House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prices.


PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition comes from my constituents as well. The petitioners are concerned that the justice minister will change section 83 of the Criminal Code and make all martial arts illegal. Imagine that? They are obviously concerned about this, and this petition is in response to that.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.


Rob Moore Conservative Fundy, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to table a petition to prevent passage of LNG tankers through Head Harbour Passage. It is signed by a great number of Canadians, mostly from New Brunswick.

The petitioners urge the Government of Canada to assert its sovereign rights and to declare no rights of passage for LNG tankers through Head Harbour Passage, based on Canadian law and the precedent set in 1976 when oil tankers were refused passage.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

October 26th, 2005 / 3:20 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick


Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker


Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick


Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the notices of motion for the production of papers be allowed to stand as well.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker


Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec


Lucienne Robillard Liberalfor the Minister of Finance

moved that Bill C-66, An Act to authorize payments to provide assistance in relation to energy costs, housing energy consumption and public transit infrastructure, and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario


John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-66 at second reading. The bill in essence proposes to help Canadians deal with the high cost of energy.

The recent increases in energy costs have particularly affected low income seniors and families with children whether it be directly through the cost of gasoline and heating or indirectly through higher costs for everything from rent to groceries.

Canadians have let their government know that they are concerned. Indeed, we all share those concerns as they relate to low income people because they are the most vulnerable when energy costs increase.

The bill proposes to address those who are most vulnerable and least able to adjust to sudden changes in market conditions. We have listened to those concerns and we are taking action. The government has a record of helping those who need it, especially low income seniors and low income families with children. We have taken action before with tax reductions and now we are helping again with Bill C-66.

The Prime Minister asked us to look at the best possible options for responding to rising energy costs. He wanted it to be in ways that are practical and in ways that are effective, reasonable and responsible. He also wanted to be sure that we reached many of those people who need the help the most. We hope that Bill C-66 does just that.

To begin with, in putting together the proposed legislative package that is contained in the bill, the government was guided by three basic considerations: first and perhaps most important, how to deliver meaningful short term assistance to some of our most vulnerable in the most efficient and timely way. The second consideration looks to the longer term. In other words, beyond our immediate actions, how do we also find ways to make Canadians less vulnerable to price volatility and how do we make Canada more energy efficient? The third consideration wants the government to find ways to provide Canadians with better information on the movement of energy prices and to make those markets more transparent.

I would like to take a few moments to briefly outline the details of the government's three pronged approach to providing assistance to Canadians affected by higher energy costs.

First, as I mentioned earlier, the government wants to be sure that help is directed where it is needed the most. That is why the first part of Bill C-66 provides timely and direct financial assistance to low income seniors and low income families with children.

As I have said before, the government has a strong record of helping those who need it the most. For example, as soon as the deficit was eliminated, the government began the job of providing broad based personal income tax relief, particularly for low income families with children. This process began with the 1998 and 1999 budgets which eliminated the 3% surtax, increased the basic personal amount, and increased the child tax benefit.

Building on that action, the government continued to provide more tax relief in 2000 with the historic $100 billion five year tax plan. I know, Mr. Speaker, you are particularly interested in that. This plan reduced federal personal income taxes by 21% on average and 27% for families with children.

Budget 2003 built on the five year tax reduction plan by announcing additional increases in the national child benefit supplement for low income families with children. By 2007 these benefit increases will bring the maximum benefit for a first child under the supplement to more than double the 1996 level.

We did not stop there. In budget 2005 we continued to provide more tax relief for Canadians by increasing the basic personal amount of income that all Canadians can earn tax free to $10,000 by the year 2009. This initiative will not only benefit all taxpayers, it will remove 860,000 low income earners from the tax rolls including almost 250,000 seniors.

Bill C-66 is no exception to past actions the government has taken to help the most vulnerable in our society. To that end, the focus of this bill before us today is to help low income seniors and families by delivering direct financial assistance to them.

The federal government has two main programs that provide financial assistance specifically to low income families and low income seniors: the national child benefit supplement and the guaranteed income supplement. These two groups of Canadians are particularly vulnerable and that is why the energy cost benefit will be provided to them. That is how this bill is structured. It is built upon those two programs.

A total of three million payments will be made to 1.5 million low income families receiving the national child benefit and 1.6 million low income seniors receiving the GIS. As I mentioned earlier, virtually all the recipients of these benefits are affected in some way by higher energy costs, either directly through higher gasoline prices and higher home heating costs or indirectly as higher energy costs are reflected in such items as transportation and groceries. Bill C-66 will provide help to ease the burden of increasing energy costs.

The second part of the government's approach to providing energy cost assistance is to help families lower their future household energy use by making their homes more energy efficient. We will also fast track money to municipalities for investments in public transit infrastructure. These are moves that will bring lasting environment benefits over the longer term.

The government is very much aware that a sustainable economy depends on a sound environment and healthy communities. To that end, we have made significant investments in the environment, as well as sustainable infrastructure such as public transit.

