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 gas.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

October 25th, 2010 / 3:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

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

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-442--Admissibility of Amendments Made at Committee--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence on October 20, 2010, concerning amendments contained in the third report of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities on Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument, presented in the House on June 9, 2010.

I would like to thank the member for Eglinton—Lawrence for having raised this important matter. I would also like to thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the hon. member for Mississauga South for their contributions.

In raising his point of order, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence noted that the bill had been adopted by the House unanimously at second reading on March 3, 2010 and reported from the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities on June 9, 2010. The member for Eglinton—Lawrence drew to the attention of the Speaker three of the amendments contained in that report. He pointed out that the chair of the transport, infrastructure and communities committee had ruled all three of these amendments inadmissible, judging them to be beyond the scope of the bill as approved by the House at second reading. Each of these rulings was appealed and overturned in the committee by a majority vote, as is reflected in the minutes of proceedings of the committee at a meeting held on June 3, 2010.

Let me briefly remind the House of the nature of the amendments that are in dispute. The first amendment, to clause 2 of the bill, provides the minister with the authority to require that the National Holocaust Monument Development Council constitute itself as a legal entity.

The second amendment, to clause 7, provides that the council’s role in raising funds for the construction of the national Holocaust monument be expanded to include fundraising for maintaining the monument and for the council’s own costs. I should note here that, as provided for in clause 5 of Bill C-442, the council members are unpaid and must apply for their positions.

The third amendment, to clause 8, allows the minister to delegate his responsibilities for overseeing the planning and design of the monument, for consulting the public concerning the design and site of the monument and for the construction and maintenance of the monument to the council.

In his comments on the point of order, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader contended that the amendments in question were consistent with the principle of the bill as well as within its scope. In his view, the amendment to clause 2 served only to clarify the definition and did not constitute a substantive amendment.

He argued that the amendment to clause 7 was similarly best regarded as a clarification of the source of funding for expenses entailed by the bill. He noted that the member for Eglinton—Lawrence had himself introduced an amendment to the effect that the minister's responsibility included both the construction and the maintenance of the monument and that this amendment was not found to contain any procedural defect.

With respect to the amendment to clause 8, the parliamentary secretary went on to state that it served to elaborate on concepts already contained in Bill C-442 and did not attempt to introduce a new concept. On the contrary, he contended that since clause 8 followed immediately upon those clauses which set out the minister’s responsibilities, it was completely appropriate to deal with the delegation of those responsibilities in clause 8.

In summary, the parliamentary secretary argued that the three disputed amendments were matters of clarification and elaboration, that they were within the scope of the bill and that they were therefore entirely acceptable from a procedural point of view.

In his remarks, the member for Mississauga South reviewed the procedural principles on which the Speaker should base his ruling. He pointed out certain differences between the bill as introduced and as reported from the standing committee and supported the position of the member for Eglinton—Lawrence that the amendments objected to were inadmissible.

As hon. members will agree and as has been frequently pointed out in the past, the Speaker's responsibility is clear in cases concerning procedural irregularities in a committee's consideration of a bill. As Mr. Speaker Fraser stated in a ruling in reference to amendments adopted by a committee after the committee chair's rulings on the amendments were overturned, in the Debates on April 28, 1992, at page 9801:

In cases in which the Chair is asked to rule on the admissibility of committee amendments to bills, any modifications which offend a basic principle in the legislative process are struck from the bill.

With reference to the three amendments contested by the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, I have examined the third report of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities carefully, as well as Bill C-442 both in its first reading version and in the reprint containing the committee's amendments. I have also consulted the minutes of the proceedings of the committee related to its clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.

Bill C-442, as stated in the summary to the bill, “requires the Minister responsible for the National Capital Act to establish and work in cooperation with a National Holocaust Monument Development Council to design and build a National Holocaust Monument to be located in the National Capital Region”.

