Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak about this bill and about the new ground broken in terms of recognizing members' efforts to ensure that the legislation that comes before this parliament and its committees is an accurate reflection of the concerns we hear about in our ridings.
I have a lot to say on the bill and will try to be as brief as I can in the next nine and a half minutes. Much of the bill reflects the efforts of members on this side of the House to effect much needed changes to the Competition Act. It is for that reason that I thank the hon. Minister of Industry, his parliamentary secretary, the member for Scarborough Centre and the competition bureau that have been working very hard to ensure the Competition Act reflects the changes in market structure that we see throughout the country.
I will give a bit of background on why we are here today. The hon. member for Kelowna said earlier that it is a beautiful day. I think it is a wonderful day. There is finally a ray of hope that our competition policy will begin to look more globalist, will be open to small and large players, and will ultimately have more teeth.
In 1997 when gas prices were heading up, 52 members on this side of the House began a study of the industry, particularly at the retailing end, and found the level of concentration to be alarming.
For that reason one of the recommendations was to ensure that a more appropriate definition of predatory pricing be established. The House not only made private member's Bill C-235 votable. It also ensured that it would be properly studied by committee.
That clearly was not the case. Nevertheless, out of that came a more open process that allowed a number of issues to be studied, not just one area of competition policy. One such issue was that section 45 of the Competition Act, the conspiracy section, may not be relevant in addressing problems in the economy or in ensuring that strategic alliances which may look collusive but have very strong competitive effects are somehow segregated from the egregious types of collusion.
As for the issue of predatory pricing, a move was made with the help of the industry committee to review some of the criminal aspects which are difficult to enforce if not to detect. With the help of VanDuzer and Paquet we were able to propose changes to the Competition Act which would make it more user friendly and make criminal burdens of proof civilly reviewable.
We followed that up with a commitment by the previous Minister of Industry, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, who must be acknowledged here. He began allowing the public policy forum to conduct a broad study of the Competition Act, particularly in terms of some of the legislation I brought forward.
I commend my two colleagues who spoke before me, the member for Kitchener Centre and my colleague from Mount Royal who brought forward the bill dealing with international co-operation. The public policy forum effectively criss-crossed the country last summer to determine the public's concern with respect to abusive dominance in the grocery industry and retail domination in almost any form.
The second recommendation dealt with private access, conspiracy, collusion and summary disposition of temporary orders which we see rolled up in the bill today. The package received a significant amount of interest. Most alarming, however, was the consistent pattern we saw among those with vested interests, particularly powerful lobbies that constituted themselves as a diversity of individuals but were really part of the same group that opposed almost any changes to the Competition Act.
Last week I explained who wrote the Competition Act in 1986. There are not only concerns that it is an act whose time has come in terms of need for change. There are questions as to who really wrote it. Most of us in the House know, as Peter C. Newman said in the book Titans and in his interview with the chairman of the Business Council on National Issues, that it is interesting Canada is the only nation that has allowed its Competition Act to be written by the very people it was meant to police.
That has set off alarm bells in most circles and certainly in the House of Commons. However more important is the impact it has had on the competitive process. For that reason the competition bureau, in concert with the minister and with parliament, has taken a bold step today in saying that irrespective of what the interests are we must make sure the competitive process is honoured and that it flourishes.
Opportunities have been made clear on several occasions in the industry committee. People have testified to the committee suggesting that by the time the competition bureau makes a ruling the person it affects is out of business, the damage is done and it is irreparable. The initiatives taken today are extremely valuable and should ensure there is an ongoing process for amendments to the Competition Act to ensure that it is pragmatic and changes with changing times.
I want to make sure the House understands that the process before us today must be an open one. The government has initiated, through the wisdom of the minister, an opportunity that would allow members of parliament to ensure that issues of importance to them and to consumers have a voice on the floor of the House of Commons.
Many members are talking about one of the bills. My colleague from Kitchener Centre addressed the question of deceptive practices, particularly as transmitted through mail by using Canada Post or other means.
That is an extremely important issue with which the public readily identifies. However there are other issues the public may not have seen. Another initiative taken up here today is the whole question of international co-operation. Why is that important? Most Canadians do not know it, but for the past several years we have been part and parcel of a cartel that has forced up the price of citric acid, various important chemicals, certain vitamins and lycene.
Those issues were resolved, discovered, advocated and taken from the competition act in the U.S. For that reason it is important to ensure that where there are international cartels Canada can effectively prosecute no matter where it occurs in the world.
It is interesting that the competition bureau was successful in prosecuting these issues and bringing revenue back to Canada. That revenue, according to some, did not equal what the public lost in terms of higher prices, but it nonetheless helped the general revenues.
I will also point out something that is not in the bill but which the industry committee has nonetheless been effective in transmitting to parliament. I am talking about the need to ensure the competition bureau has the resources to carry out its very lofty mandate and to ensure the market remains balanced.
Questions are being raised in many areas. There is an opportunity for such questions to be addressed in the industry committee. I caution hon. members that the pinstripes and the big suits will be coming to the committee. I implore members of parliament to ensure a balance of the views of consumers and ordinary people out there who do not have a voice but who nonetheless are an important part of our economic structure. Those individuals count for everything in the economy and must count for something if the legislation is to be meaningful and successful.
Members of parliament will be lobbied by some of the most interesting people in the country. Members will need to decide for themselves, in committee and on the floor of the House of Commons, whether to enhance and maintain the competitive process for all Canadians or merely for those who happen to have the wealth and the power to influence them.
This is a very good day. There are obviously a number of concerns we must address. It is the beginning of a much larger process. It is vindication for a lot of the work I have done and which I have brought to the attention of the House of Commons and on which other hon. members have worked so diligently. Let us ensure that Canada remains ahead of the game, that its international reputation as a place for doing business remains pristine, and that Canadians benefit from a vibrant economic environment in which all people are meaningful participants and are treated as equals.