Mr. Speaker, I hope this time I can finish my speech.
I want to put things back in their context, since we had an unexpected break. We are debating Bill C-67, an act to amend the Competition Act and another Act in consequence. As I said earlier, in the throne speech, the government had already announced a reform to strengthen the economic framework, through legislation relating to competition, bankruptcy and copyright.
A long process led to the bill before us today. A review was conducted as early as the summer of 1994. The Minister of Industry asked the director of investigation and research, appointed under the Competition Act, to comment on the act currently in effect. Following these comments, the minister launched, in June 1995, a consultation process by circulating a discussion paper on the proposed changes to the Competition Act.
An advisory committee was asked to look at the various proposals received during the consultation process. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Competition Policy continued its consultations on specific aspects of the act. This exercise led to Bill C-67, which seeks to modernize the existing legislation. As I said, there are changes that do indeed modernize the act, which had not been reviewed since 1986, and that could bring significant improvements.
However, the federal government is using this as an excuse to continue to slowly invade areas of provincial jurisdiction, including civil law. I will get back to this in a moment.
I just want to briefly mention the provisions of the bill. There are improvements regarding the notice to be given when companies merge and when the regulatory burden is reduced. This will ensure speedier and more efficient resolution of misleading advertising cases and unfair trade practices. I will get back to this particular point.
The bill also seeks to amend and clarify the law governing price advertising by retailers. It also gives the courts new remedies following convictions for criminal activity in the form of consent orders and prohibitive orders to include prescriptive terms.
Finally, it sets out to address the problem of the recent proliferation of deceptive telemarketing practices to which consumers fall prey and which detract from telemarketing as a legitimate marketing practice. As I mentioned earlier, telemarketing is on the increase, but many use it fraudulently. We have all seen television programs or news reports of many dubious and very often misleading practices designed to swindle hundreds, even thousands, of dollars out of individuals on many occasions.
There are, as I pointed out, many legitimate provisions that will update the legislation. The new civil provisions in the case of misleading advertising and deceptive marketing practices, however, constitute direct interference in local commerce, an area under provincial jurisdiction.
In 1989, the Supreme Court recognized that the previous legislation, the Combines Investigations Act, overlapped an area of provincial jurisdiction. This recognition notwithstanding, the Court ratified the provisions, relying on paragraph 91(2), which gives the federal government the power to regulate trade and commerce.
So, once again, this is not the first time our political system or our Constitution has led to overlap that is expensive in practice because it results in confusion and conflict between levels of government, and is the source of many problems.
We know that this is not unique to the trade sector. It happens in a lot of cases, as we see on a regular basis. In a number of areas, health for one, the government is trying to expand its powers or interventions, while at the same time decreasing its contribution, for example its transfer payments for health. The federal government must have found that this money did not do much for its visibility, so it decided to cut transfers to the provinces.
For example, it cut $2 billion in transfer payments for health and then injected millions and millions of dollars into initiatives so that the federal government's logo will be highly visible on the cheques issued, whereas transfer payments would not have had that visibility. The bottom line is that the citizens are clearly penalized. We can see that just about all of the provinces are having to undertake major reforms, and often to make drastic cuts in these areas, as a result of the drastic cuts in the funding they receive.
The federal government's attempt to expand its jurisdiction is, therefore, not unique to trade and competition. As recently as yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that he had, during his mandate, modernized federation and made major constitutional reforms. So he said, to my great amazement. The only changes the federal government has made have been hit and miss, and peripheral, always with the goal of ensuring that Ottawa and the federal
machinery will have an increasingly large role to play in numerous areas of jurisdiction.
The only time it pulls out of anything is when there is no more money left. Then the federal government says: "OK, now we are going to pull out". Yet it makes sure to hold on to all of its sources of revenue. They say: "Oh no, we will no longer interfere with forestry or mining, for example, because we have just found out these are provincial jurisdictions, but we will keep the cash". The federal government does have jurisdiction over that. It has no struggles with its conscience when it comes to keeping hold of the money.
As I said earlier, the court had recognized these encroachments in the former legislation but nevertheless validated them, saying it was impossible to do otherwise, considering section 91(2) of the Constitution. The court decided there were factors that mitigated the seriousness of these encroachments.
In the final instance, creating a system of civil remedies was justified if the government could demonstrate there was some justification for doing so. When the federal government can do that, this mitigates the seriousness of federal intrusion. We find this in a decision by the Supreme Court which, in most cases, comes down on the same side and seldom on the side of Quebec, so draw your own conclusions. This is just another example of the highest court in the land interpreting the legislation it gets from people like the hon. members opposite, who are gradually diminishing the powers of the provinces and find excuses for these multiple intrusions by the central government, and I say central, because this has gradually become a centralist government.