The amendment to clause 2 of the bill empowers the minister to require the council to “form a legal entity”, by amending the definition of Council contained in the bill. In committee, it was ruled inadmissible on the basis that it constitutes a substantive amendment to the bill by way of a modification of the interpretation clause.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 769, states:

The interpretation clause of a bill is not the place to propose a substantive amendment to a bill. In addition, an amendment to the interpretation clause of a bill that was referred to a committee after second reading must always relate to the bill and may neither exceed the scope of nor be contrary to the principle of the bill.

I can see nothing in the bill as amended by the committee which requires that such a power be provided to the minister. It appears to me to be a new concept and on that basis to constitute a substantive amendment to the interpretation clause of Bill C-442.

Clause 7 of the bill originally required the council to spearhead a fundraising campaign for the sole purpose of funding the construction of the monument. The amendment added the additional purposes of funding the planning, designing, installing and maintaining of the monument, as well as “any other costs incurred by the Council”.

While certain of these elements may constitute an elaboration or clarification of the purpose for which the council was to raise funds, I do not regard the maintenance of the monument as an aspect of its construction. It seems to me that it is only once the monument has been constructed that maintenance may be required. Further, there do not appear to be any grounds on which the original bill might be said to allow money raised for construction to be used for the costs of the council, whatever they may be. Therefore, it is my view that these two elements are clearly beyond the scope of Bill C-442 and were rightly judged inadmissible by the chair of the transport, infrastructure and communities committee.

The amendment to clause 8 of the bill authorized the minister to delegate to the council certain of his responsibilities. In particular, this delegation would include the planning and design of the monument, its construction and its maintenance. There are no provisions in the bill as adopted by the House at second reading for any delegation of the minister's responsibilities. As such, this notion of delegation seems to be a new concept that is beyond the scope of the bill. Indeed, the delegation of the minister's responsibilities to the council seems to be directly contrary to the principle of the bill, which requires the minister to design and build the National Holocaust Memorial Monument, in co-operation with the national council, rather than have the national council do it in his stead.

I would also like to take this opportunity to clarify a certain confusion which appears to exist concerning the ruling that the amendment to clause 8 was offered at the wrong place in the bill. As I noted, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons felt that an amendment to delegate powers was appropriately placed if it followed those provisions which set out the powers to be delegated. While that is a reasonable position, it is not the point that is at issue here. Clause 8, in its original form, read:

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada may assist the Council in the performance of its functions under this Act.

A provision for the minister to delegate powers to the national council seems to me to be well beyond the scope of clause 8, which deals with the role of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Clause 8 is not the appropriate place to attempt the insertion of such a provision, even if it were otherwise admissible.

For all these reasons, I therefore rule that the amendments to clauses 2, 7 and 8 of Bill C-442 are null and void and no longer form part of the bill as reported to the House. In addition, I am ordering that a reprint of Bill C-442 be published to replace the reprint ordered by the committee.

I would like to once again thank the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence for having raised this important matter.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act, be read the third time and passed.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House the hon. member for Burlington had the floor and he has 11 minutes in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Burlington.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have completed my formal remarks on the bill and I would be happy to move to questions and comments.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Questions and comments.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Westmount—Ville Marie.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I cannot really say that I am pleased to be debating Bill C-14 because, in actual fact, the bill has very little substance.

Let us be frank: as it currently stands the bill is not very credible because it is a bare bones proposal in response to something the Prime Minister himself observed during the 2008 election campaign. If he believes that consumers are being totally ripped off at the pump, why wait two years? The fact is that the government is acting grudgingly, and so the bill, as it currently stands, is mere window dressing and will simply shift the financial burden of the rising cost of gas onto retailers.

The Conservatives are on a witch hunt and are cracking down on independent retailers who, in their eyes, are alleged fraudsters. It is nothing but smoke and mirrors. Why does the bill not contain measures to support healthy competition rather than volume-based measures that would be extremely expensive for consumers?