I will briefly outline some of the measures we have taken to improve the environment. Individual Canadians produce greenhouse gas through their day to day activities such as driving vehicles and heating or cooling their homes, anything that involves energy use. There is no doubt that these are things that Canadians and their government can do to help improve the environment, particularly in their homes.

For its part, the federal government offers the federal buildings initiative to help federal departments and agencies reduce energy, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of this initiative is to promote private and public sector partnerships to plan and implement cost effective facility upgrades and retrofits. Through the federal buildings initiative, thousands of federal buildings have already been upgraded, saving millions of dollars and reducing the risks related to climate change.

The government has also encouraged Canadians to reduce greenhouse gas through a range of information and incentive programs. For example, hon. members may be aware of the EnerGuide initiative which was implemented to increase public awareness of the link between energy and the environment, and to promote the opportunities opened up by energy efficient technology.

In 2001, EnerGuide teamed up with the internationally known ENERGY STAR symbol to help consumers identify products that are among the most energy efficient on the market. Choosing an ENERGY STAR labelled product over a conventional model could save a consumer hundreds of dollars in energy costs.

Canadians can also help reduce greenhouse gas through such programs as the EnerGuide for houses retrofit incentive program. This evaluation service provides homeowners with independent expert advice on the different systems of a home, heating and cooling systems, for example. This service also provides information on energy efficient improvements that can increase comfort and reduce energy bills.

The low income energy retrofit program proposed in Bill C-66 builds on these initiatives by proposing to deliver $500 million to about 130,000 low income households. Low income households will also be eligible for grants up to $5,000.

At the same time, the EnerGuide for houses retrofit incentive program, which is not limited to low income families, will be boosted to retrofit almost 750,000 homes by the year 2010. This is in contrast to the 500,000 homes projected in the 2005 budget. That is an increase of something in the order of 250,000 homes.

On top of that, we are strengthening financial incentives for best in class energy efficient oil and gas furnaces as well as providing corresponding incentives for households that heat with electricity. And there is more.

Bill C-66 also proposes to increase retrofit incentives for public sector institutions such as hospitals, schools, municipalities and provincial governments. I mentioned that the bill also provides further investments in public transit. In the face of rising energy costs, investing in public transit has become more important than ever.

Hon. members will recall that, building on current financial support for infrastructure programs and the full rebate of GST, the government delivered on its commitment to share a portion of the revenues from the federal gas with municipalities to assist with their environmentally sustainable infrastructure needs such as public transit, water and waste water treatment and community energy systems.

Madam Speaker, you and I come from the same community of Toronto and you know that the GST rebate is worth on an annual basis $52 million to the city of Toronto and that of course is a $52 million that gets repeated year after year.

Bill C-48, which was passed this summer, built on that commitment by providing further funding for public transit. Bill C-66 does more. It fast tracks that funding and gives the municipalities greater certainty for their own planning purposes. The bill proposes to free up $400 million this year and another $400 million in fiscal year 2006-07 for investments in public transit infrastructure for a total of $800 million over two years. That accelerates the commitment that we made in Bill C-48 and puts it ahead of the recognition requirements that are in the bill for surplus requirements. We are moving those commitments up at least a full year.

The third element of the package contained in Bill C-66 is the creation of an office of petroleum price information to monitor energy price fluctuations and to provide clear current information to Canadians about the prices they see on their gas and other energy bills. The office will fall under the watchful eye of my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources. Furthermore, the bill will give Canada's Competition Bureau more powers. It will also strengthen the Competition Act to deter anti-competitive practices.

Like pretty well every MP in the House, we are continuously asked why the gas prices go up on Friday and come back down on Monday on a holiday weekend. I hope that the bureau of price information will at least be able to address that question.

These changes will increase the fines for those convicted of price fixing to $25 million from $10 million. The changes proposed in the bill will also provide the Competition Bureau with the ability to assess the state of competition in particular sectors of the economy, so that the bureau can act more quickly when it suspects anti-competitive behaviour.

The comprehensive package contained in Bill C-66 delivers direct financial relief to low income seniors and families with children. At the same time these measures support project green, the Government of Canada's action plan to build a more sustainable environment. I will just quickly remind hon. members of the three focus points of this truly worthwhile bill which I hope they will support.

First, Bill C-66 proposes to deliver direct payments to low income Canadians in a timely and cost effective manner using existing programs. That money has already been provisioned and can be sent out as soon as the legislation receives royal assent.

I hope hon. members will see fit to accelerate the passage of this bill through the House so these moneys can flow in a timely way so seniors and low income families can receive these cheques to offset some of the costs incurred by virtue of energy increases over the past few months.

Second, the bill would promote energy efficiency through new and improved incentives to individuals and families for home retrofits as well as by fast-tracking money to municipalities for public transit infrastructure. Speaking as a member of Parliament from the City of Toronto, the money will be gratefully accepted. Our public transit infrastructure needs are considerable. This will be a considerable sum of money for Ontario as it is distributed through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario on one side and the City of Toronto directly on the other side.

Third, Bill C-66 proposes to enhance market transparency and accountability by making more and better pricing information available to consumers and by taking legislative steps to deter anti-competitive practices.

