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House of Commons Hansard #35 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was gasoline.

Topics

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

NDP

John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden, SK

moved that Bill C-220, an act respecting the energy price commission, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased and proud as a member of Parliament representing part of Canada to stand in the House this morning and move at second reading Bill C-220, which I have put together in consultation with thousands of Canadians.

The purpose of the bill is to establish an energy price commission to regulate the wholesale and retail price of gasoline. The purpose of price regulation is to avoid unreasonable increases that affect the cost of living and depress business activity.

The bill will facilitate reasonable consistency in prices from province to province, allowing for production and distribution costs. The regulation further minimizes the risk of collusion in pricing and prevents dominant suppliers from setting unreasonable prices.

The bill also links the issue of price control to competition. Any investigation of an alleged offence under the Competition Act related to gasoline pricing is remitted by the competition tribunal to the commission for investigation, which reports to the tribunal before it makes a determination or order on the matter.

The bill is extremely timely and important. I am asking all members to consider supporting the bill in any way they can because it relates to the pricing of gasoline. It relates to, in essence, the consumption of energy by Canadians. Whether you are a farmer, a business person or a consumer, energy and gasoline are the key components of our economic well-being.

We have a very cold climate. We require more energy in terms of industry, more energy in terms of transportation, more energy in terms of moving goods and services around the country. Moving goods takes energy; gasoline and oil.

It is a key element of our economy. We have not seen any government initiatives or a wish of parliamentarians to ensure consumers, farmers and business people are treated fairly in relation to this commodity by the oil companies.

Instead we see the opposite. Parliamentarians and the government look at this issue and say there are only five oil companies in the country that basically set the price of gasoline and we should let these five oil companies do whatever they please. It is more important for us to regulate everything else under the sun, in many cases things which affect not the entire country or the entire economy but one-tenth of one per cent of one organization or one-tenth of one per cent of this and that.

I am asking parliamentarians and the Government of Canada to consider the impact of gasoline pricing in Canada, particularly the developments over the last 30 to 35 days. Gasoline prices in most regions of Canada have increased by 10 cents per litre, a 30 per cent increase in net revenues to the oil companies when taxes are factored out.

There has been a 30 per cent increase in 30 days, and what response has the government taken? It has turned the other way. It has ignored Canadians. It has ignored this blatant effort by the oil companies to gouge Canadians on an absolutely necessary commodity and element of our economy, the engine of our economy. It has turned a blind eye to the fact that this is a non-renewable resources.

One cent of the ten cent increase takes about $375 million out of the pockets of Canadians. If this 10 cent per litre increase is upheld over the next year it will result in almost $4 billion being taken out of consumers' pockets.

Why is this happening? The oil companies say the price of crude oil has increased in the last 30 days from $18 per barrel to $23 per barrel U.S. There is some validity to that. The price has increased. However, let us put it in context and look at the average daily price of oil in Canada.

Since 1990 the average daily price of crude oil in Canada has declined year after year. In 1992 the average daily price of crude was about $20.58 per barrel U.S. For the first part of 1996 up to mid-April the average daily price is not $20.58, but 50 cents per barrel less. However, we have seen a 30 per cent increase in the

price of gasoline. My information is from energy and mines concerning the average daily price of gasoline.

This year the price per barrel is 50 cents less than it was four years ago, and the price has been lower in between. Yet the oil companies say the price of crude has gone up, that they have to jack up the prices and gouge Canadians because the government will not respond in any fashion at all.

They give the excuse that they are not doing very well in terms of profits. Let us have a look at that. In 1994 Imperial Oil had a 29 per cent increase in profits over 1993. Shell had a 43 per cent increase. In 1995 Imperial Oil had a 43 per cent increase in profits over the previous year, one of its record years. Shell, which had a record year in 1994, in 1995 had a 63 per cent increase in profits. Imperial Oil, in spite of the profits, employed 452 fewer employees, and Shell employed 471 fewer employees.

In the first quarter of this year before the price kicked in and went up in terms of the price per barrel, Imperial Oil had a 300 per cent increase in its first quarter profits over last year, which was its record year.

Factoring out some of the differentials, it says because of that we had a tax rebate. Factor out the tax rebate and it still had a 15 per cent increase after excluding the windfall rebate from the taxpayers of Canada. That does not wash.

Imperial Oil employees tell me that in spite of record profits they were called into their offices across the country and were told 10 per cent of the employees of Imperial Oil are history in the next 18 months, not on the basis of attrition, retirement or vacancies but on the basis that the 10 per cent lowest productive workers in the company are gone.

What kind of corporation is this? What kind of response does the government have to oil companies gouging at the gas pumps, making record profits and laying off people at record levels and not responding to the corporations and saying we are all in the same boat together? This is our country. We have an economy in trouble. How about chipping in and investing some of their money in employee wages or keeping their employees? How about reinvesting some of this money in capital or exploration projects in the communities in which they earn the profits, and then share the rest of the profits with whomever they want? We do not care.

Take some corporate responsibility. Where is the leadership in this country? The other reason they talk about the gas prices going up is that every day the price goes up. They have to adjust the price of gasoline. In the gulf war of 1990 they said they had a 90-day supply. There was a 90-day inventory before the prices went up. This recent increase was 90 hours, not 90 days, an obvious attempt to gouge.

As well, what about the thousands of products produced from a barrel of oil? A barrel of oil does not produce only gasoline. It produces 10,000 different products. Half the things in the House of Commons are produced from crude oil derivatives: clothing, plastic glasses, TV cameras, VCRs, fridges and stoves; all derivatives of oil.

They do not fluctuate from minute to minute and region to region. The oil companies have to be accountable and called before a commission to justify their price increases. I am a business person. I have no problem with businesses making profits as long as they do not gouge people, as long as they justify the price they are charging for their products and services. That is not a key problem here. These companies are not justifying the increases they are making.

They give us comparisons. They say the price of gas in other countries is much higher than in Canada. They give me a list of industrialized nations. In all the industrialized nations gas prices are higher than ours, except in the U.S.

I asked the Petroleum Producers Institute and the oil companies how many of these countries produce oil. The only net producer on that piece of paper is Canada. Yet we are the second lowest gas sellers.

I asked about a comparison of countries that actually produce oil. "Duh, we do not have a list. We will track it down for you". They do not have to because we have the list. Of all the producing countries in the world, Mexico, Venezuela and the Middle Eastern countries, along with other parts of the world that produce oil, their gasoline prices when taxes are factored out are much lower than in Canada. We are the highest of the net producers in the world. Why? We allow the oil companies to get away with not justifying their price increases.

The most ludicrous response I heard from the oil companies was the reason the prices are going up is that Iraq may be bringing production out of the markets. Economics 101 says very plainly that argument is a laughable falsity. If more production is coming on the market, more supply, less demand, the price goes down. They think people are airheads in this country. I do not think people appreciate that sort of ridiculous response from the oil companies.

What we have to look at is what is important for Canadians, what is important for Canada. A question in a recent poll in the Regina Leader-Post , April 22, was should the federal government move to regulate the retail price of gasoline. Of 3,786 respondents, 3,519 said yes, 93 per cent; 267 or 7 per cent said no.

Saskatchewan produces 15 per cent of the oil in Canada. Looking at the regional price of gasoline in Regina, it is higher where there is a refinery than in places the oil is transported to. When the tax differential is factored out the price is actually the highest in the whole country.

Why? Spring seeding is starting and farmers make bulk fuel purchases so the oil companies say: "Let us rip off the farmers. The New Democrat member of Parliament for Regina-Lumsden keeps raising the issue across the country. Let us pull his chain a bit and gouge the consumers in his home province. There is an NDP government in Saskatchewan. It is one of only three provincial governments that have balanced budgets, fair tax rates and which are protecting social programs. Let us jerk their chains and give them a little shot".

All I am asking is that parliamentarians consider setting up an energy price review commission so that oil companies can justify their price increases before it. By the same token governments should appear before the commission to justify tax increases and make sure they are fair to taxpayers.