The bill does not appear to deal with the real problem. There are few documented cases of retailers tampering with gas pumps, and they have no incentive to do so.

Let me share a few telling facts with you. The oil sector is ranked second when it comes to playing by the rules. So why would these kinds of measures apply only to this sector and not others? Are my colleagues aware that losses due to meter issues are in the order of $8 million, not $20 million as the government asserts? Currently, Measurement Canada inspects 34,000 gas pumps nationwide every two years, which accounts for a quarter of the 130,000 pumps across Canada. Enforcing this bill would mean hiring some 300 additional inspectors under contract to retailers. This would cost independent retailers between $50 and $200 per pump. Who will the bill be passed on to?

Most gasoline retailers are small, independent businesses, which in fact operate on very small margins, as we know. The additional cost of these inspections would certainly hurt their bottom line. In switching the onus of inspection to the retailer, the demand for private inspectors would increase drastically. I and many of my Liberal colleagues are concerned that retailers in northern and rural communities may not have access to the private inspectors required to ensure that they can stay within the letter and the spirit of the law.

If the government wants to keep going in this direction, would it not be better to review the way in which the law is enforced in order to ensure that the cost is not simply passed along to consumers? The ideal would probably be to increase the resources at Measurement Canada’s disposal. We need to face facts. Does the government have the resources or the money necessary to implement a measure like this? Independent retailers and consumers should not have to pay for this bill.

We will also have to ensure that it is uniformly enforced. My fear is that the penalties could be arbitrary, and that is why the inspectors should be trained according to very specific guidelines. The inspectors should definitely be under a very clear code of practice.

There is another point. In order to reduce certain difficulties for retailers, why not provide a 30-day grace period, as suggested by my colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East? The equipment these retailers use is not infallible, and sometimes they may not know that the readings are faulty. They should not be considered automatically guilty.

If the government were truly concerned with helping Canadians at the pumps, it could turn its attention to any number of issues, such as refinery closures and the anemic state of competition at the refinery level. In fact, when it comes to higher gasoline prices, the Prime Minister himself has said that there is nothing the government can do to help Canadians.

In the three elections since the Prime Minister has been leader of the Conservative Party, he has made no less than three specific commitments to help Canadians with ever-increasing fuel prices. Members will remember that in 2004, lest we forget, the Conservatives promised to eliminate the GST on gasoline prices above 85¢ a litre when they came to power. I do not think that happened. In 2008, they promised to lower the diesel excise tax. I do not believe that happened either.

I think the real reason behind the legislation being introduced right now is so the government can pretend to be helping consumers while they complain that prices are rising.

At this stage and in its current form, I see the fairness at the pumps act more like the Conservative farce at the pumps act.

A responsible government that really had Canadians’ interests at heart, including the price of fuel, would focus in particular on the competition among the refineries and look at the Competition Act. The important thing is to make the market more effective and competitive, as the Liberal government proposed in 2005.

How is it that despite the increase in prices and the industry’s claims that supply is very low, we see refineries closing? Why does the Conservative government remain impassive in the face of such a situation?

It is in the interests of Canadians that the House review whole parts of this bill and tailor them to deal with the real problem, which the Conservative government is trying to hide.

When a sampling was done of the gas pumps in this country, it was discovered that 94% of them were within specifications and only 6% were out of tolerance. Out of that 6%, one-third, or 2%, were actually delivering a little too much fuel to the consumer. The other 4%, in other words, 4% out of 100%, were delivering a little less fuel and a little outside of tolerance.

In terms of the devices that Measurement Canada is responsible for monitoring, measuring and inspecting, gas pumps are among the most reliable devices in this country. The question is why the government felt that it needed to legislate, through Bill C-14, the need to measure pump accuracy when the numbers were certainly extremely respectable. My guess is that the government wanted to do some grandstanding. It even gave it the name, “fairness at the pumps act”, which sort of left a hint that somebody was being unfair. Unfortunately, the retailers had to wear that name when, in reality, the situation was really very respectable.

