Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on Bill C-3, which was originally introduced before parliament was dissolved.
First, I would like to make a comment. The Bloc Quebecois is not against this bill. However, the fact that we have to debate an issue that could already have been discussed, if an unnecessary election had not been called, leads us increasingly to realize with all these bills that this government has no legislative agenda.
The only items we have been called on to debate are bills which had been introduced before the House was dissolved. Those bills are brought back with minor technical changes and are presented to us as an important legislative agenda.
This shows once again that this government has no vision nor any clear policy. It does not know where it is heading. It is the first time in my short political career, and also in a previous life as a reporter, that I see a government with so poor a legislative agenda.
When I looked at Bill C-3, I hoped the government might have taken advantage of this opportunity to really deal with the problem of the oil companies. All we are asked to do is to amend rules and regulations in order to permit a deal involving the owners of Petro-Canada, those who might buy its shares. However, this does not get to the heart of the issue.
This bill does absolutely nothing to alleviate the crisis faced by Quebecers, especially in areas where gas prices are very high. There has been no change in spite of the oil companies' record profits. What we see is that there has been no change in the concentration and centralization of decision making. When we talk about capitalist countries, we are talking about the United States, of course.
In the U.S., there are laws protecting companies, distributors and retailers, thus improving the economy within this system. Here, over the last 25 years, we have seen retailers and distributors disappear, and big companies take over the market.
This is of great concern to me as my riding of Lotbinière-L'Érable is very rural. Over the past 25 years, we have seen the local garage disappear. We were better off when we had a gas station, at least then there were attendants to serve us. Now we are left with self-serve gas bars. They are run by the oil companies. The managers of these outlets have nothing to do with pricing and the profit margin.
Let me give the House a very specific example. The managers of two related companies, Petro-Canada and Esso, met with me to give me a press release issued by each of their companies. Both press releases were issued at 7.04 a.m. and were similar in that they informed their managers that both companies, Petro-Canada and Esso, were setting the price at a certain amount and indicating what their profit margin would be that day.
The problem with gas is not only at the pump. It is also a management problem. These people told me “Do not mention the municipalities. Do not try to identify us, because we will suffer reprisals at the hands of our companies. If they find out that we tried to get a little more, that we tried to be a bit fairer, they will reduce our profit margin”. These people are terrorized.
According to a report not yet published, but which we had an opportunity to get a glimpse of, “All is well in the wonderful world of the oil companies”.
My riding is rather small, let us say that it is 120 kilometres from one end to the other along highway 20. My riding is on the south shore near Quebec City. The price differences can be 6, 8, or 10 cents. Could someone explain that to me?
Is it due to transportation? I doubt very much that it could increase the price of oil by 8 or 10 cents. Is it due to taxes? As far as I know, politicians, in Quebec as well as in Canada, explain in their budget how they manage it.
This is not due to transportation or to taxes and, as I said, management has nothing to do with it neither. This means that oil companies are increasingly taking control of retailers.
A television channel called LCN is now presenting the hit-parade of gas prices. Here is the hit-parade: in the Eastern Townships, 82 cents; in Lac-Saint-Jean, 81 cents; in central Quebec, 79 cents; in the Quebec City area, 77 cents, and so on. But this is ridiculous.
When this government tells us that everything is fine in the oil industry and when the Conference Board of Canada tells us officially, as it will soon tell us, that there is no problem, they are laughing at people.
They are laughing at people because, as I explained with many examples, the retailer has no control on his profit margin nor on prices. In addition to that, the situation is so ridiculous, prices changes so much, going up and down like a yo-yo—so to speak—everywhere in Quebec that we now see the hit-parade of gas prices on LCN. This is ridiculous. Who foots the bill? It is the workers, both wen and women, and the small and medium size businesses who foot the bill.
I will now move on to the heating oil issue and the $125 or $250 that were paid. Could someone please explain to me why a person living alone gets $125 and two persons living together get $250. As far as I know, the price of fuel oil is the same. This government is always determined to put forward diversionary measures.
It would have been far simpler, instead of having this propaganda operation, this flag-waving exercise by the great Liberal Party of Canada, to really attack the problem at its source and find a means to ensure that the people paying for fuel oil are the ones to receive the $125 and $250, and to make the amounts uniform. Prisoners got cheques. People who have been bedridden for the past ten years in chronic care hospitals got cheques. Young people got cheques.
This week, a minister announced in the House that they were going to get parents to have their children return the $125. I am not here to promote the clothing stores, but I can tell hon. members that that $125 has already gone on jeans, coats and cool shirts. A person would have to be out of touch with reality to not realize that a kid with a cheque for $125 is going to cash it. He is not going to mention it to his parents. I have had parents calling me to ask “What is this business of $125?” They had not heard anything about it. This is unacceptable.