Governments and parliamentarians have obligations. We are obligated in many ways to be the balance to the economic powers that run our economy. We are obligated to protect consumers when they are unfairly gouged by an oligopoly, a monopoly or a company. That is our obligation. We are paid to hold those people who influence and control the economy accountable in a fair manner for Canadians. That is all we are asking people to consider this morning.

The response has been: Why would we want to regulate the oil industry? I have mentioned in some of my arguments that it is a non-renewable natural resource. It is a key engine to our economy. We must also consider that we regulate all sorts of other things.

We regulate communications. The CRTC regulates radio and television broadcasting. There are 1,000 companies out there which could give us our communications services. There are satellite dishes, cable companies and a number of television and radio stations in every region. It is good that they are regulated because consumers are provided with an even, balanced view of the world. Communications does not influence and control our entire economy, although it is important to the economy. There is no doubt about that. Energy is the key component for everything but we disregard it and let the five major oil companies do what they like.

We could mention to the competition bureau that we think the oil companies are fixing prices. In one hour all the gasoline prices in this region went up to the same level. The bureau's response was: "We do not have anything in writing from the president of one oil company to another saying they should fix prices. We cannot pursue this because we need some evidence". People have told me that the bureau of competition policy is laughable. We do regulate other business and industries to the advantage of Canadians.

I could go on. I have information members would be willing to listen to, but I know my time has almost expired. I know the Minister of Health is very anxious to hear more. I am very anxious also to meet with him after to give him more information if he wishes, particularly about health care. I could offer him some advice on that too.

At this moment, I would like to ask for unanimous consent for a vote to refer Bill C-220 to the Standing Committee on Industry.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Do we have unanimous consent to change the reference to a committee on this bill?

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden, SK

Madam Speaker, I am sorry to hear that some MPs will not give unanimous consent. I would therefore ask for unanimous consent to refer the subject matter of the bill to the Standing Committee on Industry.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is there unanimous consent to send the subject matter to the Standing Committee on Industry?

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden, SK

Madam Speaker, I notice that the Liberal member for Dauphin-Swan River did not provide unanimous consent. That is unfortunate. I was born in Dauphin and I am getting all kinds of calls from her constituents saying that we should be undertaking a review.

Finally, I would ask members for their unanimous consent to make this bill votable.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is there unanimous consent to make the bill votable?

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Dauphin—Swan River Manitoba

Liberal

Marlene Cowling LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Natural Resources

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate about a proposed energy price commission.

The hon. member for Regina-Lumsden has provided an opportunity to discuss the cost of a commodity which is vital to the daily lives of us all: gasoline. He is quite right. The cost of petroleum affects the cost of everything in this country. Transportation is part of the cost of everything we do. It affects virtually every product and service we buy or sell.

Coming from a rural community in Manitoba I know that nowhere is this more true than on the farm. Fuel costs are a large part of farm inputs. Even the smallest change in the price of fuel can make a big difference to the farmer's bottom line. As a

government we know this and that is why we did not increase fuel taxes in the recent budget. Food, clothing, shelter and even the cost of finding and holding a job is affected by the price of the fuel which literally drives our economy.

The hon. member for Regina-Lumsden is quite right. The cost of fuel should be reasonable and affordable. However, there are several major areas on which we do not agree.

Clause 8 of the bill states that every person who sells gasoline must obtain approval of the price from the government. That is not at all what Canadians want. The taxpayers of Canada do not want another bureaucracy as a solution to a perceived problem. The people of Canada do not want a new petroleum price police investigating who is paying what price for what product.

If this bill were passed, the federal government would be, according to Canadian law, infringing on provincial jurisdiction, intruding unnecessarily into competitive markets and spending large amounts of taxpayers' money.

I can assure hon. members that the idea of a new energy price commission cannot be supported by the Minister of Natural Resources nor the Minister of Industry. The reason is that study after study has concluded that government regulation on petroleum prices simply does not work.

Over the last 20 years, in every province except one, provincial governments have abandoned, rejected or never even considered the regulation of gasoline prices. The sole exception is Prince Edward Island and where are the highest gasoline prices in Canada, excluding taxes? Prince Edward Island.

In Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, petroleum prices and proposals to regulate them have been studied by government boards, task forces, commissions and legislative committees. The federal government has also studied the matter extensively. Here is a small sampling of the reports.

In 1987 a commission of inquiry into gasoline pricing in Manitoba declared:

Regulation of gasoline-markets by means of hearings and the usual process of regulatory bodies is-not advisable-.Crude oil and gasoline markets-continuously change, making regulation impractical, and introducing distortions, since it would not be possible to adjust prices quickly enough.

This form of regulation would-force the price upon all market participants through legal coercion.

Canadians consider that coercion, legal or otherwise, is not a norm in this country.

In 1986 in a report on the petroleum industry, the federal Restrictive Trade Practices Commission discussed the maze of restrictions which inevitably follows the introduction of price regulation:

Such restrictions (in facilities, hours, types of operation) cripple the ability of the industry to meet consumer demand, and to charge lower prices made possible by lower cost of distribution-induced by competitive measures or pressures.

The variety of offerings across the country by independent marketers and by integrated firms illustrates the value of allowing each business the freedom to meet consumer needs as it sees fit-to strive at all times to maximize its appeal to-the public by giving them what they want.

Giving the public what they want, not what a government, a board, a committee or a new national energy price commission thinks they want.

What is remarkable about these many reports is how relevant they are today. The same analyses, assessments and judgments apply today as they did 10 or 20 years ago. The principal difference is that today Canadians are more conscious than ever of the advantages of business versus government in delivering goods and services, what they want, when they want it, at a price they want to pay. The fact is gasoline markets today exhibit all the characteristics of a competitive market.

One of the roles of Natural Resources Canada is to provide Canadians with current data. The department constantly monitors prices across Canada to determine relevant facts about gasoline marketing.

The federal government already has an agency with a mandate to monitor competition and investigate complaints: the competition bureau. This is where dealers or consumers can bring any evidence they have of anti-competitive behaviour.

It is illegal for retailers to agree among themselves to set prices that may lessen or prevent competition, to try to influence another retailer's prices by agreement, threat or promise, or to persuade wholesalers to cut off gasoline supplies to discount retailers because of their lower prices. Any Canadian may report alleged offences to the competition bureau by mail, by fax, or by calling a toll free telephone number.

With regard to this bill, I offer three principal facts. Petroleum prices come under provincial jurisdiction. Agencies which regulate prices have in the past consistently led to prices which are not lower but higher. Most important, there is overwhelming evidence that we do indeed have vigorous competition in the marketing of petroleum products. These are compelling reasons why in 1996 informed Canadian consumers and taxpayers do not consider, do not need and do not want an energy price commission.

Few people are ever completely satisfied with the price and quality of goods and services they buy. No doubt all of us would like to buy gasoline at prices lower than they are today.

From the report of the groups commissioned over the last 20 years to study petroleum prices the conclusion is clear, unequivocal and straightforward: In 1996 the last thing people want in this country is a new petroleum price police. The last thing we need in this country is an energy price commission.

This Liberal government is committed to the future, not the past. What we want is not more but less bureaucracy, not closed but open markets and not less but more choice.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Terrebonne, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I will admit that after listening closely to the two previous speeches by our colleagues from the other two parties and despite our friendship for our colleague from Regina-Lumsden who introduced this bill, we unfortunately cannot support Bill C-220 for the various reasons I will explain during my presentation.

Again, the purpose of this bill is to establish an energy price commission to regulate the wholesale and retail price of gasoline. In our opinion and that of the government party-and according to my own observations-this bill would give the government the authority to meddle in a flagrant and unjustified manner in the normal process of free market pricing, which goes against the global trend of market pricing of gasoline in this case.

On the one hand, history shows that setting a ceiling price on gasoline can be dangerous and even create some serious shortages since oil companies tend to sell less when prices are low-and this is normal-while demand increases. They thus stockpile their products. These shortages can lead to quota problems, waiting lines and corruption, as we saw in some countries in South America and Asia.

On the other hand, the setting of a ceiling price by the commission could also result in an economic slowdown for oil producers in western Canada.