From my point of view, the government has created a bill and has put us through the hoops when in reality there was very little need to create such a bill as Bill C-14. In the end, it has smeared retailers and will end up costing Canadians additional sums because of all the inspectors required to carry out the aim of this legislation.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was very well done. I appreciated his parallels to what I would consider to be typical retail politics. I think fairness at the pumps act is the title and, quite frankly, if we bore down to the depth of this, there is not a lot to it in my opinion. Some of it may be fair but only in a small, sparse way. Therefore, unfortunately, when it comes to retails politics, we are dealing with dollar store legislation.

In the meantime, if it is the fairness at the pumps and the weights and measurements, I do want to address one of the issues he raised which had to do with the effect on rural areas. In some communities we may find in a radius of maybe 200 kilometres that there is only one outlet that provides gasoline. Therefore, it becomes problematic when these people are compelled to do the measurements and weights and they need to rely on the private sector to do this. Not only is it the fee for doing it, they have travel costs, they need to bring the person in, pay their wages and so on and so forth, and that takes time to do and therefore lineups are created and it causes lots of problems when they are the only retailer in a large area.

I would like the hon. member to comment further on that, please.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the issue of northern or remote communities is a particularly acute one in terms of being able to respect the letter of the law in the case of Bill C-14 and yet there is a reality here, which he has very eloquently outlined, which is that in order to conform to the letter of the law there need to be inspections. The challenge there is to get the inspectors and the inspectors need to be available in order to do inspections of the pumps within a certain period of time.

This is problematic in and of itself in the case of certain communities but it is also a fact that these independent retailers who provide a very essential service often have very slim margins of profit and the additional burden of having to pay for the inspections that will need to take place at their one or two or three pumps is one they can ill-afford. It is a particularly acute problem for those independent retailers who are outside the large centres in this country.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

I will make this somewhat brief, Mr. Speaker. I remember during the last election that the price of fuel was a huge issue at the time. Many people in the House used this issue to torque it in certain ways. One of the ways of doing this, and to say it was shallow is being somewhat generous, was that there was a commitment to reduce the amount of diesel by 2¢, which came from the current government.

I have looked through the order paper but I cannot seem to find it. However, I was wondering if the hon. member would know where that policy went, perhaps out the pump, as it were.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raises an extremely good point. I seem to remember hearing about the 2¢ on diesel but I have not seen it enacted. I am forced to conclude that perhaps it was one of those many promises, including the 85¢ promise, which goes back about six years, whereby if gasoline went over 85¢ the GST would be removed from the price of gasoline.

Perhaps the government might be able to shed some light on what happened to those promises, which would have served the consumer a great deal more than Bill C-14, which is nothing but a sorry excuse for the government to try to look like it is on the side of the consumer.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my question for the member has to do with ambient temperatures.

A number of years ago, I had a constituency complaint and the basis of the complaint was that people got more gas in their tanks in the morning when they filled up because the temperature was poor, whereas, in the afternoon, because gas expands with the heat, people got less when they filled up.

I wonder if the member can answer as to how that will impact the ambient temperature issue as far as the measurements that the inspectors are planning to take, because there has to be some kind of reconciliation here between ambient temperatures and how the gas is measured.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the whole delivery in terms of volume of gasoline is predicated on certain conditions. In terms of temperature it is based on 15° centigrade. Therefore, if it were 15° centigrade at sea level, there would be a certain volume, but unfortunately most of the time the temperature is not 15° centigrade. In fact, on average in the country it is minus 6° or something like that. Therefore, there has to be a compensation that is done and that compensation is based on temperature and it is supposed to adjust the volume. As the member quite clearly said, when liquids or gases get cold, they compress and when they get warm, they expand, so that changes the volume.

One can only hope these pumps are making that correction based on the actual temperature. This assumes that is part of the process.