House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

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

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:20 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 notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from May 10 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 second time and referred to a committee.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing had the floor. There are 17 minutes remaining in the time allotted for her remarks. I therefore recognize the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, as it has been two days since I started my speech, I will take some time to refresh the House a little.

This all came about because of an investigation by the Ottawa Citizen which revealed that between 1999 and 2007, government inspections of over 200,000 fuel pumps found that about 5% of the pumps delivered less fuel than reported on the pump display. The government inspection data showed that about one-third of Canada's gas stations, which is about 14,000, had at least one faulty pump. That occurred more than three years ago and the government has waited this long to respond.

It will come as little surprise to most members that gas prices in my constituency of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing are through the roof. When we hear Measurement Canada say that 5% of the pumps out there are delivering less fuel than reported on the pump display, we feel even more vulnerable based on the already too high gas prices we pay.

New Democrats have some problems with the bill and, by now, members will have heard most of these. Still, it is worth repeating some of them for the benefit of people who may have just begun to pay attention to this debate.

I would like to talk about some of the gas prices in my riding at this point. In Elliot Lake on Monday the price was 105.3 and today it is 104.9. In Espanola today it is 105.9. In Kapuskasing last Monday it was $1.10. Unfortunately, I could not get the price today because I did not have a chance to check. In Sault Ste. Marie on Monday it was 106.9 and in Sudbury it was 104.9.

In the rural parts of Canada we pay more for gas than in cities. I would like to read some of the emails that I have received over the last couple of years. I have just picked them randomly because it is important to show that from year to year there have been some concerns by the citizens in my area. This email is from Eric Vincent of Elliot Lake. He says:

The daily gas prices shown on the [member for Pickering—Scarborough East]website should be enough evidence to see that the 2 gas stations here in Elliot Lake are not lowering their gas prices when others are lowering theirs and that they are too slow to lower them when they finally do.

I feel that we are continuously overcharged here. For example: we are no further remote from the refineries than Ottawa is. Tankers get to Ottawa one at a time the same as the tankers that arrive here, one at a time, to deliver gas to the only 2 stations that we have. Then these two stations always sell gas at exactly the same price.

Every day we hear of prices falling across Ontario, yet ours stay pinned at the same price long after any lower prices appear elsewhere.

For example: our price here [November 21, 2008] is 91.9 cents per litre which it has been for many weeks, while the gas price in Ottawa is 73.5 cents per litre. This is a whopping 20% difference today.

If you were able to locate the Gas Baron by phone to advise that immediate attention is needed to remove this major discrepancy, I am certain that it would result in immediate fairness at the pumps that could result in them making changes daily here in Elliot Lake and across Your entire constituency.

That is exactly why we need a commission and exactly why we need an ombudsman.

I have another email from Maurice Drolet who says:

As you may have noticed, the gas price has risen quite substantially in the past month. I do not understand why here in the North East Ontario, where we depend on vehicles as there are no transit or subway, the gas is much more expensive than anywhere else. The barrels are at a price where we used to pay around $0.78 a litre [February 13, 2009] but now we are paying $0.91.9. I feel that the people in the North should be hearing on the news, and newspaper that you are screaming bloody hell to the government about this outrageous lack of concern from the government toward us.

It is the not the first time that I bring the issues of the gas prices and gas gouging to the House. This one is from Jerry Allen, who wrote on March 2, 2009:

I and many others are wondering how long the government is going to allow the oil companies to keep gouging the public. The price of oil per barrel has dropped dramatically, but the price of a liter of gasoline HAS NOT dropped accordingly.

On November 18, 2009, Garland Sullivan wrote:

...I was going to Sudbury the other day and I filled the car up at Thessalon, at a buck six [$1.06]. When I got to the Espanola turnoff, it was ninety three [93¢]. When I get to Sudbury, I saw two places at ninety two [92¢]??????.

I have been in the transportation business most of my life, and there is no way anyone can justify that much of a difference in cost to move the stuff, and the expenses to operate a business in the Soo are no more than they are in Sudbury, SOOO back to the old adage we in the north are getting it where it hurts. Now what do we do about this, this seems to be a slap in the face to the northerners because we here in the north need our gas and fuel and I have not heard of ANYONE taking up our cause here in the north.

Just thought I would let you in on the secret.

I want Canadians to know that we certainly have been raising this issue here for the people in the north, and there continues to be concern that no one is being heard.