I am confident that taken together these measures would provide not only short term relief to millions of Canadians, 10% of our population in total, facing difficulty coping with rising energy costs, but they also would have meaningful and long-lasting benefits for greater efficiency and conservation, making Canada a cleaner and greener country for generations to come.

I hope all members in the House will see fit to support this worthwhile initiative.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.


James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Madam Speaker, the biggest problem we see with the bill is that it is very limited in scope. It would not help all low income Canadians or low income seniors who have to face the rising costs of gasoline and home heating fuel. Frankly, it would do absolutely nothing to reduce the taxes on gasoline. However it is very specific on who it helps.

It does not help, for instance, poor Canadians who are without children. Statistics Canada indicates that nearly two million individuals under 65 years of age with no children fall below the low income threshold. Why is the government doing nothing for these people?

Why is this linked to GIS such that a senior who has a pension and makes the same as a senior on GIS, the senior on GIS would be eligible for it? The senior who would be eligible for GIS but does not apply and get it would not get this payment. The senior who is equivalent to the senior on GIS does not get the payment either.

The biggest fault with the bill is that it is too limited in scope and does not help Canadians overall deal with the costs of home heating fuel or increased gasoline prices.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned in my speech, about 3.1 million Canadians would receive the benefit from this bill directly. On a single basis it would be $125 and on a family basis it would be $250. That is a considerable number of people. Pretty well 10% of the population would receive direct benefit from this bill.

The hon. member is correct in pointing out the fact that it would not cover every poor person. We decided to hang the benefit based upon the GIS system and the national child benefit system because that data is updated regularly. With Budget 2005 we are raising the threshold of the tax system and that will benefit Canadians when they file their returns this year.

With respect to his other question on eligibility for relief for seniors, a single senior would receive a benefit up to an income of approximately $19,300, including OAS benefits. A senior couple in which both spouses receive GIS would receive the benefit up to an income of approximately $29,000, including OAS benefits. A couple in which only one spouse receives GIS would receive a benefit up to an income of approximately $38,700, including OAS benefits.

As long as the relief is tied to GIS, at least one person in the household has to be receiving GIS. That is essentially the way the system of relief, both on the child benefit side and on the GIS side, works. It does throw up the occasional anomaly but in a large measure these anomalies are addressed through the bill.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague's response is very noteworthy. The government has introduced a bill in which it has decided to help the people that its administrative system allows it to help. It is giving money to seniors who truly need it, meaning those receiving the guaranteed income supplement, and to parents. However, in the absence of an appropriate administrative mechanism, everyone living alone is being left high and dry.

For example, a young woman in my riding told me about this on the weekend. She earns minimum wage, so about $9 an hour. She has to drive over 10 kilometres to work. Because she lives by herself, she will not be able to get any money under the federal program.

Can my colleague confirm that this is the reality? Is he prepared to expand the scope of the bill so that these people can also receive assistance? We are not just talking about two or three people, but rather about all the people who work hard for their money and who need it to make ends meet.

The government is hiding behind a bureaucratic answer, saying that it allocated assistance the way it could. Could it not have shown enough initiative, instead, to find a solution for low-income earners who work but who, because they have no children or are not over the age of 65, are paying the full cost of the rise in gas prices? Is the government's failure to find a solution to this problem not irresponsible?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague should be aware that the other provisions in the bill would provide significant relief for other low income families in terms of retrofitting their houses or their apartments, as the case may be, and receiving direct government assistance, assuming they qualify within the EnerGuide guidelines.

With respect to why not more, this is the quickest and most efficient way in which to get cheques in the hands of seniors. My hon. colleague will recall that when something like this was done a few years ago it was hung on the GST tax credit system which created a number of difficulties, which hon. members were very upset about at the time.

As a consequence, if we want to get money into the hands of the people who actually need it, such as vulnerable seniors and families, the way to do it is to use the data that is updated on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.


Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the parliamentary secretary's comments on an issue that is extremely important to all Canadians.

I want to address two aspects of this issue. How do we manage to reduce the demands on fossil fuels, which is important in Kyoto, to our environment and to people's pocketbooks?

My friend from the other side asked why we did not reduce the gas taxes. On the surface it seems like a logical thing to do but when we bored down into it and looked at the experience in the United States, we found out what happens when taxes are reduced at the pump. The private sector comes along, the oil and gas companies, and absorbs a lot of the tax reduction, which we would implement in an effort to help Canadians at the pump, and only a small amount of that actually benefits Canadians and their pocketbooks.

It almost seemed counterintuitive but when we looked into it, that is exactly what happened. That is not what we want to do. We do not want to give oil and gas companies money. We want to ensure Canadians have the benefit and relief in their pockets from the oil and gas prices that have gone up.

Does my friend, the parliamentary secretary, think the initiatives the government has produced in terms insulating homes is a responsible way of reducing demands on fossil fuels, which is a good thing for the environment and a good thing for the Canadian economy.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. friend is quite correct in his analysis. Obviously, in some respects the easiest thing to do would be to deal with either excise tax or GST on fuel costs or gasoline costs.