Now we have the government turning up here with a bill aimed at transactions and trying to get out of a field from which it ought to have pulled out a long time ago. Much editorial ink has been flowed about this bill since the start of the session. The latest clipping I have in hand is this one of an editorial by Jean-Paul Gagné in Les Affaires . I would advise hon. members to listen carefully.
Petro-Canada has just made the highest net profit in its history: $893 million or $3.28 a share in the year 2000, compared to its 1999 figure of $233 million or 86 cents a share.
He goes on to tell us what Petro-Canada is about.
This company was created in 1975 by the government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau to enable Ottawa, so they said, to acquire an indicator sector in the petroleum industry, which was and remains dominated by foreign multinationals, and to better understand the industry.
The Liberals of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s or 2000s do not change. They say any old thing. We have the proof once again with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who tried to get us to believe that, with the creation of Petro-Canada, we would be protected from the multinationals. What a monumental joke. The editorialist continued, saying:
At the same time, this was an opportunity to plaster maple leaf designs throughout a vast network of gasoline sales points from one end of Canada to the other.
The fine symbol of the maple leaf was at the heart of the creation of Petro-Canada. When will this government get down to dealing with the real problems? I have talked about the problem that stands out with the price of gasoline. I have talked about the problem that stands out with heating oil and the problem of the fluctuations in the price of gasoline not only within regions but even within my riding.
I also mentioned that, in the last 25 years, self-service stations have cropped up while service stations and small local garages disappeared, and all the government has to offer is Bill C-3.
The Minister of Industry and the Minister for International Trade keep saying “We are going to table the report of the Conference Board of Canada. You will see, they will come up with some solutions”. Nothing will be changed and once again the poor will foot the bill.
What I find unfortunate is that we, in the Bloc Quebecois, when we rise in this House, we seem to be the only ones in touch with what is going on in our ridings, in touch with the people. How many times have people come to me saying “Look, Mr. Desrochers, if the gas price keeps going up, I will no longer be able to drive to work, about 10 miles away from home, because I already have a house, two kids, a car and I cannot make ends meet”.
The government does not seem to care, since it does not have any qualms about the oil companies getting richer on the backs of the ordinary citizens. The current government, which has been in office since 1993, has worked extra hard to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. We have huge debates on market globalization and global economic integration, but we do not get to the bottom of these issues.
When we talk about concentration, as in this case with oil companies, and when we talk about market globalization, as we are doing today, people get worried. When they see Americans, Asians or Europeans, who have a different mentality than North Americans, Canadians and Quebecers, move into their communities, people are afraid they might lose their jobs.
These are direct consequences of market globalization. It is a direct consequence of corporate concentration. These things are all happening under the federal government's nose. The federal government should closely monitor them, if it wants to maintain a sound economy. But no, the government would rather boast. It is pleased to see our heritage being sold. Who is paying for all this? It is ordinary workers.
The average salary back home has nothing to do with the figure provided Statistics Canada, because it makes no sense. Back home the average salary is around $25,000 or $30,000 a year, and I am being generous, for a family with two children and a mortgage.
Recently, I saw an add showing a person who was choking and losing his voice. I am losing my voice today, but it is because, like many, I was caught off guard by the sudden changes in temperature. But that person was losing his voice because he continuously felt choked. The same thing is happening in our ridings. People come and see us because they feel choked. They do not know how they will manage to pay their bills at the end of the month. They do not know how they will be able to plan for their holidays.
This is all because of the little games played by oil companies. This year, they were rather nice, they did not hit us too hard during the Christmas season. But I can guarantee that we will pay dearly when the nice weather comes, in May and June.
It is not for nothing that some oil companies have already begun changing the prices at the pumps. It is no fluke that Ultramar, to take one example, has set its sights on being able to post a price of $1 on its pumps. These people know what is in the wind. They point to international rulings, but they have some leeway and they do not approve.
Bill C-3 is not the way to sort out the whole business of increases in gasoline and heating oil prices.
We hope, through comments such as these in the House, to bring home to the federal government the human misery—I am not afraid to say it—that is taking hold in our regions.
I will not go over the entire history of Bill C-2, the employment insurance bill. It has been addressed at length this week. As I was saying a few minutes earlier, in everything it does, the federal government is overlooking the middle class. The middle class is fading right out of existence.
Yet it is the middle class that paid most of the taxes levied by the members across the way. It is totally unacceptable. Will we go back to social democratic values, family values, values of mutual support and solidarity to save Quebec society? I doubt it.
Lastly, I want to mention that the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of Bill C-3, but it condemns all of the government policies adopted in the last few years concerning the concentration and the consolidation of oil companies. It also condemns the government for ignoring those who always end up paying: the poorest among our workers. I have this to say to the Liberals: wake up.