Some people say that the price of gas depends on where one is in the north and it depends on the markets and on whether the price of a barrel of oil is up. Recently I went to a reception on the Hill with some of the gas providers. I was told that it depends on whether or not a gas station sells other things, that the owner could make up the profit from those sales and lose a l bit on the gas.

My colleague, the member for Timmins—James Bay, and a provincial colleague talked about the price of gas and that a case of beer, no matter where it is bought, is the same price. Another thing I was told was that if a location sold a lot of gas, the price of gas could be reduced because it is cheaper to buy it in bulk. Well, if more beer is sold at one of the beer stores, it is still the same price no matter where one buys it.

I regularly get phone calls from people about accuracy at the pumps and, of course, the high price of gas, as I have mentioned. It is a hot button issue in my riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing.

I want to read another comment, which I received on May 10. Mr. Tracy in Little Current talked about the price of crude oil and the disparity with regard to the price of crude oil when it is $20 a barrel at the well head, and the price quoted on TV is around $90. He wrote:

With Canada pumping 2 million barrels of crude oil per day the Canadian public are being taken for a ride.

Example - TV price of oil in the past year or so went down to around $40 a barrel - and the public have been told as much as $140 a barrel. YET AT THE SAME TIME A BARREL OF CRUDE OIL WAS ALWAYS LESS THAN $20 A BARREL AT THE WELL HEAD.

We need to look at what is really in this bill. This type of legislation has been needed for some time. On paper the bill seems logical, yet the bill before us is difficult to support in its present form, which is a shame. The idea is good, but it is framed inside the same old Conservative fixtures.

The way in which the private sector is being utilized in this bill seems almost quasi-official. It is the first layer of bureaucracy that will decide if the next layer will be needed. If I understand this correctly, it is little more than a screening process. The actual inspectors from Measurement Canada would be required to do the heavy lifting.

The fact that there is no ombudsman being established in this bill is a huge oversight. This leaves no method of recourse. Let us not forget that it would not always be the consumer who required the assistance of an ombudsman. Very real taxes have been paid on what amounts to phantom fuel. We can look at this any way we want to and it still amounts to taxes paid on nothing at all. Consumers who have been ripped off would have no means to regain lost money, nor would there be any refund or restitution for taxes collected for phantom gas purchases.

As I mentioned in this House in November 2008, Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing is a big riding and there is not a lot of public transportation. I have also discussed this in my speech today. Things that many Canadians take for granted, such as the ability to get to work or a doctor's appointment, can be a big deal for many of my constituents because the gas prices in the riding are much higher than they are in the major centres. This is just not right. When people have no choice but to rely on a car to get around, we can understand the frustration of those residents when they know they are being gouged at the pumps due to higher gas prices, inadequate measurement and false temperatures.

Information gathered shows that a motorist gets shortchanged at least twice a year. The results from a review of gas stations in Windsor showed that 25% of fuel pumps inspected were faulty. This study took over eight years. Again, let me remind members that not only were people shortchanged on the amount of gas they paid for, but also on the amount of tax paid on that gas.

Consumers have been gouged by millions and are now being told they will have to settle for a process that would do little to address all of the issues related to consumer gouging.

The proposed fairness at the pumps act would actually remove the federal government from the inspection process and would allow the oil industry to police itself. Can anyone imagine that?

My colleague from Windsor West, who happens to be the NDP industry, automobile and border critic, said:

The shocking revelation is not that this was only exposed by an access to information request by a media outlet, but that the Minister has not even met with the oil companies to correct the massive anomaly of a quarter of the fuel pumps in the Windsor and Essex area that are defrauding ordinary Canadians. This rip off needs to end now....

It is unfair that Canadians are being gouged at the pumps while big oil companies continue to reap record profits. We challenge the government to stand up to its big oil buddies and ensure fairness at the pumps.

I raised this issue in the House in November 2008 and again on February 11 in my speech on the budget. In that speech I told the government it is unacceptable that people in northern Ontario are paying ridiculously high prices for gas as the price per barrel of oil drops.

Unfortunately, there is currently no government department or watchdog that would deal with the issue of high gas prices or the gouging that makes gas more expensive from some companies but less expensive from others. This is why the creation of an ombudsman who could serve as a watchdog is so critical.

Gouging at the pumps is not fair, especially in regions such as northern Ontario, where there are no other viable methods of transportation. We need fairness at the pumps for Canadians.

