Madam Speaker, members will recall that when I was speaking yesterday I began by praising the member for Windsor West for his determination to force the government to take measures to stop the rip-off of ordinary Canadian families through both gas price gouging that we have seen across this country and from the whole issue of faulty gas pumps, pumps that do not give us the gas for which we are paying.
Even though the government has known about this issue for two years, and despite election promises to the contrary where it said that it would take action, rather than intervening and doing something, it has finally come forward with this bill. However, it is only because of pressure from the member for Windsor West and the entire NDP caucus pushing the Conservative government to finally take action.
As we know, the Conservatives love their gravy train and the gravy train that they give to financial institutions, the petroleum companies and telecommunications companies which does not seem to have a limit. No matter how much the public is ripped off, the Conservatives seem to feel that is okay. However, it is increasingly not okay with the public, which is why the member for Windsor West and his work is so important in this House.
What we have seen from the Conservatives since they have come to power is progressively allowing the public to be ripped off and ordinary Canadian families to have their pockets picked without any sort of intervention or any sort of government responsibility being taken. We have the finance minister who, after it became clear that there was a major rip-off by financial institutions of ordinary Canadian families, wrote a letter to those financial institutions. That was the sum total of his work.
We see the same thing when we talk about gas price rip-offs. It has been very clear for years that gas prices were being manipulated. The large and incredibly profitable petroleum companies jack up world prices and automatically the retail price goes up and the retailers, the mom and pop operations, have no choice. I have talked to many of them and they say that they are being told to raise prices immediately. They have to live with that despite the fact that it is local people who are most impacted. The world prices go up on old stock and prices spike up, with windfall profits. Over the course of a weekend, particularly holiday weekends when there is a lot of travelling, those prices are maintained.
The world prices may change and they may go down. The new stock comes in at a lower wholesale price but those high prices are maintained. They are jacked up immediately on old stock, with windfall profits there, and then as new stock comes in at a lower price, the prices are maintained for more windfall profits. The petroleum companies do not want to be too greedy. They know the degree of public tolerance of their practices is really coming to an end. They are testing public tolerance every year, so reluctantly they bring the prices down to something more akin to what actually matches the wholesale price.
We have known this for years and have seen this happen for years. Ordinary Canadian families, whether they live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, in Atlantic Canada, in central Canada in Ontario or Quebec, have to live with these rip-offs and the government has steadfastly refused to do anything to stand up for ordinary Canadian families at all, not one intervention.
We now come to the issue of the gas pump rip-offs, because this has been known for years as well. A study done by the Ottawa Citizen revealed that between 1999 and 2007, government inspections found that about 5% of pumps delivered less fuel than what was reported on the pump display, which means that 10,000 fuel pumps were overcharging hard-working ordinary Canadian families who are working harder and harder for less and less pay.
We also have seen a fall in real income over the last 20 years. The only people who are doing well in this country are the very wealthy who now take most of the income pie. That is something Conservatives do not like to talk about, but it is a reality just the same.
On the Liberal watch and on the Conservative watch, we have seen a hollowing out of the middle class. Poor Canadians have become much poorer and the wealthy now take most of that pie. They just sit down and gobble up most of the pie. What is left for the vast majority of Canadian families is a smaller and smaller piece of pie. Year after year, the wealthy take a larger and larger chunk, the middle class and poor Canadians a smaller and smaller chunk, and that is why real incomes have descended, even though the average Canadian family and the average Canadian worker is working harder than ever. Overtime has gone up over a third in the same period. We are seeing Canadian families struggling to make ends meet and working harder and harder for less and less pay.
As part of that whole dynamic, we have seen the government's inability to stand up for Canada. On the Conservative watch and the Liberal watch, we have seen the loss of half a million manufacturing jobs. Those were good, family sustaining jobs that were thrown out of the country by bad trade deals and dysfunctional trade policy. As a result, people are taking whatever job they can get, whether it is temporary or part time, which is often the case. The number of burger flippers in the country is expanding monumentally. The Conservatives love to stand up and say that, sure, we have lost half a million manufacturing jobs but we have created 400,000 burger flipper jobs. They somehow think that Canadians should praise them for replacing good, family sustaining jobs for jobs that are part time, temporary and low-paying. Somehow the Conservatives feel that they are economic geniuses in having achieved that end, the hollowing out of the Canadian economy, putting all of the Canadian economic levers into Bay Street, so that if one is a wealthy financial speculator, one is wealthier than ever, and nothing for middle class families.