However that would only address one part of the issue, which is transportation. If people are filling up their cars, that may have some relief in that specific area. The emphasis is on “may have” some relief in that area because all the evidence indicates that fuel oil companies will immediately fill whatever space is vacated by tax relief. Therefore would be counterproductive and it would not be of any benefit to Canadians.

The other thing is that it does not really help anyone who gets transportation in any other manner. If we take public transit we will not get any relief on the suggestion that we just simply deal with pump prices. So that makes no sense. If we went on the one side and just simply dealt with the tax relief at the pump, then probably we would not be able to distribute it as something in the order of about $800 million to various provinces and municipalities.

For instance, in the case of Ontario that means about $310 million will now come to Ontario for public transit initiatives. In the case of my friend, who is from British Columbia, just over $100 million, which no province could reasonably have anticipated would be coming in order to help with public transit initiatives.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to address Bill C-66.

I want to read the bill into the record and what it is supposed to do, because it is important in terms of analyzing whether or not it actually fulfills the government's objectives in terms of addressing the increasing costs of home heating fuel and gasoline prices for Canadians. The full title of the bill is “an act to authorize payments to provide assistance in relation to energy costs, housing energy consumption and public transit infrastructure, and to make consequential amendments to certain acts”. The bill has three main parts.

Part 1 of the bill outlines who will receive a payment and how much. The payment is targeted to some low income Canadians and will be sent to three different groups: first, $250 to families entitled to receive the national child benefit supplement in January 2006; second, $250 to senior couples where both spouses are entitled to receive the guaranteed income supplement, the GIS, in January 2006; and third, $125 to single seniors entitled to receive the GIS, in January 2006. These are one time payments that will not be issued until the bill is passed.

Part 2 of the bill increases and expands financial assistance and incentive programs for houses and housing projects that make heating system upgrades, improve windows and engage in draft proofing, et cetera. All of this assistance will be delivered over a five year period.

Part 3 deals with public infrastructure. It states that $400 million previously provided for under Bill C-48 will be freed up by Bill C-66 in each of the next two fiscal years for municipalities to boost investments in urban transit infrastructure.

Parts 4 and 5 of the bill are housekeeping measures.

In addition to the measures laid out in the bill, the government has also announced two other measures with respect to energy prices. First, the office of petroleum price information will be created. Second, the government has indicated it will be introducing amendments to Bill C-19 which are intended to strengthen the role of the Competition Bureau in investigating allegations of price fixing in the oil and gas industry.

To begin, I would like to discuss the reasons for various increases in energy costs. Then I will address the issue of payments for low income Canadians and offer an alternative plan to the Liberal plan. Then I will discuss the secondary measures introduced to attempt to offset high energy prices which are outlined in the bill and those announced outside of the bill. Finally, I will discuss energy policy generally under the government.

I would like to briefly outline the current supply and demand issues facing Canadian consumers, Canadian businesses, and our market. There has in fact been a spike in energy prices. There have been a number of contributing factors to the reduction in supply that have caused this spike.

The first obviously is natural disasters. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have caused considerable disruption in the supply of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico and across North America. As of October 11 three refineries were still shut down from hurricane Katrina and four were still shut down from hurricane Rita, obviously taking that supply off the market.

While Canada is in fact a net exporter of energy, we do import a great deal of our refined oil and gas, especially those provinces east of Manitoba.

International issues such as the political troubles in Iraq, Nigeria and Venezuela have created uncertainty in the supply chain. In addition, there have been production declines in the North Sea and Russia, while worldwide spare production capacity is at its lowest level in three decades. Only Saudi Arabia at this point has any spare crude oil production capacity available.

Despite the decrease in supply, demand has remained stable. The 2004 demand increased worldwide by approximately 3%. This growth will likely slow, but will continue to grow between 1.5% and 2% in 2005-06.

At a briefing this week by four of the industry associations involved in the energy sector, it was basically pointed out that over 40% of the increase in the demand for worldwide crude was as a result of the growing economy in China particularly.

This steady demand coupled with the decrease in supply has led to increased energy prices both at home and abroad in every sector.

I must point out, however, that most of the Canadian information on the projected increase in energy prices for the upcoming winter actually comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy. It is a shame that similar information cannot be obtained from the federal government through the Department of Natural Resources.

MJ Ervin & Associates, the private sector forecaster and observer of oil and gas prices, has estimated that the average price of home heating fuel has jumped to its highest level on record, 93¢ a litre. The best guess is that homes heated with oil can expect to pay 32% more this year, while homes heated with natural gas can expect to pay 48% more. Electricity bills will also rise but not as dramatically.

In New Brunswick the cost of home heating oil is 5¢ higher than the national average. New Brunswick Power has announced it will request a 10% increase in its electricity rates next year. In Quebec where 70% of the homes are heated by electricity, the provincial energy board will review a request by Hydro-Québec to increase rates by 3%.

In Ontario the Ontario Energy Board approved a rate increase for Enbridge gas that will increase natural gas bills by about $123 a year. Union Gas also sought and received a rate increase. Sixty per cent of Ontario residents rely on natural gas for heating.

