An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Monique Guay  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of June 5, 2002
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canada Labour CodeRoutine Proceedings

June 5th, 2002 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-472, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code.

Mr. Speaker, as I promised on May 1, I am introducing this afternoon a bill to prohibit employers under the Canada Labour Code from hiring replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or locked out.

The bill also provides for a fine not exceeding $1,000 for each day or portion of day of continuing offence.

I hope that this bill will be subject to a majority vote by the members of this House.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Competition ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2001 / 1:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to be here today after several years of attempting to redress certain wrongs that were not being perceived correctly in the marketplace. The efforts of myself and my colleagues are finally being recognized on the floor of the House of Commons today.

It is a privilege to have worked with members on the other side of the House, in particular le député de Verchères--Les-Patriotes, the member for Winnipeg Centre, the member for Fraser Valley, the member for Edmonton Southwest and the member for Peace River. I want to give particular thanks to my colleagues who have stood shoulder to shoulder with me over the past several years as we went through the historical and concerned battles with respect to inappropriate pricing, particularly for the independent retailers of gasoline, and the impact which I think we are seeing unfold today of the mergers in the grocery industry and in the telecommunications industry. I thank the member for Tobique--Mactaquac; my good friend and colleague from Yukon; the member for St. Catharines, who is also the vice-chair of the committee; the member for Eglinton--Lawrence; the current chair, the member for Essex; the member for Burlington; and the member for Algoma--Manitoulin.

The bill in essence has been drawn from three or four private members' bills. The more controversial parts, needless to say, came from my Bill C-472 in the last parliament. This understanding of the need for change started back in 1996-97. Yes, it occurred in the energy industry but it also meant that it applied to every other industry as well because we understood the competitive process. At the time there was much resistance to Bill C-235 in the House. Notwithstanding that it had been voted on at second reading and sent to committee, the bill suffered ignominious defeat. It dealt with a concept which has now gripped the country in other industries, that is, the whole concept of the strength and effectiveness of predatory pricing.

It took the courage, understanding and sympathy, as well as the good intentions of the member for Scarborough Centre who, along with the competition commissioner and the then minister of industry, took the time to hear the concerns. They heard the frustrations that were being delivered to me as a member of parliament by a number of businesses in the country that had no voice.

This legislation could not have been without his efforts. The hon. member for Scarborough Centre will be one of the unsung heroes should the legislation meet with the support of the upper house. I wanted to take the time to pay tribute to his efforts without which I think this change to the Competition Act would never have been debated today. We certainly would be dealing with other issues.

I have been on a very long road, some would call it a crusade, not only to amend and bring our competition law in line with our competitor's but also to have it respond effectively to the needs of Canadians, whether they be in large businesses, in small businesses or consumers.

Years ago I wrote an article with respect to the CRTC. At the time I quipped that it was not Canadian radio, television and communications but rather consumers who were rarely taken into consideration. I think we have for some time forgiven ourselves for not doing enough to ensure that there is a level playing field for consumers who want to receive not just effective costs but also choice.

More often than not people will ask how we can attack this issue or that issue when the price is so darn good. We all know the old common quip of short term gain, long term pain. If one business is able to remove its competitor, often through a lack of oversight, which it must rely on for supply or from an acquisition perspective, we suddenly see the prices rise dramatically.

More recently the member for Fraser Valley and I have been co-slaggees, which is not really a word. We have been hit by a couple of editorials in some of what I would say are papers that are more in tune with business papers such as the Financial Post and the Southam chain or at least the Ottawa Citizen . That happened because we dared to suggest that the Competition Act, which they wrote in 1986 with the help of a handful of individuals, should now be subjected to the democratic rigours of members of parliament.

Day in and day out members hear frustrations from their constituents that there is no response because the competition commissioner or the Competition Bureau does not believe there is a case or there is indifference. Also if someone were to speak out without the protection of a member of parliament and parliamentary privilege, that person's company could find itself subjected to rather unsavoury tactics after the fact.

We are here today to provide a new direction, a direction that does not radically depart from the essence of due process of the Competition Act. What we are saying is that in the case of private right of access, interim orders, and certainly in the case of cease and desist as is better described, we are now helping people who might not have the time let alone the financial deep pockets to spend the time trying to defend themselves.

