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.