An example of an unsuccessful attempt to control gas prices is the national energy policy-as many members on the other side will recall-initiated by former Prime Minister Trudeau during the oil crisis, which, as you may recall, caused widespread discontent at the time.

In fact, every time the federal government interferes in the oil or energy sector, as in the case of the Varennes tokamak, Quebec loses out. If an energy price commission is established, as my colleague proposes by introducing Bill C-220, it should review not only gas prices but also the injustices done to Quebec through past federal interventions. This commission could perhaps recommend that the House give Quebec a generous compensation like that given to the maritimes for harmonizing the GST.

We would then try to set the amount of this compensation. An example of the injustices that could be reviewed by this commission is the impact of the famous Borden line imposed by the federal government in the 1960s. Members will remember that the Borden line energy policy systematically blocked the development of Montreal's oil production from Venezuelan and Middle Eastern imports by completely closing the market of those provinces located west of the line, to protect western oil development.

However, the policy was abolished when world prices started to rise quickly between 1973 and 1977. This resulted in the oil production from Sarnia and the prairies flooding the eastern Canadian market, in the closure of most Montreal refineries and in the loss of thousands of jobs. In addition to refineries disappearing because of this totally unjust policy towards Quebec, our whole petrochemical industry was also severely affected.

To this day, Quebec, and particularly the Montreal region, still suffers from the consequences of this policy implemented by the federal government of the day. Unlike the maritimes now, for the GST, Quebec was never compensated for its heavy losses. If the commission that the hon. member hopes to establish with Bill C-220 does become reality some day, perhaps it ought to take a look at the issue of compensation for Quebec.

The commission could also look at the development of the Athabasca tar sands. It should definitely not limit its role to regulating gasoline prices, but should look at the current investments being made to produce gasoline in Canada. Perhaps it should also examine the famous Hibernia project, that cock-and-bull story which has cost taxpayers in Quebec and Canada astronomical amounts of money. This is another example of failed federal involvement in the energy sector, which has had serious consequences on the economy as a whole. This project was launched before the 1989 federal election. Now, the current government is trying to get out of it.

At election time, the government had decided to withdraw from that project. However, it has since absorbed 25 per cent of the production costs. The government allocated over $1 billion to that project, but that was not enough. In addition, the present government promised loan guarantees corresponding to 40 per cent of construction loans, up to $1.66 billion.

A promise was made to stop using the taxpayers' money for this scheme. But a promise was made to scrap the GST and that was not kept, a promise was made to cancel the helicopters and that was not kept, a promise was made to cancel the Pearson Airport contract

and that was not kept, a promise was made by the Clark government to put a limit on the price of gasoline-which led to their defeat-and that was not kept. However, the federal government was probably quoted out of context or forgot about that promise too, and continued to pour more money down that drain.

The energy price commission, which my hon. colleague would like to see established, would have a field day if we gave it a mandate to investigate this matter.

But getting back to Hibernia, Ottawa then spent $350 million buying back 25 per cent of Gulf's shares in the Hibernia project. In addition, Ottawa financed the shares acquired by Murphy. And to top it off, it gave deductions and tax credits to Murphy, Mobil and Chevron, oil companies raking in billions of dollars, to reduce their income taxes, poor things, and the government gave them interest free loans, guaranteeing them benefits in the event that they were unable to take advantage of these deductions and these credits.

Chevron and Mobil each took advantage of $40 million in interest free loans from the federal government. Thus, while the federal government was increasing the tax on the price of gasoline, it was squandering public funds at a terrible rate. The increase in the gasoline tax is being used, among other things, to offset the accumulated losses in the Hibernia project.

I very much doubt that federal intervention with respect to the price of gasoline can solve any problems and provide even the remotest additional guarantee of fairness. I also very much doubt whether the creation of this commission can give taxpayers in Quebec and Canada a degree of stability in gasoline prices. I do, however, recognize the good will of my colleague. But they say the past is an indication of the future, and I would far prefer that the federal government stay right out of areas that, in any event, do not concern it.

When the Hibernia project was first launched, the federal government's top advisers predicted that the price of a barrel of oil would reach $70. We, as taxpayers, have paid billions of dollars for their mistaken forecasts.

We Quebecers fervently hope that this government will not get involved or, if it does, that it will do so only with the consent of the provinces so that they can have a say in the appointment of commissioners as well as in the operation and mandate of the commission. All the money invested in Hibernia, the billions of dollars wasted, could have been spent on reducing the gasoline tax, thus giving taxpayers a much needed break.

While presenting his plan to harmonize-or rather to hide-the GST last Tuesday, the Minister of Finance said that the federal government had an obligation to help the poorest regions and provinces, that there should be a more equitable distribution of wealth. He should now put his money where his mouth is.

Instead of wasting vast sums of money on foolish projects like Hibernia, it would be better to reduce the gasoline tax. If they simply want to offer a fair compensation to the regions or the Atlantic provinces, it would be better to reduce the gasolinetax rate.

If this government wants a more equitable Canada, it should put its money where its mouth is by finding more legitimate uses for this money. It should see to it that these oil companies, which too often benefit from unjustified tax exemptions, pay their fair share of taxes.

Finally, this government should let the provinces take responsibility for their own areas of jurisdiction and let the market set the prices. In short, the federal government should mind its own business.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on private member's Bill C-220, an act respecting the energy price commission.

This bill would establish an energy price commission to regulate the wholesale and retail prices of gasoline. The purpose of price regulation is to avoid unreasonable increases which affect the cost of living and depress business. This is the reason for the bill and the justification for setting up an energy price commission as given by the hon. member for Regina-Lumsden.

I too am extremely concerned about the price of gasoline. Every time I pull up to the pumps or get a load of bulk fuel delivered to my farm I am concerned about the price of gasoline. I often wonder why it is as high as it is.

This legislation does not provide a answer to the problem. This is a typical NDP solution to the problem, a socialist solution to the problem. It is not a practical solution. It has been tried before for other commodities and in other countries. This type of action has completely failed. In fact, as the hon. member who spoke from the Liberal Party said, regulation often leads to higher prices. Clearly this is not the solution.

Setting up an energy price commission would provide another opportunity for patronage appointments. Such a body would employ high priced, taxpayer funded civil servants. There is no other way to make a commission like that work.

Canadians do not need a higher cost of government. We need smaller government. We need less money spent by government. We do not need any more bodies to provide opportunities for the government of the day to make patronage appointments. It is clearly the wrong way to go.

I would like to mention a few figures presented by Michael Ervine, president of QIS Solution Inc., in his presentation to the House of Commons natural resources committee when speaking on the topic of the price of gasoline. Mr. Ervine pointed out that the average price of regular gasoline in Canada today is 55 cents a litre.

Of this price about 15 cents a litre represents the cost of the crude oil. About 30 cents a litre is the tax on this fuel at the pump. Only 10 cents a litre is what is left for the oil companies to refine the fuel, to transport, to lease equipment and to sell the product. Therefore, 10 cents a litre out of 55 cents a litre is to provide all of these costs.

When looking at a breakdown of costs of gasoline the tax component is by far the highest single component. What is a practical way of dealing with the problem? There is one most effective way for the government or the New Democratic Party to deal with this issue of what they perceive to be high gasoline prices. Again I say I feel they are high too. I feel it every time I buy a litre of gasoline for my farm or for my car. The most effective thing to do is to lower the tax component.

Saskatchewan has a reputation for having high taxes on gasoline in that province. Again, the way to deal with the problem is to reduce the tax component which is over half of the total cost of gasoline.

How is the tax component reduced? There is only one way to do that. Reduce government spending so that it does not have to tax at these totally unreasonable levels.

The hon. member for Regina-Lumsden is correct in one respect. The price of gasoline is too high. It is higher than it should be because the tax component is too high. That is the area on which the hon. member should be working.

The hon. member referred to a survey which appeared in the Regina Leader Post . In that survey about 93 per cent of the people who responded said they favoured this type of a commission. When going to the people on an issue it is important to do the background work before the survey or the poll. The background work is to make sure that all the information gets out before the survey or poll is taken.

