases. What we will find, if we look at the Maritime regulatory boards, is that they regulate up to the higher price, and that has always been my objection to that approach.

At the end of the day of course, the gasoline prices are pretty much dependent upon world pricing, world events and availability of supplies. When there are examples of refineries impacted by severe storms and hurricanes in the southern United States, such as Louisiana, when refineries are shut down because of weather, storms, explosions or work stoppages, there comes a shortage of product and that creates problems.

We have seen a huge reduction in the number of refineries over the years. In Manitoba, as recently as 20 years ago, I believe we had 2 refineries in the province, and today we have none.

So during this period of the early 1990s, when we were looking at the whole area of studying the issue and changes to the Competition Act and we were looking at regulating gas prices, we were also observing some other developments that were happening within the market. One was to look at possibly bringing gasoline through the port of Churchill because, as members know, we have a port in Manitoba that is very underutilized. However, we have some tanker farms up there where there are a number of tanks, which hold gasoline products that are actually shipped further north. And so, we were looking into the possibility of actually shipping them down to the south by rail.

We also had a number of independent operators who were taking advantage of a very low American price at the time. There was at least one in particular, but I think there were two or three. What this operator would do was drive down to Fargo or Grand Forks, North Dakota, load up from the pipeline there, truck the gasoline up into Winnipeg and sell it at perhaps 10¢ or 20¢ less per litre. It was a substantial amount. The point was that when we turned on the evening television news on a day-by-day basis, we would see cars lined up for blocks to buy gasoline from this gas station, which was being supplied by tankers that were bringing the gas up from the States. But of course this fellow could only operate to the extent of his ability to fill up his tanker truck and bring it back up. He could not get beyond supplying the gasoline for one or two gas stations.

We did look at perhaps expanding on that a bit and trying bring in more tankers of gasoline into some other stations, and we did encounter a lot of different problems in that the transfer of gasoline is certainly not done the way it used to be done years ago. Some of the members opposite who were on farms in the 1950s would know that gasoline was transferred from a little truck that drove to the farm. It would be transferred by a hose into a big tank and then transferred from there into the farm equipment, the tractors and so on. However, things have changed and we cannot drive into town or into a big city anymore with a big tanker truck and start selling gasoline out of the tanker. We did discover that was a fact.

So, we did look at all sorts of areas to try to act on behalf of consumers at that time, and it is easy to do when the prices skyrocket very quickly.

I want to take a minute to talk about the member for Pickering—Scarborough East because he is a long-time Liberal member in this House. We have had Liberal members today talk about this issue as if it were something that they had newly discovered and other members who think it is a big Conservative problem, that this problem only surfaced since the current Prime Minister and the current Conservative government came to office and now this is all their problem.

The fact of the matter is that all through those periods of time that I spoke about earlier, the Liberals were in power, from 1993 on, and every attempt that was made to do something about high gasoline prices was thwarted. As a matter of fact, with regard to the member for Pickering—Scarborough East, his own Liberal caucus thwarted his efforts on many occasions, I believe. I used to hear him many times over the years, on the radio, being a champion of the consumer and trying to do things with regard to the Competition Bureau and trying to deal with competition and the price-fixing issues in this country, and he was getting nowhere with his own caucus, with his own government and with his own prime minister.

This has been a longstanding problem. Price-fixing is not something that is just peculiar to the gasoline industry. Since the mid-1980s to the present, we have seen at least two major initiatives on the part of the federal government against price-fixing in the real estate industry. The latest one is being resolved as we speak. Within a number of weeks, the real estate boards across Canada will be getting together to ratify a deal that was made to prevent price-fixing. If that deal is not ratified then, of course, they will proceed through court action.

There are anti-competitive activities that have been around in our society for many years and they have been allowed to foster over the years. It takes strong initiatives on the part of government and law enforcement to attack this and try to break it up, so that the public is better served by true competition.

It is not only real estate agents that have been dealt with over the years but the travel agency business and the property and casualty insurance business. I believe the Toyota Motor Corporation was challenged when it tried to set a fixed price. I am sure members will recall five or six years ago when Toyota tried to dictate to its dealers that in fact there was a fixed price, there was a no-haggle pricing and they could not cut the price. That was dealt with by the government in a positive way.