The British Columbia Utilities Commission just approved a 13.3% increase in natural gas. Even in Alberta, Direct Energy has asked the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board to approve a rate increase that will increase the average home heating bill by more than 20%. The average monthly bill for October in Calgary will be $162.

As we can see, the increase in the cost of heating one's home is affecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast. What has the government done to deal with this massive, broad problem facing Canadian citizens and businesses across the country?

At the heart of Bill C-66 is a payment for some of Canada's poorest citizens. Obviously we in the Conservative Party support measures that provide relief for low income families. We have an obligation to represent and support those who have so much less than the average Canadian.

The government estimates that 3.1 million low income families, or 10% of Canadians, will receive these so-called rebate cheques, although they are actually payment cheques. I am pleased that some effort is being made to try to assist low income Canadians. These Canadians should not simply be left on their own to try to deal with rising energy costs, particularly those on fixed incomes dealing with increases in home heating.

The problem is that the delivery method chosen by the government will miss too many Canadians who need help paying their heating bills and their gasoline bills for their cars to get them to and from work. Persons with disabilities who claim a disability benefit will not receive the payment. Seniors who qualify for the GIS but do not claim it will not receive a payment. A Statistics Canada study released on Friday, October 21, 2005 found that over 206,000 eligible individuals missed out because they did not in fact claim the GIS.

With respect to seniors, we also have a situation where someone whose pension makes them equivalent to someone on the GIS will not in fact receive any sort of assistance under the government's program. Students will not receive a payment.

This program will not help poor Canadians who do not have children. Research from Statistics Canada again indicates that nearly two million individuals under 65 who fall below the low income threshold have no children. Under this bill these individuals will receive no help.

It will miss most farmers who have been hit very hard by the energy price spike. They must not only heat their homes but their barns as well. It will also miss many Canadians who are poor, but not quite poor enough in the government's eyes to qualify for a payment. Of course, it must be noted that this plan does not in any way, shape or form offer relief at the pump nor compensate for the increase in fuel prices.

We in the Conservative Party have an alternative. We have an alternative because too many Canadians will not be assisted by this plan. We have a plan that will help all Canadians. The fact is the government should start by axing the tax on the tax at the pumps. This would give an immediate tax break to all Canadians. Two Liberal members spoke and basically gave the party line as to why the Liberal government does not want to do this.

The fact is it would be a very immediate measurable thing that would impact Canadians by reducing the tax at the pumps. It would obviously reduce it for people who drive their own vehicles but it would also reduce it, as the member mentioned, for public transit. It would also reduce it for municipalities and others who have to pay for school divisions, who have to pay for fuel, who have to ship students to and from school, municipalities that have to subsidize their public transit.

Further to that, if the government wants to help public transit, then it should adopt the plan put forward by our leader this summer in Toronto to allow people who have public transit passes to claim a certain percentage of the cost. It is not one or the other. We can do both at the same time and offer tax relief to more than just a few Canadians in this plan.

The fact is 42% of the cost of a litre of gasoline is federal, provincial and municipal taxes, including the GST. As a comparison, in the United States it is 27%. Currently the 7% GST and the HST are charged on gasoline after federal, provincial and in some cases municipal governments have added their excise taxes.

The fact is the Liberal government continues to overtax Canadians. The government should not profit when people are feeling the effects of these increased prices in their pocketbooks and at the dinner table.

For every 1¢ increase in gasoline prices, the federal government receives about $32 million in extra revenue. That money should be going back into the pockets of Canadians and not into the pockets of the government.

In addition, the Conservative Party will reduce personal taxes overall. That is the second way to immediately address this issue in a broad way. Instead of selectively picking some low income Canadians over other low income Canadians, we could reduce personal taxes overall.

A Conservative government's approach would provide immediate and long term broad based tax relief starting with reducing personal income tax rates and substantially raising both the basic personal exemption and the spousal exemption under the Income Tax Act. Reducing personal income taxes would hike the take home pay and raise the standard of living of all Canadians.

The fact is we have driven the tax agenda in this country for years and we will continue to do so because it is fair. It is fair that Canadians keep more of their own life energy in their own pockets to spend as they best see fit.

I want to move on to the second part of the bill. I want to point out that while part 1 books the expenditures on payments to low income Canadians in the current fiscal year, the expenditures in part 2 are over five years. This is very odd accounting, but as we are finding out more and more with the way the government deals with budgets and finances, it is simply a classic example of Liberal accounting.

What I believe the Liberals are trying to do is to force us to accept spending on the EnerGuide program, spending that could have been announced in past budgets or in the next budget. They want us to accept this by tying it to the energy payment for low income Canadians. There is no reason to put it in this bill.

In fact Bill C-66 includes $205 million from already announced energy efficiency programs, and $100 million which is being moved out of Bill C-48 and into Bill C-66 under the guise of energy efficiency. This is simply ridiculous. This clause of the bill is completely unnecessary. A whopping 43% of the funds set aside for the bill will go to the administration of the EnerGuide program, not toward tax cuts or rebates.