I wonder if on this issue the Regina Leader Post or the hon. member for Regina-Lumsden did their work and got the information that I just presented on the cost of gasoline, which stated that over half the cost is taxes. Did they do their job to get the message out to the people that the tax component is the problem here?

I do not know for a fact that gasoline is not higher than it should be even acknowledging the high portion of tax. I am not saying it is not too high. But the way to deal with the problem is not by setting up an energy price commission, but to make sure of fair, good, strong, competition legislation which is enforced.

I acknowledge that some progress has been made over the last 10 years. The body that deals with the Competitions Act has made some progress. I believe it is much better than the old legislation that was in place. This Competitions Act, and the people who administer it, have gone a long way in trying to make it easy for people to let the bureau know if they feel there is unfair competition. I am sure it has heard from a large number of people who feel that the price of gasoline is too high.

The competition bureau's services are readily available to people through a 1-800 toll free number. This allows people who feel there is not fair competition to complain that companies are not dealing with prices fairly.

Progress has been made. I cannot determine if there really is a problem of fuel prices being too high other than the tax component which is clearly much too high. Over half of the cost of gasoline is tax at the pump, plus royalties and other taxes built into the rest of the price.

The way to deal with this is to make sure that we do have good, fair competition legislation, that the Competitions Act is strengthened if it needs to be strengthened, and that it be used and enforced.

I cannot support the legislation. It is up to other members of the Reform Party to determine how they will vote on this issue. Some Reform MPs may support the issue, but I doubt it very much when we look at the facts behind this.

I will not support the bill. Other Reform MPs can make their own decision. I believe this is a socialist, bureaucratic solution which will not work. The matter must be dealt with it through the competitions bureau.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address the House on private member's Bill C-220, an act respecting the energy price commission, which was introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Regina-Lumsden. I would like to thank my colleague for the research and effort that was put into Bill C-220, leading to its introduction on March 4 of this year. He is a sincere, hard-working member.

The bill, as drafted, would establish an energy price commission which would confer on the Government of Canada the right and mandate to regulate the price of gasoline throughout the country. As I understand it, the commission would approve wholesale and retail gasoline prices across the country. Indeed, no person could offer gasoline for sale at a price not approved by the commission.

At the outset, I would like to explain that competition in an unfettered market rather than regulation leads to the lowest possible prices, both for the consumers and industrial purchasers of gasoline. Competition is seen as a means rather than an end unto itself. It is only through the process of competition that resources are allocated impartially, with the consequence that the efficiencies derived therefrom lead to lower prices.

This is the current view of the government and the majority of our trading partners. At a time when Canadians are attempting to

improve their competitive position in international markets we must steer away from regulations which, by their very nature, lead to the kind of production and distribution inefficiencies that eventually cause an increase in the price of inputs and in distribution costs.

On the issue of regulation, it is worth noting that at the Toronto economic summit in June of 1988 the G-7 countries first explicitly enunciated the goal of intensifying both individual and collective efforts to remove unnecessary controls and barriers to the operation of competitive market forces and to rely on increased competition to achieve economic efficiency and adaptability.

Reform of the regulated sectors of our respective economies has been in the forefront of economic agendas over the past 10 years. It is widely understood that less rather than more regulation is desirable. Barriers are descending within industries, between markets and across national borders. Trade, directed both north and south and east and west, has thus been encouraged. The potential for increased wealth for Canadians has been augmented.

The purpose of Bill C-220 and the commission is said to avoid unreasonable gasoline price increases. In addition, it proposes to maintain consistent prices for gasoline from province to province, all the while allowing for production and distribution costs. My colleague in his bill would exempt purchasers who enter into supply contracts for the supply of gasoline to their vehicles or to a storage facility owned by these purchasers from the authority of the commission.

From my reading of the bill, the underlying suggestion is that we need to regulate the price of gasoline in Canada. There has been a great deal of attention in this House and in the media about the price of gas in some specific local markets in parts of Canada. Before we decide that federal regulation is the answer to these localized problems, should we not ask if the price of gas has risen significantly and whether or not increasing the regulatory burden on this industry would actually improve the current situation?

In fact, the price of gasoline, in real terms, excluding all taxes, has been on a downward trend since 1990. In addition, there exists no significant differences in the base price of gas, excluding taxes and exchange rates, between the United States and Canada. Given this situation, should we as legislators impose a structure on the industry which would deny to consumers and businesses alike the benefits derived from real competition and retail gasoline markets?

In addition, the introduction of such a bill appears somewhat premature. I am informed by officials of Industry Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute that they are nearing completion of a regional competitive analysis of petroleum products. This report will examine pricing issuesin various urban and regional markets in the context ofdetermining the key factors which derive competitiveness in specific Canadian markets.

I would now like to provide my colleagues with a number of examples of the benefits of competition. Consumers could no longer benefit from the price wars that presently occur in retail gasoline markets, nor could they enjoy the benefits of the entry of a new competitor who would lower their prices to gain a market share.

Prices set by markets rather than governments tend to be lower to the consumer. The decision in July of 1991 by the province of Nova Scotia to discontinue its gasoline pricing regime reflected in part a recognition that such decisions should be left to competitive market forces. When prices were no longer regulated and a new independent entered the market, gas prices fell in Nova Scotia from 58.9 cents to 52.9 cents a litre, a very significant decline.

As is well known, gasoline stations communicate what they charge by posting large signs on their properties. This informs motorists and competing gas stations. Because gasoline is essentially a homogeneous product, motorists see one brand as being more or less identical to another. Gas station operators fear that if they charge a higher price than a competing station they will lose business. For similar reasons, if they charge a lower price they know it will be matched. In the end they make less money selling the same volume of product.

Retailers that monitor their competitors and independently take action that best serves their interests are simply following rational economic logic.

On the larger stage, such a commission would remove the incentive for petroleum producers to be more efficient. Price controls weaken the stimulus for firms to either swiftly adapt themselves to changes in demand or to developing more efficient methods of distribution. It is easier for the firms that have experienced cost increases to ask the regulatory body to increase the controlled price than to attempt to lessen their operating costs.

When prices are controlled at the retail level, retailers in turn may avoid passing on any discounts that they have been successful in exacting from manufacturers to the ultimate consumers for fear of breaking the law. In this manner retailers are constrained in their attempt to aggressively compete.

Competitive markets incur no cost of administration to governments, nor do they impose on the firms involved the cost of compliance with more laws, both of which would be borne by consumers over time.

Turning now to another subject in relation to this bill, I have further concerns with respect to the wisdom of raising yet another issue which impacts on the Canadian Constitution at this stage in our country's history. The regulation of petroleum products falls within the jurisdiction of the provinces. The federal government

does not currently intervene on these matters. This could very well be a fatal flaw in this initiative of my colleague.

I would now like to discuss the Competition Act which is Canada's legislation governing trade and commerce affecting competition. The act is a framework law of general application. It applies, with some exceptions, to all sectors of the Canadian economy, namely manufacturing, resources and services. The law touches on the every day life of all Canadians by maintaining and encouraging competition in the marketplace with the objective of providing consumers with competitive prices and a variety of choices in the goods and services which they purchase.

As the hon. member is aware, in 1994 the Minister of Industry, in response to concerns raised about gasoline pricing, asked the director of investigation and research who heads the Competition Bureau to review the provisions of the Competition Act to determine their adequacy in dealing with anti-competitive behaviour in the petroleum industry.

In response, the director reported that he actively enforces the Competition Act by monitoring developments in the marketplace and reviewing complaints from consumers and those in the petroleum industry to determine whether there is evidence of anti-competitive activity.

While there will always be fluctuations in markets owing to competition and other factors, the director's view is that the provisions of the legislation are adequate to deal with anti-competitive behaviour in relation to gasoline prices.

The director regularly reviews the act and the minister will propose amendments whenever he deems it appropriate. The above mentioned report is public and I encourage concerned members to read it. I also encourage anyone who has information that anti-competitive activity is ongoing to bring it to the attention of the director.