With the court's blessing, the government has taken advantage of all this flexibility it has been given by a court that is equally centralist. And the result today is Bill C-67, which introduces more duplication and intrusion in areas under provincial jurisdiction. This is not necessarily about occupying a legal space that had been vacant so far. Some provinces already have measures to deal with these practices.
In the existing legislation, misleading advertising and deceptive marketing practices are treated as matters to be dealt with only in criminal court. That is as it should be, because of the federal government's powers with respect to criminal law. However, Bill C-67 proposes to establish a parallel non-criminal mechanism to deal with these offences, although, as I said before, in most cases these areas are already regulated by the provinces. In Quebec, we have the well-known Consumer Protection Act, whose purpose is to protect consumers against certain practices.
Now we will be stuck with two sets of legislation that deal with misleading advertising and deceptive marketing practices. We will, or perhaps I should have said we would, because I have the distinct impression that we will not manage third reading of this bill before an election is called, considering the intense activity we are seeing among Liberal members today. This is a party preparing to hit the campaign trail. In fact, from what I can see, several members all already on the campaign trail.
So, there will be two sets of rules. Which one will prevail? This will be very confusing for consumers. How well protected will the consumers feel in all this? Which legislation will they feel protects them best? There already is legislation. It is clear that legislation like Quebec's Consumer Protection Act can be used effectively against such practices.
Now, there will be another, federal act, and the public will know that. They will wonder what its scope is and what it deals with. This is another instance of unnecessary overlap. There are many businesses, but not all of them use misleading advertising and have deceptive practices. Businesses, small and medium size ones in particular, complain bitterly about the regulatory burden, all the government red tape and the legalities imposed on them. They find it quite confusing.
In the face of initiatives like this one, which will result in two co-existing acts, one federal and one provincial, regulating business practices, how can we expect these people to concentrate on doing what they do best? They are not in business to fill out government forms. These are entrepreneurs who have found a niche where they feel comfortable, can innovate and want to sell their products.
I recently had a discussion with an entrepreneur in my riding, who was telling me that it makes no sense whatsoever, that one full time employee spends one full day every week filling out forms. Out of a dozen employees, one person works full time to fill various forms for different levels of government. One employee out of a dozen spends all his or her time on this. The entrepreneur is not being unreasonable. He realizes that money must be collected and taxes must be paid to governments. However, one wonders about the usefulness of many regulations and about the extent to which the information will actually be used.
It is not always easy to gather all this information. The more information there is, the more public servants it takes in Quebec City and in Ottawa to sort out that information, to check it out and to do something with it. In the end, people are lost in a maze of data. Provisions such as those in Bill C-67 will definitely not help the process.
One wonders why. What will be the next step once this bill takes effect? Tell the provinces they have to withdraw, as the bill gives the federal government control over this area, since telemarketing and trade practices transcend boundaries?
The federal government probably thinks it is the one in the best position to exercise that control. Given the globalization of trade, what would the next step be? The federal government will not be in a position to take that next step. Therefore, what will happen, given that companies do businesses in several countries? Will international legislation be required to monitor such activities? No, because the provinces can do it. The fact that a business engages in sales, trade, soliciting or telemarketing outside the province or, conversely, that an outside company engages in telemarketing solicitations in a province, does not mean we cannot legally monitor their actions.
It may be different in the case of referendum acts, because if money is spent outside the province, the Quebec legislation cannot regulate that activity. This is a different issue but, normally, a province should be able to monitor, through legislation, what goes on on its territory. Quebec already has a number of provisions to that effect.
Instead of stubbornly trying to find new ways to set standards that will apply from coast to coast, the Minister of Industry should have had the courage to introduce provisions that would have promoted greater access to the Competition Tribunal. Currently, the director is the only person who can go before the Competition Tribunal. If the director does not take action in a given case, the private parties cannot go to the tribunal for corrective action. Therefore, under the current act, only one person can initiate proceedings.
In September 1996, not so long ago, the Secretary of State for the Federal Office of Regional Development for Quebec, speaking to the bar association, admitted that his government had abandoned for the time being the idea of allowing private parties access to the tribunal.
The director of the Bureau of Competition Policy, however, admitted in a speech to the Canadian Institute, and I quote: "Given the extent of commercial activity covered under the legislation, it is difficult for the director to investigate all complaints that strike him as justified and to institute proceedings, thus leaving certain parties without recourse".
