Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-67, an act to amend the Competition Act and another Act in consequence.
Reading the bill, I got the impression that we were dealing with a bill from the 1970s, from the Trudeau years, when the present Prime Minister was Minister of Justice. The present one seems to share the same lineage.
While the throne speech announced steps to reinforce the economic framework by updating the legislation on competition, bankruptcy and copyright, here we are faced instead with a bill that represents one more intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. Thus, all the new civil provisions on misleading advertising and unfair business practices are a direct intrusion into an area of provincial jurisdiction, namely, local commerce.
In 1989, the Supreme Court recognized the infringement of the old legislation, the Combines Investigation Act, on provincial jurisdiction. Today, in the current legislation, all provisions on misleading advertising and unfair labour practices are criminal matters, and rightly so, because of the weight of the federal government in criminal law. However, Bill C-67 is proposing to create a parallel civil system for such offences.
Let us take the example of Quebec. It has had consumer protection legislation for a number of years. This legislation has even been amended to better meet the needs of the public. It is really forward-thinking legislation, in a way. Now, however, with Bill C-67, there will be two sets of legislation covering misleading advertising and unfair business practices.
It is quite surprising in this day and age when the prevailing view is that business must be regulated as little as possible so as to facilitate the development of small and medium size businesses, to see a bill brought out at the end of the session, almost on the sly, which repeats the same process we saw ad nauseam in the 1970s-the systematic intrusion by the federal government in provincial jurisdictions. As if the provincial governments were incapable of looking after their own jurisdictions.
The present government probably espouses this basic principle that in Canada there is a national Parliament, and it is the one in Ottawa. The others are mere branch Parliaments which should go along with Ottawa's every whim. But that is not how things work.
The Constitution sets out certain rights. The provinces assume their responsibilities. Quebec, for instance, has passed the Consumer Protection Act. I believe that the bill before us today is one more reason for Quebecers to continue having a voice in the House of Commons, that will stand up for their interests and constantly fight overlap and eliminate it whenever possible so that businesses are not hampered by red tape, which they could do without in today's market.
For example, I recently attended a trade mission in Maine where 200 business people from that state met 200 business people from Quebec, mainly citizens from the Quebec, Chaudière-Appalaches and Lower St. Lawrence regions, who were there for the first time.
During the long bus trip, I had several hours to speak with business people from the Lower St. Lawrence and they told be some horror stories about problems they encountered when dealing with the government and about the complexity of the regulations. Today, if I were to show them Bill C-67 amending the Competition Act, they would realize we are trying to make things even more complex; this seems totally inappropriate.
For instance, these business people told me it was simpler to register the brand name of a product made in Quebec in the United States than in Canada. This kind of situation is unacceptable. The measures contained in Bill C-67 will increase duplication instead of eliminating it, as it should. What we need is legislation that makes things simpler while taking provincial jurisdiction into account. That is why, in a sense, I am happy to see this bill die on the Order Paper. This way, when we come back in the next Parliament, we will have taken the time to study the bill in committee and to include the respect of provincial jurisdiction as a basic principle.
When the federal government agrees to take that approach, the results are usually positive. The infrastructure program for example was initially designed in a way that respected municipal and provincial jurisdictions, making it possible to allocate funds in an
appropriate way, without having to invade jurisdictions, at least for the part that was defined on the basis of local population.
But there seems to be a hard core of people from the Trudeau era in this government, and the Minister of Industry could be a spiritual son of this era, for he seems to believe that, unless a piece of legislation comes from the federal government, it is not good enough and will not produce the expected results.
When we say that the Bloc Quebecois wants to defend Quebec's interests, this also means, in concrete, practical terms, ensuring that the legislation will not create problems for our business people and fellow citizens as consumers. Given the current situation, the government should go back to the drawing board and take into account the opinion of the Supreme Court, which confirmed that the former act, the Combines Investigation Act, encroached on an area of provincial jurisdiction. The government should keep this precedent in mind and make sure that, when the bill comes back to us, it will have been amended accordingly.
Several provisions deal with telemarketing. The advisory committee felt that telemarketing was a serious problem in Canada, and that it should be tackled by the federal government, rather than by the provinces. Again, this is a somewhat paternalistic approach, given that Quebec's Consumer Protection Act regulates telemarketing quite efficiently. As in many other cases, the provinces can certainly agree among themselves to co-operate in ensuring that regulations are compatible. This is the way of the future.
We live in an era where free trade is being promoted. The government signed agreements with the United States and Mexico, and it wants to extend free trade to the whole American continent. But on the other hand, it introduces bills which create local barriers to telemarketing, while also generating insidious effects that were not anticipated.
The effect of creating more regulations is that major telemarketing companies, the ones that can easily afford lawyers, can always circumvent an act such as this one.
For example, there is a marketing company in Trois-Pistoles, which is in my riding. It is a small telemarketing company that is just starting up. Whenever regulatory problems occur, as would be the case with the amendments to the Competition Act, it adversely affects the company's competitiveness and its ability to get contracts, because such a small business cannot afford the lawyers that could help it find its way through the legislative maze.
Therefore, if the federal government really wants to help small and medium sized businesses to expand, to get the largest possible number of government contracts and to compete on a level playing field, it should not introduce bills such as the one before us today.
While Bill C-67 only criminalizes certain illegal telemarketing practices, we must warn the federal government not to interfere in this area of jurisdiction, as it does in many others, by providing for civil remedies which should be the provinces' prerogative.
This is a far cry from this government's so-called flexible federalism. On the whole, Bill C-67 tends to shore up the Bloc's arguments, since the federal government, which should be among those promoting total respect for Canada's Constitution, in sticking to its centralizing tendency, is passing laws which simply are not in its jurisdiction.
Let us imagine this bill being introduced in the House, without the Bloc. Federalists all have a rather centralizing approach. Many such laws were adopted in the past. But today, because we are in the House, and we have a right to speak here, having been elected by the people, and because we hope to be re-elected, the public can rest assured that we represent it and that we will ensure that the very best and most appropriate legislation possible is adopted.
It is essential that there be no more errors like those made in the privatization of Pearson Airport and the creation of ADM, over which the federal government has practically no authority anymore. It does not have the sense of responsibility needed to rein in ADM or seriously address the air transportation problem in the Montreal area.
On such issues, Bloc members have no particular ties preventing them from exposing unacceptable situations. We will therefore continue to promote our views, so that bills like Bill C-67 can die on the Order Paper or at least be sent back to committee for review, and so that, when bills come back to the House, they respect provincial jurisdiction. I think the least we can ask of the government is to take enough time to read Quebec's Consumer Protection Act. It will see that it has no business interfering in this area.