The act is available to deal with any competition problems that develop in petroleum product markets. As a matter of fact, on January 26, Mr. Justice David Dempsey imposed a find of $50,000 against Mr. Gas Limited which was found guilty of having influenced upward, by threat, the prices charged by one of its competitors, Caltex Petroleum Incorporated in September 1992 in the Ottawa area.

It should be noted that contrary to the context suggested in Bill C-220, matters involving anti-competitive pricing are most often treated as criminal offences under the Competition Act and as such proceed through the criminal courts under the auspices of the Attorney General of Canada.

The competition tribunal has to date only adjudicated on matters of a civil nature. A select set of pricing matters which may be brought before the tribunal are usually the result of disciplinary or

punitive action taken by dominant firms in a market rather than those arising from a criminal agreement among competitors.

In conclusion, it remains my view that gasoline prices should be set in the competitive marketplace. Anti-competitive behaviour will be appropriately addressed under the Competition Act.

Energy Price Commission ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and this item is dropped from the Order Paper.

SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

Reform

Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

moved:

That the House urge the government to direct the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs to proceed with the drafting of a Victims' Bill of Rights, and that, in such areas where the Committee determines a right to be more properly a provincial concern, the Minister of Justice initiate consultations with the provinces aimed at arriving at a national standard for a Victims' Bill of Rights.

Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to bring to the House of Commons an issue of paramount importance.

Many people have helped us work on this bill since the summer of 1994. We have turned it into a motion to try to get some action in the House of Commons. The motion to establish a national bill of rights will be voted on this evening at 6.30. I encourage everybody watching and listening to see where the House of Commons stands on a national bill of rights for victims. This is when we will separate fact from fiction, right from wrong.

As I stand in the House I find it quite embarrassing today to find that the government is to table legislation on gay rights when victims across the country and the Reform Party are fighting to get victims' rights. It is a total embarrassment that the priorities are on one aspect and not on the other in this society.

I dedicate this speech to the hundreds of thousands if not the millions of victims in Canada today. In particular I dedicate my speech to Sheena who was taken from us by a drunk driver. We shall never forget the good times and her family will always remember.

Many people think victims' rights in Canada today are things like changes to the Young Offenders Act, the repeal of section 745, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the gun law or the many other bills in the great jungle of criminal justice laws in Canada. That is not the case. Those are the laws we use to help judge right from wrong. Those are the laws which are supposed to protect people from becoming victims in the first place. Those are the laws which victims seek to change.

On the other hand, victims' rights reflect the protection victims require after a criminal act has been perpetrated. They are the rights victims must have to ensure justice and equity exist and to protect them from being revictimized by the system.

Keith Kempt, a gentleman I met in Mission, British Columbia, said it best to me. He lost his young fellow when another individual shot him and killed him. Keith said to me not too long ago that criminals need correction; victims need rehabilitation. How appropriate a comment by a victim.

I hope the debate today will be constructive. We know a large number of victims have been advised of this debate and are watching as I speak now. I ask the people watching and listening to listen closely, to see if they will come to the same conclusion we have that a national victims' bill of rights is necessary. If you listen to the content and the sincerity of the speeches, you will see why we need this bill of rights. I encourage people across the country to write to us. Write to your MP, write to me in the House of Commons with your comments. Victims need our help. They need a national bill of rights.

Some provincial jurisdictions are involved. There are some actions within this bill of rights that would require administration by the provincial system. Just as the provinces co-operated with the federal government to implement reforms to the plea bargaining process, the same co-operation would be required here. Let us not blame one another for currently not having a victim's bill of rights; let us build one now.

I quote Somerset Maugham: "It is a funny thing about life, if you refuse anything but the best you very often get it". Let us develop the best together for victims, with victims.

The provinces of Ontario and British Columbia have recently attempted to address this issue through legislation. I looked at the legislation and I can see these rights are conditional to some extent; conditional to the Privacy Act, to the Freedom of Information Act and to the rights of the criminal. I do not think today we should be in the position to say the rights of the criminal are more important that the rights of the victim. I think we have to say there are unconditional rights of victims. Victims need more reassurance than having things conditional today. Victims need more consistency than that.

There are many victims' rights groups in the country that agree with our position and the criteria from which we set out what victims' rights are. Let us not leave them alone anymore. Let us support these groups, their membership, those victims.

There are groups like CAVEAT, CRY, Victims of Violence, Citizens United for Safety and Justice, Victims Resource Centre, Fair Justice, Move the Rock, and Peace and Justice for Canadians, to name some of the ones that have supported this initiative.

The standards we have established for a Canadian victims' bill of rights are here, and I wish to read them and table with them in the House. Afterwards I want to present an explanation for each article so that Liberal members can understand what is behind this incentive.

It is important to give an idea of some of the hurdles we have to cross in this country. To quote from the legal industry, Russ Chamberlain, a criminal defence lawyer, said in the Vancouver Province that crime victims want an eye for an eye. He said they want someone else to fix their petty problems and that their pitch for personal vengeance can improperly affect a jury's verdict.

Victim impact statements are just venting the spleen and do not serve justice and should be allowed, banned completely.

The consequences of criminal conduct are obvious to any intelligent person. It does not assist-to have persons who are the victims of criminal conduct spend all their time weeping in front of the jury.

I ask any reasonable and logical individual in this country to think about what this criminal lawyer has said. I sincerely believe the justice industry, the legal industry, sees victims as excess baggage in the process, and that is unfortunate and that is what we are to change here.

Let me read into the record exactly the criteria we want and then I will explain why. A definition for a victim, if you can believe it, is not existent in this country nationally, nor is it in many provinces. A victim is anyone who suffers as a result of an offence, physical or mental injury, or economic loss, or any spouse, sibling, child or parent of the individual against whom the offence was perpetrated, or anyone who had an equivalent relationship, not necessarily a blood relative. That is what a victim is.

Let us see what victims require. Victims have the right to be informed of their rights at every stage of the process, including those rights involving compensation from the offender. They must also be made aware of any victims' services available; not too much to ask.

Second, victims have the right to be informed of the offender's status throughout the process, including, but not restricted to, notification of any arrests, upcoming court dates, sentencing dates, plans to release the offender from custody, including notification of

what community the parolee is being released into, conditions of release, parole dates, et cetera. All information is to be made available on request.

Third, victims have the right to choose between giving oral and/or written victim impact statements before sentencing at any parole hearings and at judicial reviews.

Fourth, victims have the right to be informed in a timely fashion of the details of the crown's intention to offer a plea bargain before it is presented to the defence; not too much to ask.

Fifth, victims have the right to know why charges were not laid, if that is the decision of the crown or police.

Sixth, victims have the right to protection from anyone who intimidates, harasses or interferes with the rights of the victim.

Seventh, victims have the right to have police follow through on domestic violence charges. Once a victim files a complaint, police should have the authority to follow it through to the end.

Eighth, victims have the right to know if a person convicted of a sexual offence has a sexually transmittable disease.

I do not consider any of those difficult issues. Having worked with many victims since I was elected, I have come to realize that what they are asking for is fairness, something reasonable, something that gives them the feeling that they, too, are equal citizens to the criminal.

Let me go back and indicate why some of these are in here. Why do we define a victim? Shortly after the death of Sian Simmonds, a young girl in my riding, I was sitting with her dad, Chris, in his living room. Sue, the mother, had a very difficult time after Sian was murdered. They were both enraged and saddened that they could not get any counselling assistance for Sue. Why? The officialdom out there said Sue was not the victim.

If the mother of a girl who has been murdered is not a victim, who is? It is not the dead person, it is the remaining parents. We have to define what a victim is today.

Victims have the right to be informed at every stage of the process. Two weeks ago on a Friday I went to a sentencing hearing in my riding. Tami McKenzie, the mother of the victim, was going to it. I asked her whether she would make an attempt at having her victim impact statement read into the record rather than have it go in through the back door where the judge reads it and puts it on file.

She did not even know what a victim impact statement was. I had to tell her. I should not be telling her. There are many people in this country who have no idea what victim impact statements are, or any other part of the process. We need a process and a commitment to advise victims of their rights.