In theory, the EnerGuide program provides financial assistance to homeowners and landlords to help improve energy efficiency. I encourage members to talk to constituents who have actually utilized this program, because I have. The fact is it is an extremely complicated program. It requires a homeowner or landlord to pay for an inspection of their home both before and after renovations to see if they can receive a loan or rebate for the changes they have made to improve the energy efficiency of their own home. Some funding will flow through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, but will benefit only 130,000 low income Canadians. The same number, only 130,000 Canadians, have used this program since October 2003.

We are spending more than $1 billion on an EnerGuide program that may be only used by 260,000 Canadians. This is yet another example of misguided Liberal priorities.

I would like to move on to part 3 of the bill, which deals with infrastructure. Again, this section of the bill is not necessary. This spending was announced under Bill C-48, the second budget bill, but has been moved to Bill C-66, which is a bad example of tricky Liberal accounting. This is certainly a question that the government should have to answer.

First of all, how can the Liberals introduce a budget by Bill C-43 and, second, declare non-confidence in their own budget, introduce a second budget, say that the funding would proceed once they knew the fiscal figures for 2004-05 and say that spending would commence as of August 2006? I believe that is what the parliamentary secretary told the Senate committee. Then, somehow, the government moved spending from that bill, Bill C-48, to this bill, Bill C-66.

This money does not help rural Canadians, who pay some of the highest energy costs. In addition, it does not provide the stable funding that municipalities are looking for. The money is actually being allocated without any thought as to what it actually might be used for.

The Conservative Party, on the other hand, is committed to developing an infrastructure plan that would not only provide money to municipalities to meet infrastructure needs, but would also provide benchmarks to allow local governments the ability to plan in the long term for their own infrastructure needs.

We have also committed to meeting and even possibly exceeding the amount of money spent on infrastructure by the federal government through the so-called gasoline tax transfer. Such commitments are very much in line with the infrastructure goals of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Moving to the last two sections of the bill, I note that they deal with measures that are rather small measures in terms of costs but large in terms of the federal government.

First, Industry Canada is finally giving more money to the Competition Bureau to allow it to conduct investigations into collusion. The Conservative Party and members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology have been requesting the government to increase funding to the bureau since April 2002. The bureau has indicated for years that it does not have the resources needed to carry out the investigations.

However, we have not seen the amendments to Bill C-19 that would make changes to the Competition Act and allow the bureau more flexibility in its investigations. I am certainly looking forward to those amendments, although I have a bit of a digression here. At committee we have heard witnesses on Bill C-19, which the government is sort of presenting as the answer to increased gasoline prices by saying that if there is any evidence of collusion it will be dealt with by increasing the powers of the competition commissioner.

I can accept the argument that perhaps more resources are needed for the bureau, but the fact is that any six Canadians can write to the competition commissioner and ask her to investigate any sort of a discrepancy they feel is in the oil and gasoline industry. The government's argument that in fact the bureau needs more powers to conduct investigations is actually ridiculous.

The fact is that Bill C-19, according to some very able lawyers across this country, is simply an incredibly flawed piece of legislation. It is in no way an answer to what the government is saying it is in terms of dealing with gasoline prices. Frankly, the government should even withdraw the bill. It should send this back to the justice department and rewrite a proper bill.

Second, to return to Bill C-66, it would create the petroleum price monitoring agency. It is rather ironic that the government is presenting this as an answer, because lo and behold, the current Prime Minister eliminated this in the 1995 budget. I find it a little strange that something that the then finance minister and current Prime Minister eliminated in 1995 is now being presented by him as an answer in 2005.

The fact is that if the natural resources department would act in a practical manner and provide this information we could easily have this information available. The natural resources department and this entire government have languished in developing a long term energy framework and have actually contributed to the high heating costs we will experience this winter.

The Conservative Party has been focusing for a long time on a long term energy framework which would focus on renewable and non-renewable energy sources, take into account outstanding obligations and meet our long term requirements for domestic consumption and export.

We believe that strengthening energy market integration will ensure greater reliability of energy supplies across the country. We will explore ways to reduce barriers to the movement of energy products across provincial and other borders. The fact is that the Liberals have not addressed any of these issues. The Liberals have not had the time to monitor or publish an energy policy or reports on gas prices, which was promised this fall. Private companies such as MJ Ervin and Associates have stepped in to fill the void.

We find that the bill is severely lacking and way too limited in scope in terms of who it helps and that it is misguided in its approach. We will begrudgingly support the bill, as it does help some low income Canadians, but we certainly hope that the government will bring forward another bill. We will certainly be looking forward to committee, where we can actually try to expand this to help all low income Canadians and in fact all Canadians who are dealing with higher energy costs.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a couple of questions. The first is with regard to the member's opening commentary on and analysis of Bill C-66. He mentioned how many Canadians actually will be left behind by this bill.

Millions of Canadians will be left behind. It is something that is not addressed in terms of a comprehensive national strategy to deal with the fluctuation in the oil and gas industry and specifically what came about after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which basically spiked up the levels significantly.

I would like the member to expand upon why it is that we are picking winners and losers from among all of us in Canadian society who have been significantly affected by this.

