Madam Speaker, this morning we are debating Bill C-23, an act to amend the Competition Act and the Competition Tribunal Act.
In essence the bill brings together a number of initiatives from MPs' private members bills. It is a bit of a cobble of a number of bills and initiatives proposed by various members on, among other things, the practices and procedures of the competition tribunal.
There are four aspects to the bill. One concerns changes to the procedures of the competition tribunal in order to make it more effective.
Another aspect concerns the interim orders the competition tribunal can issue to prevent situations causing such lengthy prejudice that a corporation, even if it knows it is causing a prejudice, will eliminate a competitor and prevent his or her subsequent return.
The aim of it is to eliminate a practice that could make it advantageous to behave illegally, since it means that competitors will be eliminated and that the price to pay for this is perhaps less than the value of the resultant benefit. The tribunal could have more teeth and greater effectiveness as regards these two aspects.
There are also amendments to facilitate international co-operation. In this age of globalization and rapidly evolving communications technologies, we now know that greater international co-operation is needed to improve the effectiveness of the consumer protection measures in the Competition Act.
A fourth aspect of the bill, which everyone has heard about and which is perhaps the simplest to understand, includes amendments to prohibit deceptive contests, the kind that suggest we have won something and must pay money to receive our prize. The bill contains provisions which make it an offence to send a deceptive notice by electronic or regular mail to an individual suggesting that he or her she has won a price and must pay money to receive it. We know that this kind of practice very often leads to abuses and questionable situations.
I therefore urge everyone to exercise the greatest caution. When people win something and have entered no contest they should be on their guard. There is something very fishy about this and, in general, the problems will be greater than the rewards. There have been so many abuses in this area that the time has come for legislators to send a clearer message that these practices will be dealt with much more severely.
The bill has many laudable goals. We will obviously have to examine it in greater detail in parliamentary committee. Then we will debate it in the House again. We will be able to hear from witnesses on various subjects they feel we should know more about. We will also have to take into account the jurisdictions of the various levels in order to ensure that the bill respects the work already being done by the provinces. I am thinking, for instance, of Quebec, with its Consumer Protection Act.
Before having had the opportunity to examine the bill in detail, one has to wonder how it will ensure that consumers are well protected when a province already has consumer protection legislation to regulate such practices and the federal government gets involved with the Competition Act? There is a grey area but I am sure that the work done in committee will shed more light on this issue.
This is what the bill is all about. My disappointment has to do with the fact that while the government is dealing with competition issues, one of the great frustrations and concerns of consumers right now is the gasoline issue and the behaviour of the oil industry.
If the government is serious about finding tools to improve business and competitive practices, the oil industry definitely deserves greater attention because gas prices are reaching record levels and are constantly increasing. The prospect of paying even more for a litre of gas is a major concern to consumers, to those whose livelihood is dependent on an industry in which transportation is an important component and to those who live in regions where transportation is an unavoidable reality and a major production cost.
That is the case in a region like mine, the Abitibi-Témiscamingue. We have to make heavy use of trucking to get our products out and others in, which adds considerably to our production costs. It affects agriculture and it affects the trucking industry. In the urban centres, it affects the taxi industry. Thus there are many groups affected by the rise in prices. I do not need to list them all but many people are seriously penalized by high gasoline prices.
It is not true that the increase in the price per barrel is the only reason we are paying such a high price at present. The trade practices of the major oil companies are dubious, to say the least, and unfortunately are not being given any specific scrutiny by the government.
We would have liked to have seen action on a number of fronts, such as, first, in the short term, helping out the consumer by doing something about the tax in order to keep the prices down. At the same time, however, something needs to be done about the variables of competition.
There is no way I will ever be convinced that it is normal competitive practice for major competitors such as the big oil companies to always all have the same prices at the same time, for gas stations on four corners of an intersection to raise prices at exactly the same time in one place, while another place only a few kilometres away will have different prices. The transportation variable does not explain these price differences, nor do the variables of competition.
Certain trade practices are used to do in all the little independents. It is very clear that this is the strategy and action plan of the major companies. Obviously it is in their interest, and understandably so; they are in business to make money. If we do not do something they will use these strategies to increase their share of the market.
I cannot believe, and this is a common perception, that the business practices of these firms cannot comply with the usual rules of competition. There is a sort of collusion between these companies. A mechanism must be put in place to continually monitor the conduct of the oil industry. For example, let us give the competition bureau additional means to set up an oil industry monitoring section. Let us ensure that the law makes sentencing or proof of anti-competitive practices easier to obtain. In this regard, I wish the current bill had opened this window.
In committee, we will study the subjects presented. Obviously, people will appear before the committee, but I fear that when we study the bill we will limit ourselves to the subject matter of the bill and not deal with this very important section of the Competition Act or the ways in which competitive practices in the oil industry may be improved.
Here, I repeat remarks shared by many of the members opposite at one time. Over 50 of them signed a report stating that the Canadian market was a real treat for the oil companies. The report also stated that, on average, Canadian consumers were paying 4 cents or 5 cents more for a litre of gas than U.S. consumers, and that taxes should be removed because of competitive practices in Canada where the federal government's approach to promoting the establishment of a strong industry has gone too far, to the extent that this was done at consumers' expense.
I am somewhat surprised to see that only a few still hold this view, that the others have forgotten that they signed this report and that this issue is no longer one of their political priorities even though it is more important than ever to consumers.
I hope that at third reading some substantial amendments will have been made to improve competitive practices in the oil industry and to control these companies somewhat. People can no longer stand to see these companies making huge profits while they are paying exorbitant prices for gas.
This has to stop at some point. We must send the signal that we are concerned about this situation. Even though the bill has some good features, it overlooks an extremely important component in our daily lives, namely the oil industry. I find this difficult to accept.
I hope that in the end the bill will include a clause amending the mandate of the competition bureau regarding the oil industry.