When I was watching "To Serve and Protect" one evening on television, I saw the RCMP reading rights to a criminal who bashed a lady who was laying on the street crying with blood on her hands. They were ignoring the other individual, who probably never did find out what her rights were. Where does she go? Who lays the charges? Will she go to court? If she goes to court, will she get assistance? Not done in this country, but it has to be.

Victims should have the right to be informed of the offender's status. In my riding an lady who was separated from her husband found that he came home one night, threw gasoline throughout the house and torched it. They escaped. He got a year or so in jail and she specifically asked: "Let me know if he is getting out, when he is getting out, the terms and conditions of getting out, where he will live when he does get out". What happened? No one told her. She got a call and there he was out and the nightmare started again.

This is not isolated. This is time and time again across the country. I am happy to see the justice minister intently listening. There are many victims today listening to what we have to stay in the House of Commons. I sincerely hope we get some answers.

The right to choose between giving oral and written victim impact statements should be a common right. However, as I read earlier, prosecutors and defence lawyers have a very difficult time with victim impact statements. This is mainly because the crime is against the crown and not the victim. When it is, a victim is seen as an extra, a difficult situation for the lawyers in the trial which is wrong.

Victims need to be informed in a timely fashion of the details of the crown's intention to offer plea bargaining. I wish I had more time to tell the House about Allen and Debbie Wayne in my riding. A young offender who was currently under prohibition from driving stole a 4 X 4. He smashed into young Allen Junior's car, broke Allen Junior's two legs, his arm, his pelvis, crushed his head and he still does not have much of a chance of living. In fact his mom, Debbie, told me several weeks ago they had to make the decision to cut his leg off. They explicitly asked that charges not be plea bargained and if they were, they asked that they be told if they were being bargained down.

The offender had eight charges against him. They found out from me and no one else that the eight charges were reduced to three minor charges. As a consequence this guy gets off but he is not a nice fellow. He was already under a prohibition from driving. What was he given? Fifteen months, I believe, open custody, he can go home; one day concurrent open custody for driving while prohibited; and something like three years prohibition from driving which

he was already under in the first place. I cannot tell the House how sick and crushed that makes victims feel. Allen and Debbie Wayne today are angry and I do not blame them.

Victims should have a right to know why charges are not laid, if that is the decision of the crown or the police. Is that not such a common sense solution to some of this? My secretary in my riding office had her house broken into by the same group three times last year. Charges were not laid. When I pursued it, and pursued it and pursued it again, I found out that charges were not going to be laid. Why? Because they were looking at some drug charges against these guys. She never did get charges laid against those people.

Victims should have a right to protection from anyone who intimidates, harasses or interferes with their rights. Why not? The justice minister may say we have that in the charter of rights and freedoms and so on, but it is not the case. We have to put some emphasis on it.

Joan in my riding was sexually assaulted with a weapon. We got the guy. We found out who it was and he was charged and has gone in. He was writing her letters. Joan is 63 years old. This fellow was writing letters from Vancouver remand, telephoning her and so on. We have got to do more in that area.

Police must follow through on domestic violence charges. We only have to look at what happened in the Vernon situation. One of the victims went to the police and said: "He is stalking me. He is going to come after me, but do not do anything because if you do, I am going to be murdered". So the police did not do anything. All they had to do was to follow it up from there and they would have found out that the fellow had purchased and registered guns.

Finally, we should know whether a person convicted of a sexual offence has a sexually transmittable disease. I could talk a lot about Jose Mendoza, and I have in the past. Tasha who was raped, not sexually assaulted, could not find out whether this guy had a sexually transmittable disease. Why? Because he did not want anybody to know. He did not want Tasha or anybody else to know. They are to keep their hands off of him.

Well done is better than well said. We have to do the job we have been sent here to do. This is not a partisan issue. I sincerely hope the Liberals particularly the justice minister think about this. Give the motion an opportunity to get to the justice committee for consideration to work out with the attorneys general in this country how we can improve on a system which needs improving.

People like Darleen Boyd, Chris and Sue Simmonds, Corinne and Ron Shaeffer, Chuck and Dona Cadman, Dawn and Bill Bakeburg, who are all people I have worked with, Debbie and Dan Mahaffy-Debbie is here today-Gail and Terry Smith, Paul and Marilyn Cameron and millions of other Canadians are hoping a national victims bill of rights can happen. It can start today. It can start at 6.30 this evening. Let us get away from looking at the gay rights issue today. Let us look at victims rights. Let us make a real attempt to do something positive in the country.

I will finish with a quote from Robert F. Kennedy who said it best: Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream of things that never were and say, why not. To me that says just about everything on the issue. It is not impossible. There is no need for excuses. There is no need to say that the Reformers voted against Bill C-68 or any other bill. That is criminal justice legislation. There is a need for a commitment today.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Prince Albert—Churchill River Saskatchewan

Liberal

Gordon Kirkby LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, the government, the minister and all members of the House are very interested in doing what we can to assist the lot of victims of crime. We are introducing various forms of legislation.

I wonder when so many victims rights groups across the country support the gun control legislation why did the Reform Party vote against it?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Madam Speaker, I knew this was going to be the approach today.

Talk about thick. I just said that in this country we have criminal justice legislation which determines right from wrong. Victims rights legislation concerns rights people need subsequent to a crime being committed against them.

Bill C-68 in our opinion had serious problems. We were looking for how to fight crime. That bill had flaws in it. It is not the issue here. That is what I am trying to get at. It is going to take all day in debate to get that point across because I do not think the Liberal MPs understand what we are talking about. We are going to try to keep the debate on that rather articulate level if that is possible.

We voted against the Young Offenders Act. Why? Because it did not go far enough and this government knows it. And the young offenders are still a major problem in this country with regard to crime. That does not mean we disagree with victims rights. It does not mean that at all. In fact, we cannot develop a Young Offenders Act or a gun law and say that we have done it all for the victims. Unless the member has not heard what I just finished reading, it has nothing to do with it.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Etobicoke Centre Ontario

Liberal

Allan Rock LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, may I begin this afternoon by congratulating the hon. member for Fraser Valley West and his colleagues for using their opportunity today, an opposition day, to put this resolution before the House of Commons. It provides us

with the occasion to discuss and consider the circumstances of people who are too often overlooked in the criminal justice system.

Victims have until relatively recent times been the orphans of the justice system. Although steps have been made toward progress in recent years, they have been imperfect. There remains a great deal to do.

In the two and one-half years it has been my privilege to serve the government and the public in my present capacity, I have made it my business whenever the opportunity arises to meet with those whose lives have been touched by crime. For the most part these have been surviving family members of Canadians who have been murdered.

I have found those meetings to be very difficult because of the emotions involved. Questions are often asked for which there are no simple responses. There is in the final analysis nothing that one can do, whether minister of the crown, member of Parliament, police officer, judge, friend or even loved one which will satisfactorily take the place of the person who has been lost to crime.

I have had those meetings because I believe it is an important part of my job. It is important for persons who have lived through such tragedy to have the opportunity to speak directly with someone who must take responsibility for Canada's criminal justice system and to express their experiences and their perspective. I have had those meetings because I have learned from them. My own insight, my own understanding and my own perspective of criminal justice matters has been broadened and enriched from what I have learned in those encounters with Canadians who have had a direct, personal and very tragic experience with the criminal justice system.

Let me make it clear at the outset that I do not think there is anyone who would contend today that the criminal justice system should be organized just for victims alone. Their perspective is important and essential. There is a great deal we can do to improve the system as it relates to them.

However, the victim is not the only participant or the only stakeholder in the criminal justice system. There is the public, which has a right to see a system that is fair and balanced and operated for their benefit. There are the police who must walk the streets and take risks with their own personal safety to enforce the law and to assist in its prosecution. There is the offender. It is one of the principles of sentencing in the criminal law that we should strive toward rehabilitation when it is possible. Indeed the safest and the surest form of public protection is to rehabilitate the offender so that the person can return to society and not offend again.

The victim's perspective is not the unique or only perspective when it comes to designing the criminal justice system, but it is a

very important one. As I have said, too often through insensitivity the interests and the personal stake of the victim are overlooked.