We saw this happen with independent gas retailers. I have mentioned a number of other industries where this occurs. Parliament and the media are very much gripped with the issue of Air Canada. It was music to my ears after writing a letter on November 23 to the Minister of Transport. I requested that he not issue a separate operating certificate for another discount airliner but, more important, that we toughen things up given his position, the week before of improving the Competition Act. Perhaps more adjudication of issues coming out of the airline industry could be provided and more issues surrendered to the rigours of our Competition Act. We could also look at a scenario that provides stronger, tougher cease and desist, not just for an 80 day maximum but right up until the tribunal has the time and an opportunity to review the potential or alleged anti-competitive act.

I also called for a penalty of some $50 million. As colleagues know, the committee, I guess wisely, chose to make that $15 million. The point was made. I want to suggest, not just to Canadians who may be listening to us today but to backbenchers and people who normally do not have a hand in influencing law, that indeed we can make a difference when we decide to apply ourselves on issues that are relevant to Canadians.

We have had opportunities in the past to look at changes to the Competition Act. The subject I would like to discuss is private access. So that people will understand, this allows it in four limited areas. We wanted to make sure we were observant of the safeguards. So many thought we would dispose of them, that we would somehow fling ourselves open to that terrible system which the United States has, not to mention that it is the most productive nation in the world from an economic point of view, but God knows we were not allowed to talk about triple damages or Australia's example of double damages.

No, Canada had to have a form of economic feudalism imposed on it by a handful of individuals who wrote the Competition Act in 1986. For some strange reason they do not want members of parliament meddling with a perfectly good piece of legislation when it is improved and certainly sanitized by the views of Canadians as represented democratically.

I found it very interesting that we heard from the likes of, and I will not mention his name because I do not think it is worth mentioning, people involved with the Financial Post . They actually suggested that members of parliament ought not to be making deliberations, that they should be something between business and business when it comes to the Competition Act.

Comments like that obviously are made by individuals who very much believe that they can hide behind their pens and write whatever they want in the solid belief that paper will not refuse ink.

We have heavier goals to respond to. One of those is to ensure that we have effective legislation that meets the test of time. It is for this reason I compliment the initiatives by our government to address some of the fundamental failings of the Competition Act but in particular not to give businesses an opportunity to engage and an opportunity to bring their cases before the Competition Tribunal. Why is that so important?

As we heard on several occasions, there are not enough precedents with the cases that are submitted to the Competition Tribunal. This is why we do not know the specific weaknesses and strengths of our Competition Act.

It has been at least 15 years since the act was truly reformed and the vast majority of Canadians think we should take this opportunity to review it and ensure that the objectives of our constituents, of consumers and of all businesses, big and small, are included in this legislation.

It is therefore with great pleasure that we made representations, as we are doing now at third reading of the bill, to ensure that small, medium and large sized companies, which really know their product and their business, are at least given an opportunity to know that they can submit their case to the tribunal. We want directors and those who work with the Competition Bureau to have an idea of these lesser known changes.

These differences are often not perceptible to public servants, but they are well understood and supported by those who work in that business field. This is why I am sure that by providing tools to businesses first they will at least be able to settle their cases, because we will have made the act accessible to them.

It is for this reason that these initiatives affect small businesses as much as large businesses. The public perceives that there is a problem but cannot get the proper justice. It cannot get the attention of the Competition Bureau to express the difficulty that exists. Those difficulties may happen in a short period of time, such that the person may be physically out of business.

There are many examples of businesses that have gone under. They have not gone under because they were not efficient and competitive. They put in their sweat, equity, their children's future and their own future. However, much larger businesses with deeper pockets knew full well that the Competition Act was written in such a way that only those who had deep pockets could make use of it.

It is for this reason that we have finally changed the definition and perhaps changed the Competition Act in such a way as to give those individuals a fighting chance to bring their cases before the Competition Tribunal.

These are not questions that we could easily dismiss about whether or not there would be effectiveness with the legislation. The committee heard from Australian commissioner Allan Fells. Australia is not just another country. It happens to be literally a brother or sister within the Commonwealth with laws that are much along the same wavelength as ours. The commissioner came to the conclusion that much of the body of law had been improved by private access, particularly in the area of refusal to deal. My hon. colleagues had an opportunity to exchange those views with the commissioner. We were very pleased to see that happening.

On the other hand there were concerns that having a bit of private access in Canada might ultimately lead to some kind of perversion in which we would have frivolous and vexatious or, as some would call it, strategic litigation. My amendments in committee were improvements. We improved on the terms “if it finds that the proceedings are frivolous or vexatious or that any step in the proceedings is taken to hinder or delay their progress” by putting forward an amendment in accordance with the provisions governing costs in the federal court rules, 1998.

