Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to speak at third reading of Bill C-23. It is to all intents and purposes the end, at least in the House, of a long process which, as colleagues who spoke before me have said, began many months ago, in 1999-2000.
Many individuals and stakeholders have taken part in the debate, in the examination, which led to the introduction of Bill C-23. It is, as I was saying, the product of long consideration. Therefore, I think we should be pleased at the amendments made to the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act. I think these amendments tighten up the Competition Act. I will come back to the process in a few minutes.
I will, if I may, digress a little with respect to the speech my colleague in the Canadian Alliance has just made.
His speech started well and was very interesting, I thought. The end of it, however, was not a little disappointing as he encouraged the government to draft legislation to promote competition and, in the same breath, criticized the fact that there is a Competition Act that permits competition. There is a certain lack of consistency here. With all due respect for my colleague in the Canadian Alliance, I must say that he seems to be speaking for big business in Canada, which naturally would like the body of laws applying to matters of competition to be as flexible and as minimal as possible.
He is forgetting very quickly that in Canada, and in Quebec, especially, the fabric of the economy is comprised essentially of small and medium sized businesses, that would absolutely not survive in a context of free market competition, which is what our colleague from the Canadian Alliance is energetically calling for.
A certain number of parameters must therefore be established to enable all businesses to be able to compete fairly regardless of size. Some businesses, some corporations, will be in a position to do more because of their size. Under the circumstances, provisions will have to be put in place to ensure that there is a proper and fair context for all sectors of industry.
In this connection, we in the Bloc Quebecois consider, as we always have moreover, that the Competition Act in its present form, despite its laudable objectives, does not contain the means, does not contain sufficient elements, is not sufficiently stringent, and does not have sufficient teeth to avoid certain behaviours that are anti-competitive.
Of course, although Bill C-23 does improve the existing legislation just slightly, we would have liked it to go a great deal further. The preliminary examination in committee provided us with the opportunity, as I said last Friday, to broaden the spectrum of possible interventions and the provisions that could have been added to the bill in order to respond to this desire to create a body of legislation, which would be more able to provide a context favourable to competition.
We would, therefore, have liked this bill to go a lot further than it does. We made an intervention, in fact several, in committee. As well, here in this House we tried to get the Competition Act tightened up further via an amendment presented last friday by my colleague from Laval Centre. Using a number of arguments that I still consider fallacious, the government saw fit to defeat that amendment, a point to which I shall return shortly.
Let us get back to the process. As I said, this is a process that began in 1999. The discussions went on and on. The committee worked really hard on this issue. Incidentally, I want to take this opportunity to thank my predecessor as Bloc Quebecois critic on industry, science and technology, the hon. member for Témiscamingue, who did an absolutely remarkable job along with the other committee members. The Department of Industry was also interested in a possible review of the Competition Act.
It must be said, and it is important to point this out when referring to the long process leading up to Bill C-23, that certain provisions on competition in the Canadian legislation go back more than 100 years. Some of these provisions deserve to be updated, given the economic context and framework in 2001.
The government, the Department of Industry, and particularly the minister himself, showed an interest in improving the Competition Act. Some proposals were made by a number of colleagues in this House, including private members' bills, Bills C-402 and C-472 presented by the hon. member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, Bill C-438 presented by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre, and Bill C-471 presented by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, among others.
Oddly enough, the government chose to integrate these bills and decided to include in the legislation now before the House, namely Bill C-23, only the proposals made by government members. We would have hoped that the government would be as receptive to proposals from the other side of the House, but it does not look as if it is the case.
Be that as it may, the debate transcended parliament, since we asked civil society, including through the Public Policy Forum, to take part in the debate and to express its views on a possible reform of the Competition Act. I must say, and the minister mentioned it on Friday, that we heard essentially two different views.
Obviously, this is putting it bluntly, I will not deny it, but if we want to put things in context, there were basically two viewpoints.
First, there was the viewpoint of big business, which sounded much like our colleague from the Canadian Alliance, who said earlier that the Competition Act needs as little changing as possible, and that we most definitely must not include a right to private access or any other provisions or proposals that would go beyond what Bill C-23 contains. Then there were representatives from small and medium sized businesses who demonstrated a great deal of interest in including provisions that had not been included in the original Bill C-23, particularly the right to private access.
I will not delve any further into the details of the contents of Bill C-23. I think that the two previous speakers in this debate did a good job explaining the impact of the bill. I will simply recall the four main amendments that Bill C-23 originally contained: first, facilitating co-operation with foreign competition authorities with respect to evidence in civil action; second, prohibiting deceptive prize notices sent out to the general public and sent by mail and through the Internet; third, streamlining the Competition Tribunal process by providing for cost awards, summary dispositions and references; and fourth, broadening the scope under which the tribunal may issue temporary orders.
Finally, following the work done by the committee and the speeches made by its members, particularly the highly eloquent ones by the member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge, based on the legislation to which I referred earlier, the government has agreed to make a few additions to these original four main elements in the bill.
First of all, provision has been added for private access, independently of the Competition Tribunal, so that private companies can take their competition cases directly, on their own behalf, to the tribunal in four specific areas mentioned in clauses 75 and 77 concerning refusal to deal, exclusive dealing, tied selling and market restriction.