I am not comfortable to simply rhyme off shopping lists of legislative achievements as though they were a simple answer to a complex question. I do not pretend that we have done as much as we could have, or that we have done enough to improve the criminal justice system in the last two and one-half years. However, I do think that a discussion of this issue today would be incomplete unless I drew attention to the efforts we have made as a government to improve the system as it relates to victims.

For example, we amended the Young Offenders Act with Bill C-37, making the victim impact statement part of the process for the first time.

With Bill C-41, we amended section 745 to ensure that victims take part in the process of determining eligibility for parole, and we amended the Criminal Code concerning the victim's role in the process.

With Bill C-41 we also added sections concerning restitution, giving victims the opportunity to recover property or money in restitution from the offender.

With Bill C-42 we made it easier for those who are the victims of domestic abuse to seek peace bonds or restraining orders to keep the offender away and to make it more likely that it is the abuser and not the victim who is taken from the matrimonial home.

In Bill C-68, which stepped up the control of firearms, we amended the act by adding a mandatory minimum four year prison sentence for anyone using a firearm to commit any of ten crimes listed in the Criminal Code.

In C-72, we acted in response to the use in criminal cases of the defence of self-induced intoxication. We clearly stated that involuntary intoxication would not be allowed as a response for anyone accused of a violent crime against another person, and we changed the act after a Supreme Court of Canada decision on this matter.

With Bill C-104, we added sections allowing police forces to take forensic DNA samples with court permission.

The DNA sample provisions in the Criminal Code for the first time provide expressly that police can seek permission to take bodily samples even without the consent of the offender to be

tested for DNA purposes, a measure which I may say was supported by my friends across the way.

We have now before Parliament pending legislation which, among other things, would toughen the penalties for stalking, particularly where lives are taken. It deals with the victimization of children through juvenile prostitution by providing for stern minimum penitentiary terms for pimps and measures which would also make it easier for children to testify against their pimps when charges are brought.

In addition, we will in the weeks to come bring forward, in collaboration with the solicitor general, measures which will further amend the criminal law to provide more effectively for those offenders who are sentenced to finite periods of imprisonment but who can be predicted to be at high risk to re-offend violently on their release. We will label for the House concrete proposals to change the Criminal Code so that such persons can be supervised for periods as long as 10 years after their release from prison.

I know that the hon. member for Fraser Valley West recognizes that the way the criminal justice system operates in general and more particularly the way it treats the interests of victims is a shared federal and provincial responsibility. I do not say that to avoid the responsibility that we have federally, I accept that. But the administration of the criminal law, the organization of the courts, the manner in which prosecutions are carried on and the standards that the crown attorneys follow are prescribed by the provincial and not the federal government. Therefore, it is very much a shared responsibility that we must discharge together.

The question then becomes: What is it that we can do as the federal participant in this system to encourage, facilitate and achieve the objectives that we share? I can report to the House this is not the first time that the issue of the treatment of victims in the system by both levels of government has been in issue.

As the House may know, every year there is a meeting among the federal attorney general and the provincial and territorial attorneys general to discuss matters of common interest. This year's meeting is to occur here in Ottawa in about two weeks. At my request, the issue of victims, their place and their treatment by the criminal justice system has been put on the agenda for that meeting.

It is my intention to put before my provincial and territorial colleagues a proposal that we reaffirm basic principles about how victims are treated in the system.

In 1988, at just such a meeting, the federal and provincial attorneys general endorsed a statement of basic principles to govern the treatment of victims. I would like to read from that, if I may. In many ways it reflects the same principles that are contained in the statement that was read by the hon. member for Fraser Valley West.

In 1988 the ministers adopted this statement:

In recognition of the United Nations' Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime, Federal and Provincial Ministers Responsible for Criminal Justice agree that the following principles should guide Canadian society in promoting access to justice, fair treatment and provision of assistance for victims of crime.

  1. Victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and with respect for their dignity and privacy and should suffer the minimum of necessary inconvenience from their involvement with the criminal justice system.

  2. Victims should receive, through formal and informal procedures, prompt and fair redress for the harm that they had suffered.

  3. All victims should be informed of what reparations are available to them, and what steps they have to take to obtain them.

  4. Victims should be informed of what role they will play in the trial, the trial date, developments in the case, and the final court decision.

  5. Victims' opinions and concerns should be sought out, and the necessary assistance provided to them throughout the entire trial.

  6. When the victim's personal interests are involved, his or her opinions and concerns should be brought to the attention of the court, provided this is allowed by the rules of criminal procedure.

  7. The necessary steps should be taken, as required, to ensure the safety of victims and their families, and to protect them against threats or reprisals.

  8. Enhanced training should be made available to sensitize criminal justice personnel to the needs and concerns of victims and guidelines should be developed, where appropriate, for this purpose.

  9. Victims should be informed of the availability of health and social services and other relevant assistance so that they might continue to receive the necessary medical, psychological and social assistance through existing programs and services.

  10. Victims should report the crime and co-operate with law enforcement authorities.

That is the statement of basic principles that the ministers adopted eight years ago. I intend to put it before them again next month and to invite them to reaffirm those principles because to my eye and in my experience while those high sounding principles are easy to adopt, it is quite another thing to put them into practice every day in the courts.

Too often a victim is not consulted about the adjournment of a case. Too often the perspective of the victim is not sufficiently respected in dealing with matters of sentence, and too often after the case has left the court and the offender is taken away to serve the sentence, the victim is forgotten. There is no follow-up, no provision of services, no effort to bring to the attention of the victim recourses and remedies that are available.

I will use the occasion of the meeting next month to remind my colleagues of those commitments made eight years ago, to canvas with them concrete steps that can be taken to bring those principles to life and methods by which we can improve on and elaborate on those principles.

I undertake to the hon. member for Fraser Valley West that in preparation for my meeting with my colleagues, I will examine the statement of principles he read from this morning and determine how much of that statement I can add to what is in the document I have read from to improve it and to broaden it in its scope.

The resolution today is a welcome opportunity to discuss an important subject. It is a good use of the House's time. I share the concern that has been expressed by the hon. member. I may not agree with every element of the means he has described by which the objectives can be achieved, but the objectives we do share.

I also join with him in acknowledging that we have a distance to go before the criminal justice system serves the interests of victims as it should, while recognizing and emphasizing that is not the only perspective we must keep in mind.

I wish to tell the hon. member for Fraser Valley West that we will be happy to support his resolution and have the justice committee look at this issue. I will bring to the committee whatever might arise from my meetings with the provincial and territorial ministers so that together, in a fashion that is not partisan but is co-operative, we can act to improve the circumstances and improve the criminal justice system.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Madam Speaker, what I heard was encouraging. I believe what I heard is that tonight we will see a positive vote from the Liberal government to move victims' rights into committee with the intent of developing a national bill of rights. That is good. That is what we are asking for.

I know that the minister meets with a lot of victims. I guess I come from the old school says that well done is better than well said; seeing is believing and that sort of thing.

The minister read a statement of principles from 1988. While those principles may be a statement they are not practised today in Canada. That is the point that we are trying to make. That is why we are going down this road, to ensure that they are practised. I could give a litany of cases to cover what I have just said.

The minister talks about Bills C-68 and C-69 and section 745. That is another issue and we will get to it. Today we are talking about specifics on items like the mere and simple fact of advising victims of what their rights are. Surely it is not a 1988 statement of principles in the United Nations or anywhere else in this world which dictates that. Common sense dictates that. That is not a difficult process to do today.

Since the Liberals have indicated they are going to vote for this tonight, we will doggedly follow through on those issues. It is not good enough anymore to say we will. It must be done.

I would like to ask the minister again to confirm that he will be voting for this, in fact, that the Liberal government will be voting for this motion tonight. If that is the case, then we can proceed now with the debate on how to implement this and the effects of the eight items plus the definition of a victim. The minister talks a lot about the legislation, victims and so on but a victim is not even defined, so who are we talking about? What is a victim? I would like to get confirmation from the minister that the Liberal government will be voting for the motion tonight.