This is not exciting stuff for the average member of the public, but it is very crucial to a proper competitive environment in which business has to compete. A series of monopolies governing the country is not the way our system is supposed to be operating. We try a lot of things, like monitoring. People think it is a good idea, but we have proven it does not work. However, there are a lot of other things we could look at here.

I want to talk about some of the elements of this bill that people on our side of the House have found objectionable. I do not think we would have a problem if, in fact, these gas pumps across the country were being inspected by government inspectors.

I mentioned earlier that for many years in the province of Manitoba, and maybe some other provinces too, we had a system of random inspections of cars. If a car was bought today, owned for 10 years, it would probably be called in once or twice for an inspection and repairs would have to be made to keep the car in good shape to keep it on the road. People trusted that system because they knew it was government inspectors who were doing the inspecting.

Around 1995, the Conservative government of the day decided to turn the whole inspection system over to private garages. The economy was probably tight, they were not making enough money and this was a way to give them a bit of a cash cow. When cars needed inspecting, they would have to go to a local garage and it was up to the garage to tell the owners what was wrong with their cars. We have seen many terrible examples of gouging, where people have bought a car, taken it to a garage, and found out they have to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars for repairs before they could put that car on the road. We have seen totally different examples of people who have taken cars in and have found out later from a friend in the business that in fact cars that are really not safe at all are being approved, are being certified as safe and being allowed to be driven on the road, because someone has an in with somebody or has a relative in the garage or dealership.

This system was brought in as a sop to the car industry, and overnight the price of used cars went up. We used to see $50 cars, $100 cars, back in the early 1990s. Then, overnight, because of the safety inspection system, the worst-looking car on the road was a $1,000 vehicle.

After a couple of years, the CBC and other news outlets, based on complaints, started to do investigations of what was happening. They found all sorts of examples of gouging in Manitoba, where people were being taken advantage of. The CBC would take in cars that they had previously had inspected; they knew what was wrong with them. I will not mention the garages, but some of them hon. members would know, because they are nationally known chains. The cars would be taken to five or six different garages, and most of the garages, if not all of them, would find huge problems with the cars, when there was nothing wrong with them. That was a blatant example of gouging. Some of the garages lost their licences because of this. Then, a year or two later, a follow-up was done. They found still more cases of gouging. In fact, the second time around, some of the same garages that were caught the first time were cited once again.

Hon. members should know that we cannot get rid of the system once it is in place. The NDP, under Gary Doer, became the government in 1999. It did not get rid of this system and go back to a centralized government inspection system. In fact, it changed the safety inspection period, from two years to one.

As for keeping cars safe on the road, safety inspections are required only when we sell our car. If we have a car and it is sold three or four times in the first two or three years, it will have safety inspections over and over again. However, if we buy the car and drive it ourselves and keep it, we could drive the car forever and it will never be called in for a safety inspection. Potentially, we may have many unsafe cars on our roads. This is a result of turning a perfectly functioning system over to the private sector.

Let us take a look at what could happen and probably will. Members have already said that, if we are dealing with rural areas, northern areas, then we are talking about the private sector. Who will be doing the inspections of the pumps in Yukon? Who will be doing them in the Northwestern Territories, northern B.C., in rural areas? It is a licence to print money. It is a recipe for abuse to have a system like this.

I also want to deal with some aspects of the weights and measures issue. But this is not the way to go. The public and the retailers would accept it if the government were to do the inspections. The inspections should be done over a period of time, but the government should do them. We should not allow the private sector to do these inspections.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill has come before us because over two years ago an investigation by The Ottawa Citizen revealed that, between 1999 and 2007, government inspections of over 200,000 fuel pumps found that about 5% of pumps delivered less fuel than reported on the pump display.

The government inspection data showed that about one-third of Canada's gas stations, or about 14,000 of them, had at least one faulty pump. Therefore, a motorist who fills up at various stations and pumps is likely being short-changed about twice a year.

The gas pump problems were exposed more than two years ago by a media investigation, and the government waited far too long to respond. Now the government is allowing thieves to keep what they stole over the past few years.

What is outrageous is that government potentially collected taxes from consumers who were paying for phantom gasoline. Talk about adding insult to injury. Talk about hot air.

Questions must be asked, but I have not heard any of them answered by the Conservative members in the House. Let me give a couple of examples.

Questions must be asked about whether the government earned tax revenues from the short-changing of Canadian motorists. If so, how much? Will this law-and-order government charge the criminals who stole Canadians' money?