There is also the vulnerability of certain groups and organizations. I have mentioned seniors and how there is a differentiation with the GIS, which is leaving some people behind. We also know that many seniors are not even registered for the GIS. Recent reports indicate that over 200,000 Canadian seniors are eligible for the GIS but are not receiving it. They will not get any type of relief. As well, the Canada disability pension is an issue that is left out of this equation.

Second, I would like the member to expand upon the Conservative policy. I know that the Conservatives have been advocating for tax cuts as part of their policy to lower prices for consumers. My concern about that is the fact that there have been instances in the past when the industry has soaked up the profits. There is no current mechanism right now to ensure that they would not do so at this time.

I do know that two Conservative provincial governments actually have regulations in place and have policies related to pricing and market determination. I would like his thoughts about having some type of system which would at least prevent this happening and assure Canadians that they are not going to be further subsidizing the industry.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

First, Madam Speaker, I think my colleague is absolutely right in the sense that this bill picks winners and losers. It differentiates among various groups of lower income Canadians facing energy costs. There is the example of the person who gets topped up by GIS and gets to a certain level, and the person who actually does not get any GIS, who receives a pension, let us say, but is at the same level. The person getting GIS gets his payment. The person who gets a pension on his or her own and is at the same level does not receive anything.

As well, he pointed out quite correctly that there are many people who are eligible for GIS who do not register and therefore do not receive it. Under this legislation, they will not receive anything. I do not know how the government can say that is fair or equitable to people, especially when they seem to be in the same categories of need.

Obviously our view is that the government should introduce some broad-based measures that actually help all Canadians, because it is lower income Canadians who are going to be dealing with a lot of these costs, but also, frankly, there are the people in the agriculture sector who have some real challenges in dealing with the higher costs of energy. They are not helped at all in the bill. There is nothing whatsoever for them. There are just too many people left out.

With respect to the industry if a cut were actually provided, let me note the fact that gasoline pricing is probably one of the most transparent forms of pricing. It is set everywhere. I would encourage anyone to go to MJ Ervin and Associates and to websites that actually cover gasoline prices, because we can actually monitor quite closely what happens with prices. If the federal government were to provide a tax cut by eliminating the GST that is applied to the federal excise tax and the other taxes, we could immediately see whether the industry in fact increases its prices or not, because it is so transparent.

I know that members of the government have argued that the industry has done this in the past. I would like to see evidence of that. Before committee last year, the Competition Bureau actually said there was no evidence of this.

That is what our recommendation is. I think it would be the best broad-based approach to actually reduce energy costs for Canadians.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member's remarks. I want to make some comments and put a few questions to him.

I am a little surprised. I do not know whether the hon. member agrees, but this bill seems particularly suited to large cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, which are getting a lot of attention. But many other areas are forgotten, namely the so-called remote regions. The hon. member can correct me if I am mistaken, but this bill does not seem to provide much, if anything, for remote areas.

I am asking myself some questions, because there is no direct assistance for taxi drivers, independent truck drivers, agricultural producers, or independent forestry companies. With the exception of taxi drivers, who are present in large numbers in major centres, businesses located in the regions are hardly getting anything.

This assistance is also provided to seniors, but only those who are getting the guaranteed income supplement will be eligible for it. This means that the overwhelming majority of seniors will not qualify. I wonder if the hon. member could comment on this.

And what does he think of the office that will be put in place? This office will not have any investigative powers. It will merely be allowed to make recommendations. Moreover, it will not be fully independent to make real recommendations to the House of Commons.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

In regard to my colleague's numerous questions, Madam Speaker, let me say first that my colleague is absolutely correct in the sense that this legislation completely ignores rural areas. It completely ignores the reality that most rural people often have to drive a great distance to and from work or even to town to get groceries in terms of their daily lives. This legislation will not reduce the cost of gasoline for them whatsoever.

He also mentions quite correctly that many people are dependent on utilizing gas, people such as taxi drivers and truck drivers, and he also points out the importance of the trucking industry, frankly, in our national economy. Again, this legislation does absolutely nothing to address that. There is no assistance and there are no tax cuts whatsoever to allow these people to somehow bear up a little better under the increasing costs of fuel payments.

Third, in terms of this new office, some members on the other side have been calling for it for years. It is ironic that the current Prime Minister, as finance minister, cut it in his 1995 budget. If the Liberals want to introduce it again, I do not see a big problem with it. I do not think it will actually do anything. I do not think it will help anything. I think that the Department of Natural Resources should actually be collecting this information as well as or even better than private sector people like MJ Ervin and Associates.

The second point is the investigative powers. Frankly, in my view the Competition Bureau has enough in terms of investigatory powers. Perhaps it needs more revenues. That is the way our party would deal with the issue.

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4:20 p.m.


Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Madam Speaker, I hear opposition members talking about how many seniors will be left out and not about how many seniors will be included. We hear them talking about not being satisfied with the delivery methods for this program. We hear them talking about Liberal accounting.

I have been in the financial business for 20 years and I have never heard such terminology as “Liberal accounting”. Here I hear it every day. Under Liberal accounting, if we take that as the Liberal Party, there has been great fortune in Canada over the last 10 years, fortune such as we have never seen before.