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, may I make my position clear. I am going to support this resolution tonight. I think it will be a free vote on our side of the House.

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12:40 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

You think it will be? Good, good.

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

The practice or the habit on this side of the House has been to invite members to vote as they see fit. I have no difficulty supporting this resolution in matters of this kind whether it is a resolution or a private member's bill.

I do not regard reference to other legislation that we have introduced as beside the point. I do not pretend it is enough but I also do not think that the discussion is complete unless we refer to it.

The Young Offenders Act, Bill C-37, allowed for the first time, and it was quite remarkable, victim impact statements to be introduced. I am sure the hon. members would agree with that proposition.

In Bill C-41, section 745 was amended to permit the victims to participate in the hearing. That arose directly out of a meeting I had with Marie King Forrest whose husband was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in Saskatchewan who was murdered. The offender was bringing a 745 application and she was not able to take part. As a result of that, I amended Bill C-41 to include a specific provision that would add to section 745 of the code a statement that victims' perspectives must be taken into account when those applications are brought.

In the case of Daviault and the Supreme Court of Canada, where there was self-induced excessive intoxication, there was an allegation of sexual assault. There was a victim in that case. In the name of that case and the name of the principle for which we felt we should stand, we introduced Bill C-72 to say self-induced intoxication should not and cannot be an answer in that circumstance. That involved a victim.

In the DNA bill, Bill C-104, I remember Mr. Manning being on the Hill a year ago and bringing his circumstances as a victim very forcefully to our attention. He and other victims were the beneficiary of that legislation.

I do not agree with the hon. member that the legislative steps that have been taken are separate, because they are very much a part of serving the cause of justice, including the perspective of victims, and I say they very much reflect the commitment of the government to that cause.

Many references the hon. member makes quite correctly to the ways the system falls short in being fair to victims have to do with administration and therefore provincial responsibility. Provinces across the country are having to reduce expenditures because of fiscal restraints. Crown attorneys are being laid off, court staff is being diminished and services are being reduced.

One challenge we will face in living up to the statement of principles adopted eight years ago is to achieve the principles with diminished resources. I emphasize for my friends opposite and for the House that it is a very important part of all this. Whether we have the resources federally and provincially to provide the kind of services that are required will be a challenge. It will mean giving priority to these efforts and reallocating money from other purposes. I believe it is the right thing to do.

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12:45 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Madam Speaker, I compliment the Minister of Justice on the flowing rhetoric and great words he used in terms of describing victims and supporting my colleague's motion today.

My concern is the historical difference with this Liberal government since it has been in power between the works it uses and the impression and perception it gives to the Canadian public that it is doing something good when the reality is it does not go far enough and does not tackle the problem head on.

I like his analogy to victims being the orphans of the justice system. Then he goes on to reaffirm his personal belief of the basic principles for victims and he read off a list that is eight years old. He talked about how he is to recommend this list once again at the provincial meeting.

My concern is that these principles are not legislation. What we need is legislation. My colleague's motion today is a step toward

bringing about change in the law, legislation that will protect victims. That is the endorsement we are seeking.

I would like to know if the minister at those meetings will be getting the provincial justice ministers on board to changing the laws in the country by introducing federal legislation which will then be endorsed by provincial legislations to have a victims' bill of rights.

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12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the problem with the principles of 1988 is not their age. The problem is the extent to which they may or may not have been acted on. What we are talking about today are principles. We are not talking about specific legislation.

There were concrete steps taken after 1988. After those principles were adopted the Criminal Code was amended to add provisions for the identification and prompt return of property to victims from whom it had been improperly taken; prohibitions on the publications of the identity of certain victims; the use of victim impact statements; the imposition of a victim fine surcharge and restitution provisions. There were steps taken after 1988.

Where we find common ground today is that those principles are fine. They may even be improved on by the form of words used by the hon. member for Fraser Valley West. We will look at that, but not enough has been done to respect and to act on those principles.

I made reference to some legislation that we have introduced. There is no doubt more can be done and we have a willingness to do it. The important thing is to bring those principles to life in the way we write the law and in the way we administer it. On that we have common ground.

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12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Bloc Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, today the Reform Party is tabling a motion urging the government to direct the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs to proceed with the drafting of a victims' charter of rights. Indeed, Reformers are really asking for a charter of rights.

First, I submit that this an issue that comes mainly under provincial jurisdiction. I want to make this very clear, and I will elaborate on that point.

On December 13, 1993, Quebec passed the Crime Victims Compensation Act, to replace the Act respecting assistance for victims of crime.

The act provides for the payment of various forms of compensation to victims of criminal acts, including income replacement benefits, academic retardation benefits, loss of physical or psychological integrity allowance, bereavement allowance, and also an

allowance for supporting a child born following a criminal offence of a sexual nature. The act also provides for the refund of certain costs related to personal assistance and rehabilitation, as well as for the administrative support required for its implementation.

An office and an assistance fund were set up. Thanks to this assistance fund, help centres were established in various districts to comfort victims and to support them throughout the judicial process. The Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail was given a mandate to administer this act. This commission has regional offices.

The Reform Party is also proposing that consultations be initiated with the provinces to arrive at a national standard for its proposed victims' charter of rights. This is unacceptable, since this is essentially an area of provincial jurisdiction.

First, a national standard can only be arrived at in an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction, such as defence, bankruptcy and insolvency, divorce, postal services, unemployment insurance, aboriginal issues, the Criminal Code, criminal law, banks, weights and measures.

Beyond these explicitly listed areas in section 91 of the British North America Act, any action by this House is likely to be opposed by the provinces, unless it is in an open or vacant field, or unless the proposed legislation is ancillary to legislation in an area listed under section 91 of the 1867 BNA Act.

This House may enact any ancillary provision required to provide effective and complete legislation. However, it can only legislate on the rights of victims in an indirect fashion, that is through legislation concerning an area expressly mentioned in section 91.

Is this a question of national interest? Certainly not. However, the federal government may intervene and does so within these areas of jurisdiction. Thus, the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act contain provisions aimed specifically at victims of crime.

One of the provisions of the Criminal Code is that trials and preliminary hearings may be heard in camera, that a court may make an order restricting publicity in order to protect the identity of witnesses in proceedings involving sexual offences or in which violence is alleged to have been used, threatened or attempted.

Other provisions allow videotapes to be used in place of the testimony of a witness, or certain testimony to be given outside the courtroom so that a witness will not have to appear before an accused.

These provisions, furthermore, are the subject of two bills recently introduced in the House, Bill C-27 and Bill C-217, which I myself tabled. If passed, these bills will further ease the testimony of victims of crime.

The Criminal Code also provides that a court may, on the application of a person aggrieved, at the time sentence is imposed, order the accused to pay that person an amount by way of satisfaction or compensation for loss of or damage to property suffered by that person as a result of the commission of the offence.

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act provides that a victim may provide information for use by the Parole Board in determining whether an offender will be granted parole and under what conditions. In addition, the Board or the Correctional Service shall, at the request of a victim, disclose to him certain information, such as the date of commencement and length of the sentence, and the dates on which an inmate becomes eligible to be released on unescorted temporary absence or parole.

Other information may be disclosed when, in the opinion of the chairperson or the commissioner of corrections, the interest of the victim outweighs any invasion of the offender's privacy that could result from the disclosure. Such information includes the following: If the person is being detained, the penitentiary where he is incarcerated, the date of any anticipated hearing, the type and date of release, the destination of the inmate, and the conditions of his release.

Many victims would rather turn the page and try to forget this tragic episode in their lives. Out of respect for them, the Parole Board and the Correctional Service do not automatically send information to the victims, who must make a written request if they wish to obtain such information.

In short, the current situation does not warrant the measure proposed by the Reform Party. The provinces are in a better position to protect the victims of criminal acts, and they can do so in a manner that better reflects their particular environment. This is not to say that the federal Minister of Justice should stop continuing to improve the law in areas that can affect victims of criminal acts.

Given that this is a matter that comes essentially under provincial jurisdiction, and that the provinces, including Quebec, have already legislated this area, we oppose the motion of the Reform Party.