Mr. Speaker, it was an eloquent ending to a speech by the parliamentary secretary when he talked about his departure from Parliament.
This is my first Parliament. I was rather surprised at the lack of surprise in the calling of an election when in actual fact we do not have a fixed election date. Many things have to be put in place to run the electoral process. I know I am off topic but it all points to the fact that a fixed election date is probably a pretty good idea. It works in a lot of democracies and I think it would work very well
here as well. It would certainly level the playing field in terms of all parties knowing exactly where they stand.
I am joining in the debate today on Bill C-67, an act to amend the Competition Act. From the outset I would like to say the Reform Party has no serious reservations with the bill. In fact we are pleased to see the inclusion of some of the amendments to the Competition Act. It is important that we keep the debate about competition open for discussion, what it is and how it could or should function. In this way we could continue to respond to a changing business environment and to ensure the legislation set out is both flexible enough to respond to the marketplace and efficiently administered in order to be effective.
The Reform position on competition is clear. We support vigorous measures to ensure the successful operation of the marketplace, such as promoting competition and competitive pricing and strengthening and vigorously enforcing competition and anti-combines legislation with severe penalties for collusion and price fixing. The intent of Bill C-67 supports this philosophy.
It is useful to review the Competition Act to see how it works and what it is designed to do. It is designed to promote competition and efficiency in the Canadian marketplace. It forms the legislative framework for some of the basic principles for the conduct of business in Canada, applying with few exceptions to all industries and levels of trade.
We can all agree the act is honourable. The act contains both criminal and non-criminal provisions. Criminal offences include conspiracy, bid rigging, discriminatory and predatory pricing, price maintenance, misleading advertising and deceptive marketing practices.
As we see in Bill C-67 the issue of telemarketing falls under these provisions. Other areas that fall under the act are reviewable matters including mergers, abusive dominant position, refusal to deal, consignment selling, tied selling, market restriction and pricing. This would include such areas and items as gasoline pricing.
The enforcement and administration of the Competition Act are carried out by the director of investigation and research who heads the competition bureau at Industry Canada. At present that individual is Mr. Konrad von Finckenstein. When the bureau becomes aware of a possible competition offence, the facts are examined to determine whether they raise a concern under the act. If the director believes on reasonable grounds that an offence under the act has been or is about to be committed, an inquiry is commenced.
Inquiries can also commence when the minister so directs or when six Canadians make an application for an inquiry. Recently we saw an inquiry commence on the issue of gas pricing in the Ottawa area, for example.
Although the director can use formal investigative tools to gather information, in cases where the director believes a criminal offence has occurred matters are referred to the Attorney General of Canada for prosecution before the criminal courts.
Bill C-67, which the Reform Party supports, enhances the current Competition Act. We are pleased to see the issues of misleading advertising and deceptive marketing enhanced and the issue of deceptive telemarketing addressed. The act currently addresses deceptive marketing. Bill C-67 provides for a more effective means of punishment and is an improvement.
If consumers find themselves victims of deceptive marketing, for instance false advertising, the bill sets out new provisions that will make the system more effective both in terms of administration and cost. Under the current act, when infractions are committed criminal prosecution is obligatory. The new provisions will create a dual regime of civil and criminal offences.
In the case of serious infractions involving repeat offenders or fraud, a criminal regime will be maintained. In less serious cases where an individual or corporation was unaware of the law, the amendments would allow for the infractions to be addressed through civil court by means of fines, cease and desist orders and information notices. This means that civil offences could be addressed without lengthy court delays which can only be an advantage to both the consumer and the taxpayer.
Another area which catches our attention is that of the provisions set out to address deceptive telemarketing. Telemarketing as defined by the bill is the practice of using person to person telephone communications for the purpose of promoting directly or indirectly the supply or use of a product, service or any other business interest.
We can all attest to the growth of the telemarketing industry, somewhat ruefully perhaps. I am sure we can all tell stories of being interrupted once or twice by an eager telemarketer during dinner or at some other inconvenient moment. How best to handle the interruption is a subject for discussion. In my case, I am thankful for the invention of the answering machine and private listings.
Whether we appreciate the work of telemarketers or not, there are serious issues concerning telephone marketing which should concern us all. It is safe to say for the most part that telemarketers are above board, but as with any industry, there is the possibility of deception. Many people, particularly seniors, are at the risk of being taken advantage of at the hands of unscrupulous people.
In the buying and selling of products over the phone there are rules of logic we must all follow. It is wise for instance to be suspicious of anyone who might offer money or grand prizes over the phone for a small fee. As well, many of us know it is inadvisable to give a credit card number to anyone over the phone.