I want to read a couple of sentences from an article that was in the Ottawa Citizen on Monday, May 12:

Most of the pump errors were small--between 30 and 60 cents' worth of gas on a fill-up at today's prices. But some pumps have shown much larger failures. Last year, a pump at a station near Chatham, Ont., was caught shorting consumers by one-and-a-half litres on a 50-litre tank, which is common to most average-sized cars. Drivers who visited one pump in Corner Brook, NL, would have had to buy an extra two litres to top up their tanks. And at a certain outlet in Yarmouth, N.S., a fill would have cost about $2.25 more than it should have.

This is going on across Canada. The articles continues:

Measurement Canada conducts inspections based on standards set in the Weights and Measures Act, which peg the allowable maximum error for gasoline dispensers at an internationally accepted standard of 100 millilitres for every 20 litres pumped, or 0.5%.

That means on an average fill-up of a 50 litre gas tank at today's prices, a pump can legally shortchange the consumer by about 30 cents' worth of gas and still fall within the allowable tolerance zone.

As I have indicated, the bill seems to be a step in the right direction on paper, but there are so many difficulties with it. There is still the issue about the privatization of the inspection service by mandating frequent inspections that must be carried out by the newly created authorized service providers of private companies. We are asking them to police themselves. That is wrong.

We know what happened in the forestry industry when we asked companies to police themselves. We might as well be telling criminals that we are going to put them in jail and when they are on probation they can regulate themselves, or we can put people under house arrest and say that we will count on them to follow the guidelines.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-14 will increase fines and introduce administrative monetary penalties. The fairness at the pumps act proposes to strengthen consumer protection and provide greater deterrence against inaccurate measurements by increasing court imposed fines and mandatory inspections. The fairness at the pumps act proposes to increase retailer accountability and use of private sector authorized service providers. Mandatory inspections would be conducted by authorized service providers. Fees for independent inspection services would be determined by market forces. It is estimated that the number of annual gas pump inspections would increase from 8,000 to approximately 65,000.

Could the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing tell me what the problems are with the bill?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned during my speech, the most important part of the problem is that the government sees fit to allow companies basically to police themselves.

It is great that the government is increasing the fines, but we know what happens when one polices oneself. We do not really see what is actually occurring and we will continue to see the problems that we are experiencing today.

The other issue is with regard to mandating private inspections which will now increase from 8,000 per year to 65,000 per year. We are telling the companies that we want them to police themselves and we expect them to do all of these inspections. For some of these organizations that is not financially viable.

I will wait for the next question because I have a few more things to add.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the thing that stood out in my mind as the member was speaking was that Bill C-14 allows the industry to police itself. That is kind of scary for me, given what is going on at the pumps.

A year and a half ago we were paying almost double per barrel what is being charged now and the prices at the pump were about $1.00 or $1.01. The prices now are about $1.00 or $1.01 and the price per barrel is half the price what it was.

There has to be some regulation. If we are allowing the companies to police themselves, God knows what is going to happen tomorrow. Could the member elaborate on that for us?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the answer is that we need to change the Competition Act in order to deal with that.

The member brought up the issue of the companies policing themselves. That is one of the biggest things about this bill. It is fine to say that we are going to increase fines but if the companies have the ability to police themselves, it just does not work.

The other thing is there is no recourse for a customer to get reimbursed for being gouged at the pumps. We need an ombudsman in place to ensure that will occur.

Although the bill seems to be a step in the right direction, there is a lot of meat missing from it.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member that relates to northerners.

I am her neighbour as well as a neighbour of my hon. colleague from Nickel Belt. We all seem to know a story from one individual or another who continues to get fleeced at gas stations.

We also know that our economy in northern Ontario, specifically in greater Sudbury, is hurting due to the strike at Vale Inco and the layoffs at Xstrata. We need to see a lot of things change. These poor individuals are being fleeced by companies.

What does the member think we can do in this bill to make it better, to help northerners from getting fleeced by big mining and oil companies?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, we need to change the Competition Act. I am glad the member mentioned Vale Inco. My husband happens to be one of those people who are on strike. Our laws are truly unfair. The fact is, over and over again, the Liberals and Conservatives have voted against anti-scab legislation to deal with the issue.

With respect to the gas issue, people who are on strike are hurting right now because they are having to pay higher gas prices.

We need to deal with other issues as well. As I have indicated, it is not just a matter of a complaint and then an investigation. We need to have the ability for the consumer to have recourse with those companies. We need a process that will allow for a refund and compensation for consumers who are ripped off. We need refunds or restitution on the taxes collected on the phantom gasoline purchases. Also, we need an ombudsman office.