I know that the member for Elmwood—Transcona has been here throughout the debate, and I wonder whether he even once heard the Conservatives acknowledge that they benefited from those tax revenues, and whether they have given any indication that they would be amenable to repaying Canadian customers who have been gouged by these faulty pumps.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member is 100% correct.

I have been waiting to hear from one of the government members for some time, so that I could ask him questions. For example, I know the penalties are being increased under the Weights and Measures Act.

Under weights and measures legislation, we have the whole issue of odometer rollbacks. This is important. Everyone here understands what happens when unscrupulous people roll back odometers or replace odometers and sell cars that have 300,000 kilometres on them as 80,000-kilometre cars.

It is big-time theft. Yet, this is something that would be covered under the increased weights and measures penalties.

I would think it would be a good news story. I would think the government should be issuing a press release confirming that it is moving against people rolling back odometers. However, I cannot find anyone in the government to ask, because there are no speakers who want to get up and talk about this issue.

If anyone is listening over there, I would ask him or her to get back to me and let me know about this. Under this bill, are we taking tough action against odometer rollbacks that occur every day right across the country? The Weights and Measures Act is increasing the penalties by quite a substantial amount.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill proposes a system under which all the inspections of these pumps would be done by the private sector.

The government is contending that the inspections will go up from about 8,000 inspections to approximately 65,000. But the reality is that the government itself will not be enforcing standards. It is going to privatize the enforcement.

I wonder whether the member has had assurances from the government that we will not end up with the oil industry policing itself. It seems to me that as soon as we privatize those services there would be nothing to stop the oil industry from setting up a full inspection system and looking after its own.

Could the member comment on that?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely correct. Actually, it is worse than that: not only would it be privatizing the inspector services for gas pumps; it would also be dealing with wholesale petroleum, dairy, retail food, fishing, logging, grain and field crops, and mining. So the government has gone the whole hog. It did not stop with the inspection of gasoline pumps; it is trying to privatize inspection services in a whole host of other parts of the economy.

I have already stated the abuses that occurred when Manitoba privatized its car inspection system. Under the proposed system, this would be even worse. We are going to see the Manitoba abuses multiplied by all the other eight different areas in which the government is planning to privatize inspection services.

No one yet has been able to tell me how someone in a remote area will be able to afford to bring in a private sector inspector who can charge what the market will bear. We are not going to have much competition in many rural and northern areas. That is just not going to happen. We have seen that in other areas as well. Maybe the system would work reasonably well in a huge metropolitan area like Toronto, but it is not going to work in rural and northern areas.

Not only that, it is going to be a severe detriment to independence. This is all in favour of the big multinationals, the big chains. But the little mom and pop stores, of which there are fewer every year, are going to be hard pressed to come up with $2,000 for inspection bills, which they will have to pay on a regular basis. Never mind that we have problems with ambient temperature and are not sure whether a lot of this calibration equipment is actually accurate.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government has framed this debate in the naming of the bill so as to give Canadians the impression that, once this becomes law, they will get a better deal at the gas pump and will not get ripped off anymore. Actually, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consumer protection, particularly with respect to the oil and gas industry.

All along the way, we see the present government and the previous Liberal one offer subsidies to the oil and gas firms, regardless of the price of oil or extraction. Then, when the product moves all the way down the chain, the subsidies come along and the profits leave the country. Canadians become concerned when they see prices in their local gas stations all elevate magically together, while the price of a barrel of oil on the stock exchange has not moved at all. Yet the gas companies are asking us to believe that there is no conversation going on when the prices all of a sudden move in coordination in one town, but not in another town 50 kilometres down the road. This is our experience in northwest of B.C. We see this time and time again. I drive the highway quite a bit, because that is our job as members of Parliament, and the price will move 5¢, 10¢, or 12¢ in communities that are 20 minutes apart. Yet apparently there is no collusion.

Is that not what we should be getting at in legislation, rather than this window dressing that the government has offered?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have uncovered instances in the past where people who have worked in the gas stations have come forward and said that they had been ordered to change the prices. So this is well documented. They cannot hide this forever. There are gas station employees whose job it is to climb up and change the prices. They do this based on a phone call that comes from their management.

This is a well-organized effort. Somebody has to go out and document it and start taking the initiative. The Bloc's bill was a good start. I hope that somehow in this minority Parliament we can get this bill passed and start to see some more initiatives that would help to stop the collusion in the retail gas business.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-14, which deals with an amendment to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act.