As we do more and more everyday activities by phone and as progress and technology make that more and more possible, the old rules simply do not apply across the board. It is not that simple. This can leave the consumer confused: Do I or do I not provide my credit card number to this individual?
The only solution is to ensure that laws exist to address unscrupulous practices. In order for both the industry and the consumer to benefit, the consumer needs assurance that the marketplace is being monitored to assure fair and legal practices. Where telemarketing is concerned, sound competition policy not only means a confident consumer, it means an educated consumer.
By setting out what is required in order to conduct fair telemarketing practices, Canadians will know what they can demand from any financial transaction conducted over the telephone. We are satisfied that the provisions set out in Bill C-67 address these issues sufficiently.
I mentioned earlier that it is important to keep discussion on competition open in order to ensure its effectiveness and efficiency, but the issue of competition has taken on a broader context in the last few years. This is particularly the case where global competition now plays a direct role in determining the economic policies of Canada.
Competition has become the mantra of the 21st century. Governments around the globe promote its merits and its values in generating wealth and in contributing to innovation. Competition dictates policy in everything from free trade in softwood lumber to the information highway and whether we have direct to home satellites in Canada.
If we look closely, we will see that competition is the reason given by governments to explain many things, including why they must spend money on business subsidies and infrastructure programs for example. In fact it seems that the notion of competition has dominated every policy paper, federal budget, government initiative, piece of legislation, committee report, study and countless conferences we have seen since the government came to power. Sometimes it is sad to say it is nothing more than a euphemism for political patronage and/or vote buying.
For the average consumer it must be confusing. As a voter trying to understand economic policy, the emphasis on competition has left many more questions than answers. Can competition be good if the result is downsizing and the loss of jobs? Can competition be good if it means lower wages? Is competition good, we wonder, when the success of the new Wal-Mart means the closure of the local business down the street?
The average consumer should not apologize for being confused or for asking questions or for feeling some anxiety. For too long voters have been left out of the economic process. The answer that because it is good for competition hardly suffices in their attempts to understand which government policies are sound. The truth is that fair competition is a good thing as long as competition in and of itself is not what dictates good economic policy. Fair competition is integral to sound economic policy.
The Reform Party is a strong supporter of the competitive marketplace but we are very aware that competition alone is not enough to ensure the economic stability we seek. Nor will it alone create the kind of marketplace that builds strong industries and businesses and protects the consumers.
Reformers do not accept that in order to have competition it must come at the expense of the taxpayer. Reformers believe in competitive strategies that have substance. We believe there are ways in which we can increase competition by allowing the taxpayer to function freely in the marketplace without compromising the interests of the consumer or at great cost to the taxpayer. In fact, our definition of a competitive Canada would not only save the taxpayer money but would also provide economic stability.
For the sake of good and fair competition, we would take the politics out of economic decision making in Canada. We would not use competition as an excuse for the unreasonable waste of taxpayers' money spent on business subsidies. We would eliminate grants and subsidies to businesses. A business should be able to survive on its own merits. Taxpayers should not support inefficient or ineffective businesses in this manner.
For the sake of good and fair competition, we would support the removal of all measures that insulate industries, businesses, financial institutions, professions and trade unions from domestic and foreign competition. That would mean dropping Canada's internal trade barriers once and for all.
In order to realize fair and good competition, Reform would orient federal government activities toward the nurturing of physical and human infrastructure. We would give greater priority to the development of skills, particularly those that would provide future job flexibility within a co-operative training environment.
We would base physical infrastructure spending on economic criteria rather than on the basis of artificial temporary job creation. In order to realize a fair and competitive marketplace, we would invest in basic scientific research and ensure grassroots investment
in research and development in order to keep Canada on the leading edge of innovation.
If Canada is truly competitive, we will see a better country where the entrepreneur is valued and the small business person is free to grow, where our children are educated and provided with the skills they need to succeed, where families are relieved from an unfair tax burden and where Canadians are free from worrying about their futures. Instead they must be empowered to reach out and grasp every opportunity that comes their way.
Competition must mean something to the average citizen, not just to bureaucrats and policy makers. Canadians must see real evidence of competition in their everyday lives and feel the effects that a truly competitive society provides. That means direct to home satellites. That means freer internal trade. That means prudent regulation of our financial institutions. That means reasonable interest rates on our credit cards. That means fair prices at the grocery store and at the gas station. For that is a country built on sound economic and social policies where the result is fair and good competition, and that is the kind of country Canada can be.