There is little that one can raise as a concern about what this would lead to because it is already understood in law and it is the practice of every court. It is literally a situation wherein a judge would ask to have this stupid case removed from his court right away. The rules the committee suggested, and I hope parliament would approve, would see individuals who bring frivolous or vexatious claims pay a substantial cost as an disincentive for them not to engage in frivolous or vexatious activity.

The member for Fraser Valley suggested that was inevitable. We know that we can do this before any court. The provisions and safeguards are there. Notwithstanding their efforts, professors Michael Trebilcock and Tom Ross suggested that the time to deal with this had ended. We have been dealing with this for 30 years. Let us get on with it. They also suggested that perhaps down the road it would give rise to the need to extend it to other areas, for example abuse of dominant position in sections 78 and 79 of the Competition Act.

Those would be bold moves but they are not ones that parliament would want to make today. We have struck the right balance between assuring that the provisions of the bill would incorporate both the anxieties of those who suggest it is going too far and accommodating those who say in the main that we have not gone far enough.

I am pleased to see that the committee and parliament are addressing this issue with the help of the Minister of Industry at a speed that would allow us to ensure that 2002 will bring with it new expectations for the economy.

This is not just any other bill. The Competition Act, as we will learn today, is probably the second most important economic instrument to Canadians after our fiscal and monetary policy. It is for those reasons that while there are some who say monetary and fiscal policy must be in sync the bill says that our competition law must be in sync, with the rest of the world in a more globalized environment. I am pleased to see that the committee decided to proceed with some of those necessary changes.

We have heard some criticism being levelled at people who tend to venture out and respond to crises several months before their time. When I began my concerns about what was happening in the energy industry, it was not simply about gasoline.

I have a bill before the House that is votable. It deals with the efficiencies defence in the Competition Act in the area of propane. Last year I was concerned about the sudden dramatic rise in the price of heating oil. The government acted responsibly in helping those who had no way of defending themselves. I applaud the Minister of Finance for having done what he did.

If we can take advantage of loopholes in the Competition Act in one specific area, chances are we will be able to do it in others. It is quite ironic that in an article written last week by the Financial Post we read that airlines do not need to be regulated any more than gasoline. This speaks to the very issue that I brought forward. The Competition Act responds to many sectors of the economy as a framework law. We are here to improve the process.

I find it passing strange that the same papers which lament members of parliament and senators engaging in issues that are important to Canadians have the unmitigated gall to engage in a critique in a soft and independent editorial viewpoint.

We saw that this week with respect to Southam telling members of one of its many groups that if they did not like what it was doing they should not bother publishing it. What happened to local views? What happened beyond the question of price to some of the competition? It is clear we have a problem. This is exactly why on August 3, 2000, I wrote to the Prime Minister, saying:

This week's announcement by CanWest Global to acquire controlling interest of Hollinger Inc., coupled with BCE's acquisition of CTV, has fuelled wide speculation that more media takeovers and mergers are pending...Communications media compete in part by offering independent editorial viewpoints and an independent gatekeeper function. A scenario that eventually sees only a handful of media players, cannot effectively respond to a demand for choice or diversity of competition by extending their product lines, since the new media products will inevitably bear, to some degree, the perspective of their common corporate parent.

If it is good for the goose, it is good for the gander. This has been done in industry without even the prospect of oversight. Companies have disappeared in the night, have been wiped off the map, because they were buying gasoline for 52 cents a litre wholesale with all the taxes included but the person who was supplying the gasoline was selling it for 47 cents.

That is anti-competitive yet it is not illegal under the current definition in the rigours of our act. Nor is it illegal to have 75% of the market for propane in one specific region of the country at a time when farmers need it for drying their crops. Nor is it illegal for an airline company that has 80% of the airline market to say it will drop its prices, but only in two locations where it has any semblance of a vigorous and effective competitor.

It is nice to receive editorials, condemning or otherwise, but it would be nice if papers had the intestinal fortitude to publish a story relating to that which they are criticizing. That is politics, I suppose. When we do not have to put our name on the ballot to get elected, is it any wonder that we can hide behind the pen and say anything we want?

The courage of the House of Commons and members of parliament to make dramatic necessary changes in the context of the country and the Competition Act warms the heart of every consumer in Canada. I applaud each and every member of parliament. Let us keep up the good work and make a difference for Canadians.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2001 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

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.