As my colleague before me, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and Bloc Québécois industry critic, said, the Bloc Québécois will support this bill in principle. However, I would like to say that this has been a lot of work for not much result. I will explain why. If the government thinks that with this bill it has done a bold stroke of business, to bring the oil companies into line, that it has come up with the most important thing since sliced bread, it is sadly mistaken. That is why we will agree that it should be considered in committee, subject to our later position over the stages to come.

I listened with interest to the discussions—if I may put it that way, the puck passing—among the NDP members in their speeches and questions and comments. Those discussions were very appropriate, very much on point, and very much in tune. My NDP colleagues have also recognized the private member’s bill introduced by my colleague in the Bloc Québécois. However, everyone will acknowledge that Bill C-14 does not allow for a direct response to the problems of collusion such as have recently been brought to light in Quebec, or for effective prevention of sudden gas price increases. The government thinks the solution is inspections of the pumps and penalties imposed by the courts, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 for minor offences and from $5,000 to $25,000 for major offences. We should not be fooled. Those fines are peanuts for oil companies raking in billions of dollars in profits. I certainly do not think the oil companies deliberately alter the way the pumps work, to steal a half-cent more per litre sold from us. I certainly do not think that is done. But we do agree that there should be more in-depth inspections. We are not against motherhood, any more than we are against apple pie. With fall upon us, we all agree that apple pie is a good thing. During apple season, I have the apple growers on Île d'Orléans and Isle-aux-Coudres in my riding, and they are very skilled and efficient.

All kidding aside, this is not the discovery of the century. The Bloc Québécois would have expected the government to take responsibility, pull up its socks and address the root of the problem in the oil industry, namely collusion between companies. We did not expect to be told that the Competition Bureau looked into the situation and it cannot conduct an investigation itself because that requires accusations and well-documented cases. As far as the case brought to light in Lotbinière, Arthabaska and the Eastern Townships is concerned, fortunately someone from the oil sector blew the whistle. That is how we came to find out about this. However, it is just the tip of the iceberg.

The problem is much more serious. I hope no one will be surprised to learn that the Conservatives are doing nothing to rein in the oil companies and to discipline them. Just look at who is financing the Conservative Party. It is mostly the oil companies. Who needs tax benefits to explore and exploit the oil sands in Alberta? The Conservatives need the oil companies to finance them in the next election campaign as they needed them in previous elections.

Increasing the retailers' responsibility by imposing mandatory periodic inspections of the measuring devices is truly very important, without a doubt, but it is also highly ineffective. We were hoping and we continue to hope that the competition commissioner would be given more powers. The Bloc Québécois has introduced Bill C-452 as a clear response to gasoline price increases.

Mr. Speaker, I hope you understand. I know that your role as Speaker requires you to be completely neutral. You are listening to what I say. You can do two things at once: speak to your colleague on the left and listen to me. You are clearly talented. I will continue to address you, but I will also address the people watching us at home. Do they realize that in Quebec, increases in the price of gas generally happen on Thursdays, when people get paid? Increases can be seen before a long weekend, when there is a statutory holiday. Before Thanksgiving, prices in Montreal jumped by 10¢ or 12¢ just like that. Nothing happened, and the price per barrel around the world is decreasing. Why did the price in Montreal jump by 10¢, 12¢ and even 15¢?

In the past, the oil companies would tell us that the prices were based on what was going on around the world, on the rising price of a barrel of oil, on the wars in Iraq and the invasion of Kuwait. Any excuse would do. We could understand it if there were instability in the countries that produce oil, or if something specific happened. But in this case, nothing happened. On the contrary, the price per barrel is decreasing, but the price at the pump is going up. That is what makes us say that the oil companies are gouging us.

I will give some more examples for the people at home and for my colleagues in the House who are listening. I do not think there is an equivalent in the other provinces, but in Quebec, the last two weeks of July—sometimes up to the beginning of August—are usually what we call the construction holidays. Hundreds of thousands of construction workers are on vacation at the same time. Generally, construction workers are people who work hard. They get up early, and they are at the mercy of the elements and the weather. They are subject to stress on the construction site, and must meet the deadlines on these construction sites, whether they are residential, commercial or industrial. They must complete the buildings and finish their work on time. In Quebec, construction workers take the last two weeks of July to unwind, and many take that opportunity to travel throughout Quebec.