That is where we come to the issue of the fuel pumps. We have 10,000 fuel pumps pumping less fuel than ordinary, hard-working Canadian families are paying for and the government has done nothing to intervene. It says nothing about this being absolutely outrageous. It does nothing to refund the tax it is getting from the consumers who are paying for less fuel than they receive. It has done nothing to organize an ombudsman department, as the member for Windsor West has called for, so that consumers would have somebody to go to, an ombudsman who would stand up for them. No, the Conservatives do not do that. They do not talk about refunds or any sort of compensation. They allow the rip-offs to go on for years and then finally but reluctantly, faced by enormous pressure from the NDP, they decide to bring in Bill C-14.
What does that do? Does it create the ombudsman office that consumers have been calling for? No. Does it actually allow for a refund or compensation for the years of rip-offs? No. Does it allow for any sort of refund of tax for what the government received from the consumers who were being ripped off? No.
What it does do is it allows for inspection. That is important, except that in most countries there is an impartial government inspection service. The Conservatives decide that what they can see as a profit centre. These mom and pop retailers and other retailers would now have to deal with mandatory inspections, which is a good thing. We would increase the number of government inspectors who would ensure those fuel pumps are accurate, which is also a good thing. However, instead of doing that, the Conservatives said no. They said that they would allow private companies to come in and the mom and pop retailers would have to pay whatever the private companies decide they will pay so that they have these mandatory inspections. It is not as if the mom and pop operations can stop it. They do need to have the inspection, which is not a bad thing if the government provided the service out of our taxes. However, instead of doing that, the retailers would now have to pay whatever the private companies charge.
The member for Elmwood—Transcona spoke to this bill yesterday and what he said was extremely relevant.
This is just another example of how badly this government has attacked and let down rural and northern Canadians. We see it time and time again. We saw it with the softwood lumber sellout. It is as if the Conservatives did not care about the softwood lumber industry and signed the deal because they could spin it any way they wanted. It is as if they do not care how many northern and rural jobs were lost and they really do not care about northern and rural Canada. That is the Conservative message, whether we are talking about the softwood lumber sellout, about this kind of bill, or about a whole range of issues.
As we well know, the worst farmer seats in the country are in Alberta. The provincial Conservative government and the federal Conservative government are bad news for Alberta farmers. The worst farmer seats in the country are in the province of Alberta because Conservatives do not give a damn about rural or northern Canadians. They just do not.
What the Conservatives care about is Bay Street and the petroleum industry's CEOs. They care about a very narrow range of interests. They care about lobbyists. But when it comes to rural and northern Canadians, they do not give a damn. We can see this in Bill C-14, as the member for Elmwood—Transcona said.
Perhaps this idea of privatizing and allowing private companies to enforce mandatory inspections may work in urban Canada where there is some competition. In rural and northern Canada when the private companies, perhaps the petroleum companies, decide that they are going to run the inspection operations they are going to charge whatever they want. The mom and pop operations are just going to have to suck it up because that is the attitude of this Conservative government. It will make sure that the local mom and pop operations in rural and northern Canada are forced to pay whatever the big private companies want to force them to pay. Couple that with everything else that is not in this bill that should have been.
The fact is that the government waited for years and allowed the ripoffs to go on for years before it chose to do anything about it. It took goading and determination from the NDP once again to force the government to do anything. After all of that we see it is not even a half measure in dealing with gas price ripoffs.
The government, in an attempt at irony I imagine, tried to say this is the fairness at the pumps act. Very clearly, it is not fair. It does not deal with gas price gouging. Yes, it deals with mandatory inspections, but in a way that penalizes mom and pop retailers. It does not tell the petroleum companies that they were wrong to allow this practice to continue for so long. The government does not say mea culpa and that it is sorry. Consumers need the government to say it is sorry that it allowed the ripoffs and that it will make it right.