This comment makes it plain that there are cases in which certain parties suffer damages and seem to be justified in lodging a complaint. He seems to be saying that he is unable to investigate all complaints, even those that he feels are justified. We are not talking about unjustified complaints, but about those he feels are justified. He is therefore unable to take action accordingly and the end of his comment is significant: "[-] thus leaving certain parties without recourse".
Rather than continue to interfere in civil matters at the provincial level, an attempt could have been made, in this bill, to sort this problem out. It is widely recognized in our legal system that there is no justice without access. Changes could have been made under the bill regarding access to the tribunal in order to allow those adversely affected by the supposed violations to correct these injustices.
The government could have shown leadership and implemented a more balanced system that is more accessible and that makes recourse available to private individuals, while ensuring that prosecutions do not serve strategic interests or objectives incompatible with the purposes of the Competition Act.
Obviously, we want to see this done in such a way as to avoid all sorts of problems. In the interest of avoiding duplication, the government should ensure that recourse available to private individuals is not already covered by the provinces. If the provinces are already addressing these sectors, the federal government should not interfere.
I will also say a few words about telemarketing. The advisory committee concluded that telemarketing was a serious problem in Canada that should be tackled at the federal level, not at the provincial level, because of interprovincial and international ramifications. With that kind of reasoning, one can justify any encroachment on any sector whatsoever. If the problem is serious and would have an impact on more than one province, the federal government would, according to the committee, have a moral obligation to intervene.
I may recall that the Consumer Protection Act regulates telemarketing quite satisfactorily. As they do in so many other cases, the provinces can get together on this and ensure their regulations are compatible. This is not to say that provincial regulations are infallible, but my point is that the provinces are certainly capable of exchanging information and data with a view to improving their respective legislations.
Although Bill C-67 merely criminalizes certain unlawful telemarketing practices, we must warn the federal government against intervening in this area, as it did in other cases, by creating civil remedies. The problem is that civil remedies are a matter for the provinces to decide.
This flexible federalism they talk about is often one-sided. Although the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Prime Minister keep repeating that their federalism is very flexible, it looks a lot more like paternalistic federalism. The government thinks it is on the side of the angels when it says it has the right to intervene in areas under provincial jurisdiction. But now that it has substantially reduced transfers to the provinces, as I said earlier, it says the provinces are not doing what they ought to be doing. It knows better than anyone else what is good for consumers.
That is why we are against this bill. However, considering the parliamentary calendar, it is quite likely the proceedings on this bill will have to wait until the next Parliament.
Let us hope in the meantime that the departments concerned will have another look at their work and will see there is overlap and infringement in a number of sectors which are covered by civil remedies and which should remain, as in the present case, under provincial jurisdiction, so problems are not continually being created.
We often feel here that we create more problems than we solve. It could be true in this case. In the end, it will not benefit those this bill was intended to serve: consumers.
I would remind you that it is a major sector, and the director of the competition bureau has indicated he is unable to properly carry out the mandate. He said he cannot investigate every complaint, many of which are well founded. That then is a practical problem. They could have said that some people did not have access, that their complaints were founded but left in limbo, and wonder what they could do to give them recourse.
They start with a problem and look for solutions. They look around and see the provinces have already done things that come within a given field of intervention. What comes under federal jurisdiction and what can the federal government do without always trying to bypass the provinces in order to have jurisdiction in the sector? So, if we have the opportunity to do so, we will vote against this bill.
Since you are going to interrupt me, Mr. Speaker, and this may be my last statement in this legislature, I would like, before I conclude, to thank the people in my riding whom it has been my great pleasure to represent and whom I would be delighted to continue to represent as of June 2 or 3, the day after the elections are expected to be held.
I would like to say that, in a future Parliament, people may count on me and on the Bloc Quebecois to again remind this government it often acts in a way that complicates things, in a way that ends up costing more and doing less for people.
People will have someone speaking in their defence and not coming to where they live to defend Ottawa's goals. This is what we will be offering them in the coming weeks, and I am sure that this is what the people of many Quebec ridings, including, I hope, the riding of Témiscamingue or the region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, will want in Parliament.
I therefore thank you and remind you that we will do everything to ensure that the bill never comes to pass-either in this Parliament or in the next. Some provisions have merit, are good and could be adopted. Others will have to be added and still others will have to be withdrawn. We hope that, in the usual course of a bill in the next Parliament, where we will begin some of this work again, the appropriate corrections will be made.