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.