In Quebec, we are naturally attracted to New England, the coast of Maine and the beaches. Some construction workers take long distance or interprovincial buses, some take the train or plane, but the vast majority generally travel by car. If my colleagues would like proof, they need only travel on Quebec roads during the construction holidays.

It is funny that a few days before July 15, 16 or 17, poof, prices suddenly go up. How can that be? What happens?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Some NDP members did not like my “poof”. I do not know what else I could have said. Whether by magic or miracle, there is a major hike in gas prices on the eve of the construction holidays. Why?

Here is further proof of collusion. In a number of medium-sized or large cities, it is commonplace to have gas stations on each corner of a traffic circle or other intersection. I see my colleague from Trois-Rivières behind me. I regularly pass through Trois-Rivières as I travel from my riding, on the Beaupré coast, to Ottawa by car. I often stop to fill up in Trois-Rivières, a magnificent city with very welcoming people. There are often gas stations on every corner of an intersection.

She and I could go there together, stopwatches in hand. When one station increases its price by 3¢, 5¢, 10¢, 12¢ or 15¢ per litre, we could count the number of seconds that elapse before the other three increase their prices. Is that open competition? Why does Shell feel the need to increase its price at the same time as Esso? Why increase the price at the same time as Petro-Canada? Why do the increases happen almost simultaneously within a span of seconds? If we had real competition, one service station would charge $1.038 per litre, another would charge $1.019 per litre, and yet another would have a different price. Then we would have real competition.

Let us take a look at food and clothing. Food is a good example of a sector where we can compare the price of identical products. We will not look at products such as beer or milk, as their prices are regulated. I believe that they do not have the right to sell milk for a very low price. Milk is a bad example. Take, for instance, Oasis orange juice. If we checked with the four largest food chains, it is very likely that the prices would be different. That is true competition because there is not necessarily collusion among the four major grocers in Quebec.

And that is what we are seeing with gas prices, which is why I began my speech by saying that there has been a lot of work for not much of a result. Bill C-14 is better than nothing, but the government is not addressing the root of the issue. For one, we hoped that the government would use this bill to propose that the Competition Act allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative, as I mentioned earlier, instead of always having to wait for a private complaint before beginning an inquiry.

In addition, the Bloc Québécois has proposed that a petroleum agency be created to monitor gasoline prices and respond to any attempt at collusion or unjustified price hikes. I gave our reasoning earlier. With this type of agency, we could act as soon as prices increase. Instead, the Conservative government keeps telling us—and it was no different under the Liberals—that there is nothing that can be done because the Competition Bureau found that there was no agreement among oil companies to fix prices; therefore, there is no problem. The Bloc Québécois was hoping that the bill would address the real issue.

On May 5, 2003, Konrad von Finckenstein, then the Commissioner of Competition, now chairman of the CRTC, told the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology that even though there were problems with the law, as Commissioner of Competition, he had no choice but to enforce it. Like us, he recognized that the law had loopholes. What we need is a government with the political will to take action and stop oil companies from doing this.

Mr. von Finckenstein said:

...while the Bureau's mandate includes the very important role of being an investigator and advocate for competition, the current legislation does not provide the Bureau with the authority to conduct an industry study.

That is basically the point I wanted to make. Once again, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, the Bloc Québécois industry critic, for his work on this file and for keeping the people of Quebec and Canada informed about loopholes with respect to the price of gas, loopholes that Bill C-14 does nothing to close, unfortunately.

The Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle and will send it to committee. We will see what happens after that. We should not just be talking about the system of measures at the pump and silly fine increases. Oil companies make multi-billion-dollar profits. This bill would fine them $25,000 instead of $10,000, yet they will have made millions using these tactics. We do not think that this bill goes far enough.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

October 25th, 2010 / 6:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed the speech of the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord. He said the government refuses to do what is necessary to prevent large oil companies from increasing gas prices without valid reasons. Every spring and every fall, around the holiday season, prices go up worldwide, even though we are talking about oil that is already in stock. A few weeks later, it is still oil that was bought at a lower cost, but the price still does not go down for several weeks, or even months.

If we look at various studies, we see that consumers are treated badly. Yet, there is nothing in this government bill to put an end to these practices.

Why does the hon. member believe that the Conservatives refuse to protect the middle class and consumers, who constantly see their money disappear, because oil companies are abusing them?