Amendments have also been made to the bill with respect to dominant position. One has the feeling, from the wording of these amendments, that particular aim was being taken at a problem forced on us by the prevailing economic situation now facing the airlines.
Under section 104.1 of the Competition Act, the commissioner will be permitted to issue interim orders so as to prevent a company under investigation from continuing or resuming anti-competitive acts. As well, an airline could be required to pay monetary penalties, because this is indeed the purpose behind the particular amendments in this regard, under clause 79 concerning abuse of dominant position.
We would have preferred that the government not try to use these amendments to deal with a very specific situation. Abuse of dominant position can also be observed in other industrial sectors.
I come back to what I was saying earlier concerning the amendment put forward Friday by the member for Laval Centre. This amendment, as the House will recall, is taken word for word from a provision in Bill C-472, presented earlier by the member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge, with the exception of three little words which independent gas retailers wanted to see dropped: standard market conditions. I will not go back over these three words, on the significance of the amendment. I spoke on this at some length Friday, when we debated Bill C-23 at report and second reading stages.
I simply want to say at this point that we would have liked the government to be more receptive with respect to abuses of dominant position in other sectors of the economy, not just in the airline industry. We on this side were referring specifically to what happened a certain number of weeks and months ago in the case of the sharp rise in gas prices.
Naturally, the minister himself told me in committee when he appeared that the cost of gasoline was actually quite low, so why get upset over the issue of gasoline prices? The current body of laws, even amended, does not protect us from a new flare-up of gasoline prices. This amendment among other things serves to protect independent distributors against the dominant position of the major oil companies, which alone control 90% of the Canadian oil refinery and distribution market and we would have liked to see it pass. We would also have liked to have section 45 of the Competition Act amended. This section, I remind you, is over 100 years old. A number of things have changed in the meantime, and these changes must be taken into account.
We would have liked an amendment on the relevance of keeping the word unduly in the section. I know that it raised a lot of debate. Some claim the word should be eliminated; others think it should be retained. I myself think the issue should have been expanded and the work not disrupted so that we could not go beyond the provisions contained in Bill C-23, with the few amendments, albeit significant but limited, that were finally added at the conclusion of the work of the committee.
It should be noted that despite the good intentions of the committee members and the witnesses who appeared before the committee—and I must, in this regard, congratulate and thank the witnesses for the depth of the analyses and comments they contributed—we might have done well to pay much more attention to them and to integrate more of these analyses and proposals into Bill C-23.
For a whole slew of reasons, it was decided not to. That said, despite all the goodwill of the committee members and the witnesses who appeared, it must be recognized that the very organization of our committee precluded our doing a really thorough job on this issue.
When the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology meets four times a week to discuss three different topics, this makes the members' work difficult. It is hard for them to manage to address each of these three issues in depth, each theme raised in its four meetings each week. I think we would be better off if we were to consolidate the work, make it more consistent and thus be able to go into the various matters raised in committee in a little more depth.
Returning the subject at hand, as I said, it would have been worthwhile in my opinion to have been able to go into it further. Nevertheless, we must admit reality: Friday, the minister referred to the quality of the committee's work, and described it, rightly so in my opinion, as non-partisan. It is regrettable, however, that at the very end he adopted an attitude that was close-minded, to say the least, if not downright partisan, in rejecting the amendment proposed by my colleague from Laval Centre.
Those then, are my reservations, and I hope the minister listens to them. On Friday, I expressed the wish that he listen to the speech I gave on my colleague from Laval Centre's amendment. Similarly today, I trust that through his parliamentary secretary he will be attentive to the discussion of today.
That said, I am greatly perplexed and taken aback by the government's decision not to go any further with the pre-examination of Bill C-23 by broadening it. Yet, by its own admission, it intends to review and revise the Competition Act once again, at some point next February.
Rather than doing things a bit a time, perhaps we ought to have carried out a more thorough study of the proposed amendments to the Competition Act, and these could have integrated the concerns of my colleague from Laval Centre as well as the very legitimate concerns of my colleague from Jonquière concerning clause 45. As hon. members are aware, my colleague from Jonquière has spoken out in the media, here in Ottawa, in the House of Commons, and in committee, as well as in the national assembly, concerning clause 45. Perhaps we could have indeed gone into it further.
However, despite the concerns that I raise here today, and that I have raised in the past, particularly on Friday, and to which I hope the government is sensitive, despite all this, I would once again like to repeat today that the Bloc Quebecois, as it has always done since 1993 and even before then, when the founding members of the Bloc Quebecois sat as independent members, has always acted in the best interests of all, particularly in the interests of Quebecers, regardless of partisan politics.
Statistics show this to be true. Since the beginning, since Confederation, the Bloc Quebecois is probably the political party that has most often voted in support of government bills and initiatives. We are not guided by the extremely narrow prism of partisan politics. What guides our analysis in the Bloc Quebecois is the best interests of all, and particularly, the interests of Quebecers.
So despite the concerns that I raise today, I would like to repeat that the Bloc Quebecois will vote in favour of this bill because we believe it to be a step in the right direction. The government was not willing to take the steps required to make even more improvements to the Competition Act, but it is nonetheless a step. We can only hope that the government will continue to make progress so that some day we can have legislation that fosters truly healthy competition within our economic environment.