Competition ActGovernment Orders

December 7th, 2001 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Madam Speaker, I too am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-23. Before I begin, I will say how happy I am to have this opportunity, as this legislation has been in the making for a long time.

First, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Laval Centre. The amendment she put forward is, in my view, quite relevant and interesting. By putting forward this amendment, I believe she proved how competent and multi-talented she is. My colleague from Laval Centre excels in a number of areas, including culture and health care, as she said herself. But I did not know she had such expertise in the area of competition. I want to congratulate her and tell her how happy we are to be able to debate this brilliant amendment in the House today.

That being said, we must give credit where credit is due. Although the government is unable to do so, for our part, we routinely recognize the value and merit of our opponents' work. This bill is the result of the work done by a number of members who do not belong to cabinet. They put forward private members' bills that caught the eye of the government to such an extent that it decided to include them in what I would call an omnibus bill, as it deals with various aspects of the Competition Act, with a view to amend and improve it.

The bills I refer to are Bill C-402 inroduced by the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, Bill C-438 by the member for Kitchener Centre, Bill C-471 by the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and Bill C-472, again by the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge.

I am not sure that we need to conclude from this listing of the work by members, which the government has decided to use as a basis for drafting is Bill C-23, that the government is not interested in, or does not take into consideration, or does not choose to use, anything but suggestions from its own members. We must, however, be glad that the work done by MPs on an individual basis, or in other words the private members' bills and motions can gain momentum and end up with a positive outcome in the House, as is the case with Bill C-23.

I hope that the minister is lending an attentive ear to what we are saying this afternoon, because his very careful attention to the first speeches was obvious. Let us hope that same attention has been given to the last ones. I think he was justified in pointing out that the bill is the outcome of conscientious and non partisan efforts by departmental staff, of course, but also and primarily by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. For some months now, the committee has been addressing a potential review of the legislation and of the options and avenues that might be envisaged to tighten up Canada's Competition Act .

It is fortunate that, at the conclusion of this work, we were able before its examination to debate Bill C-23, which, as I was saying, is intended to act on certain suggestions.

However, it is unfortunate that the bill did not go further and that this pre-examination did not allow us to go further. The pre-examination should have allowed us to do so, because we had not accepted the principle of the bill. We could therefore have possible expanded the scope of concerns and the various amendments that could have been proposed.

It is also regrettable that the minister, while his speech was very carefully worded, if I can put it like that, set a rather partisan tone at the end of the debate, because, as he had indicated, up to that point the debate had been non-partisan.

We worked together as a committee to improve the bill. I think the amendment by my colleague from Laval Centre would have had the effect, the advantage, of improving the bill substantially. But since this amendment, it appears, did not come from a government member, arguments that I consider fallacious were cited to reject it, politely, I must say, but reject it nevertheless.

But it is not quite true that this amendment came from a member who is not a government member. And no, I am not announcing publicly that my colleague has decided to cross the floor of the House. However, her amendment was largely based on the work done by the hon. member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge. This work resulted in certain provisions being included in Bill C-472, which sought to protect small retailers, particularly in the oil industry, and small businesses against bigger ones.

In this regard, when they appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the representatives of the Association québécoise des indépendants du pétrole mentioned—and the minister should reread their evidence—that some provisions in Bill C-472 seemed to promote their interests, including their access to the resource.

Right now, we have a quasi-monopoly in which the resource—crude oil, oil, gas, refined product—is provided by a very small number of companies. These companies are in a position to drive independent retailers out of business.

Bill C-472 included provisions which eliminated this power of the major oil companies over the small independent businesses. The Association québécoise des indépendants du pétrole had just one small reservation and its concerned the expression standard market conditions used in Bill C-472, which it wanted to see removed from the bill.

Why? Because the standard market conditions are defined by the major oil companies in this instance. These companies determine what these conditions are. So, they could have argued before the competition tribunal that the demands of the independent companies went against the standard market conditions they themselves established.

Also, as I said, with extraordinary prescience, my colleague from Laval Centre took from Bill C-472 the relevant provision but without the expression standard market conditions. She presented this amendment, which the hon. member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge had himself considered, to the House.

Therefore, the minister should be more open to this motion in amendment since it came initially, not from an opposition backbencher but from a government member.

I invite the House to vote in favour of this amendment, which I believe is important for small businesses, independent distributors and everyone who is faced with a monopolistic or oligopolistic situation. I hope all members will support this amendment.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

October 24th, 2001 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-248, introduced by the member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge.

