Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-248, introduced by the member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge.
I would like to state at the outset that I am very pleased to support this bill, as I believe the Competition Act needs to be strengthened.
It is sad to note that the act currently has no power to fight collusion. In our world where the role of the economy and markets becomes increasingly important, we need to ensure better protection for citizens of this country. Personally, I believe that Bill C-248 is a step in the right direction.
This private member's bill proposes a review of the application of sections 92 and 96 of the Competition Act. This would have the effect of prohibiting any one company from having a dominant market position following a merger.
Given the deficiencies of the current Competition Act, I sincerely believe that we must do everything within our power to restrict any possibility of dominant positioning and collusion at the outset, because once it has occurred, it is difficult to come back and ensure that the public is well protected and served by fair and healthy competition.
Let us look at an example. In my region of Saguenay, we have been in a very difficult situation in the past few months. The price of gasoline was so incredibly high at one point that we thought the price at the pump would go beyond a dollar a litre.
I would remind the House that, in January 2001, Irvin of Calgary published a study, which concluded that the retailers in the region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean had the highest profit margin in the country. While the national average was about five cents a litre, in the Saguenay, retailers were getting as much as 12 cents a litre. It is not surprising to discover the range of prices at the pump. How do we explain it? It seems to me that healthy competition should produce similar prices across the country.
In addition, strange as it may seem, on the same street, at the same point in time, retailers in my region were raising their prices. I can understand this happening when prices are being lowered, since no retailer wants to be outdone and uncompetitive. However, what is the explanation for the simultaneous price hike?
The people in the competition bureau call this phenomenon “conscious parallelism”. This means that a retailer will follow all price changes, be they upwards or downwards. Would it not, however, be logical for a retailer to keep his prices lower than the competition in order to increase his business?
I have to say I do not accept this theory of conscious parallelism for a moment. It is, instead, collusion among retailers who benefit from people's dependency on their cars.
I lodged two complaints with the competition bureau to get them to investigate. Nevertheless, although this price shift is disgusting to ordinary consumers, the competition bureau cannot investigate a mere observation. It must have written or oral proof to even initiate an investigation.
Let us get serious. With all the new technology we have, like cell phones and e-mail, it has become very easy to avoid being caught for fraud.
The review of section 45 of the Competition Act must be closely followed in the case of collusion in the oil industry. Indeed, the term “unduly” in this section forces the competition bureau to have written or oral evidence of collusion which, as I just explained, is almost impossible to get. We must adapt this section to the modern realities of the 21st century.
I am not the only one to promote this idea. When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, Professor Thomas Ross, with other witnesses, said:
It is important to remove the term “unduly” to facilitate price fixing investigations, which are currently too difficult to conduct.
Further on in his remarks, Mr. Ross said “It is high time to reform section 45 and I do hope that the industry committee will look at this issue very soon”.
I believe it is high time we as parliamentarians review our acts so as to give priority to the interests of individuals, on the competition issue as well as all other issues. As I said in my presentation, major companies, such as oil companies, have it too easy and can do whatever they want in their sector. They take advantage of the weakness of the Competition Act to gouge prices in an unreasonable fashion.
The hon. member who presented this bill has a great deal of expertise in the area of competition. He also presented Bill C-472 on private applications and I congratulate him on that.
I must say that I am more and more in favour of this idea. I believe that individuals themselves should have the right to bring before the courts a company that is guilty of fraud or price fixing. We must not forget as well that the chronic underfunding of the competition bureau greatly limits the number of cases heard by the tribunal.
Short of providing the adequate financial means for the competition bureau to do its job, allowing citizens themselves to institute an action is a very good idea. We must examine it carefully and move forward.
The competition sector is extremely large. Bill C-248 introduced by the hon. member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge would restrict the influence of big companies. Finally, the competition bureau would have a say in mergers leading to an excessive market control.
However, I strongly urge members to ask themselves some questions about the implementation of section 45 of the Competition Act. Private access is also a solution that may be emphasized. The government must be open minded and finally be on the consumers' side. Perhaps these people do not put as much money into campaign funds as Petro-Canada or Shell do, but it is still taxpayers who are funding our salaries with their taxes.
It is time to give priority to the real citizens of this country. This is what I am doing and I am proud to speak on behalf of my constituents of Jonquière and to represent their interests.
I ask all members of the House to tighten up the Competition Act and to support Bill C-248, which was introduced by our colleague.