I would like to state at the outset that I am very pleased to support this bill, as I believe the Competition Act needs to be strengthened.

It is sad to note that the act currently has no power to fight collusion. In our world where the role of the economy and markets becomes increasingly important, we need to ensure better protection for citizens of this country. Personally, I believe that Bill C-248 is a step in the right direction.

This private member's bill proposes a review of the application of sections 92 and 96 of the Competition Act. This would have the effect of prohibiting any one company from having a dominant market position following a merger.

Given the deficiencies of the current Competition Act, I sincerely believe that we must do everything within our power to restrict any possibility of dominant positioning and collusion at the outset, because once it has occurred, it is difficult to come back and ensure that the public is well protected and served by fair and healthy competition.

Let us look at an example. In my region of Saguenay, we have been in a very difficult situation in the past few months. The price of gasoline was so incredibly high at one point that we thought the price at the pump would go beyond a dollar a litre.

I would remind the House that, in January 2001, Irvin of Calgary published a study, which concluded that the retailers in the region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean had the highest profit margin in the country. While the national average was about five cents a litre, in the Saguenay, retailers were getting as much as 12 cents a litre. It is not surprising to discover the range of prices at the pump. How do we explain it? It seems to me that healthy competition should produce similar prices across the country.

In addition, strange as it may seem, on the same street, at the same point in time, retailers in my region were raising their prices. I can understand this happening when prices are being lowered, since no retailer wants to be outdone and uncompetitive. However, what is the explanation for the simultaneous price hike?

The people in the competition bureau call this phenomenon “conscious parallelism”. This means that a retailer will follow all price changes, be they upwards or downwards. Would it not, however, be logical for a retailer to keep his prices lower than the competition in order to increase his business?

I have to say I do not accept this theory of conscious parallelism for a moment. It is, instead, collusion among retailers who benefit from people's dependency on their cars.

I lodged two complaints with the competition bureau to get them to investigate. Nevertheless, although this price shift is disgusting to ordinary consumers, the competition bureau cannot investigate a mere observation. It must have written or oral proof to even initiate an investigation.

Let us get serious. With all the new technology we have, like cell phones and e-mail, it has become very easy to avoid being caught for fraud.

The review of section 45 of the Competition Act must be closely followed in the case of collusion in the oil industry. Indeed, the term “unduly” in this section forces the competition bureau to have written or oral evidence of collusion which, as I just explained, is almost impossible to get. We must adapt this section to the modern realities of the 21st century.

I am not the only one to promote this idea. When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, Professor Thomas Ross, with other witnesses, said:

It is important to remove the term “unduly” to facilitate price fixing investigations, which are currently too difficult to conduct.

Further on in his remarks, Mr. Ross said “It is high time to reform section 45 and I do hope that the industry committee will look at this issue very soon”.

I believe it is high time we as parliamentarians review our acts so as to give priority to the interests of individuals, on the competition issue as well as all other issues. As I said in my presentation, major companies, such as oil companies, have it too easy and can do whatever they want in their sector. They take advantage of the weakness of the Competition Act to gouge prices in an unreasonable fashion.

The hon. member who presented this bill has a great deal of expertise in the area of competition. He also presented Bill C-472 on private applications and I congratulate him on that.

I must say that I am more and more in favour of this idea. I believe that individuals themselves should have the right to bring before the courts a company that is guilty of fraud or price fixing. We must not forget as well that the chronic underfunding of the competition bureau greatly limits the number of cases heard by the tribunal.

Short of providing the adequate financial means for the competition bureau to do its job, allowing citizens themselves to institute an action is a very good idea. We must examine it carefully and move forward.

The competition sector is extremely large. Bill C-248 introduced by the hon. member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge would restrict the influence of big companies. Finally, the competition bureau would have a say in mergers leading to an excessive market control.

However, I strongly urge members to ask themselves some questions about the implementation of section 45 of the Competition Act. Private access is also a solution that may be emphasized. The government must be open minded and finally be on the consumers' side. Perhaps these people do not put as much money into campaign funds as Petro-Canada or Shell do, but it is still taxpayers who are funding our salaries with their taxes.

It is time to give priority to the real citizens of this country. This is what I am doing and I am proud to speak on behalf of my constituents of Jonquière and to represent their interests.

I ask all members of the House to tighten up the Competition Act and to support Bill C-248, which was introduced by our colleague.