Would the member reverse the benefits to the higher income seniors--as opposed to the lower income seniors--if his party were in power?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a question of fairness between a senior who qualifies for the GIS and receives this payment and another senior at exactly the same income level, who gets to that level through a different pension, does not receive the payment. That is a question of fairness and of equity. The government is ignoring that, and, yes, I will stand and criticize that because it is the wrong thing to do.

Second, as I and Statistics Canada have pointed out, many people who are eligible for the GIS do not get it.

The payment system which the government has set up is wrong, and I will criticize that. I will not stand here and applaud something that is unfair and inequitable to seniors.

In terms of Liberal accounting, I will give members one example. In the last election campaign, the finance minister stood and said that we could not afford a Conservative platform, that it was too expensive, because there was only a $1.9 billion surplus. Months later, what happens? The government had made a mistake and the surplus was actually $9.1 billion. Does the member want me to applaud that? I will not. It is massive overtaxation of Canadians and it is wrong to mislead and misinform Canadians as to what the actual level of the surplus is.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Renfrew--Nipissing--Pembroke, Veterans Affairs; the hon. member for Québec, Canada Post Corporation.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Madam Speaker, we should have been celebrating today, because we are debating Bill C-66. For years now, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for the Competition Act to be amended, to include investigative authority among other things. We are finally going to have amendments, which the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology will be considering tomorrow.

We were also calling for a petroleum monitoring agency. Unfortunately, the government truncated the agency's mandate, but it is nevertheless going ahead, in part, with the Bloc's idea.

But the place where the government's and Prime Minister's plan disappoints us the most and needs the most improvement is with respect to Bill C-66.

We have before us a bill in reference to the sudden spike in oil prices, which will compensate for the related loss of buying power and will target those in greater need. The problem is that not everyone who is in need was included, only those who could be administratively included.

For example, seniors who are receiving old age pension benefits under the guaranteed income supplement program will be entitled to compensation. Seniors have experienced price increases following the hike in oil prices, whether or not they have a car. Those who do not have cars have to take cabs to go places. Their heating costs are going to increase as well. As far as I am concerned, this kind of compensation is fully justified. This was requested by the Bloc Québécois and it was part of the action plan that we presented in early September, a full month before the government tabled its action plan.

The bill also provides for people with children to be entitled to similar compensation. We are in favour of that as well. However, the budget for all of these measures will be $550 million, while the Bloc Québécois had estimated the amount required at $1.5 billion.

Why did the government not put forward a measure for women, people living alone or certain categories of workers? For example, someone came to see me on Saturday. The man told me that he was earning minimum wage and had to drive about 10 kilometres to work and back. At his income level, he will not be entitled to any form of compensation.

This means that workers will be worse off. People who are at the lower end of the middle class and those who are poor, even though they have a job and try to earn their living as best they can, will not get any help.

The government has given us only one explanation. The minister told us that the government had looked at how to address this. He also said that the government has decided to set aside those for whom there is no existing administrative mechanism for compensation. It does not make any sense. The government will absolutely have to review its plan of action on this and ensure that everyone is covered by the proposed plan.

I will given another concrete example. There is a music school in La Pocatière, a municipality in my riding, that hires teachers, who quite often are from out of town, from Quebec City, Montmagny, Rivière-du-Loup, from all over the region. They are often young people who have just finished or are finishing up their music degree. Now there is a major problem. These young teachers no longer want to come because of the high cost of gas, which cuts into the little bit of income they earn from giving lessons.

These people from the remote regions are not included in the plan in any way. This is true for the young music teachers in my example, but it is also true for everyone who has to travel in the region.

This morning a press conference was held here by older workers aged 55, 56, or 58 who have been laid off by companies in the regions. These people from the clothing and textile industry often do not earn $20 or $25 an hour. They need to carefully consider how much it will cost them to get to work and to look for work since they often have to travel 10, 20, 30 or 40 kilometres away to find work, which costs money. Looking for work then becomes a problem since the individual has to cover 100% of the cost, only to earn a modest salary. This, in effect, slows the economy.

Yet, there is one economic sector, the oil industry, that is raking in exorbitant profits. The federal government is refusing to help people in need for two reasons. First, it has not found good administrative mechanisms to meet the needs. Second, it does not dare take a sizeable bite out of the oil industry profits.

In its action plan, the Bloc Québécois had provided for an increase of approximately $500 million or $550 million, with a tax on additional profits. Last week, we saw these profits skyrocket. This morning, in the news, there was a report on an oil company whose profits did not increase that much. However, executives received $93 million on shares that they sold during the last period. This gave the impression that profits had not increased as much as expected.

The government program should be improved considerably. The government must ensure there is enough money within the contingency fund provided for in the budget. It must demand an additional contribution from oil companies to put an end to the diversion of wealth that the last increase has created.

This increase is not only the result of the forces of nature. In the last 10 years, North America has been experiencing a significant reduction in its refining capacity. This reduction has been orchestrated so that, as soon as an event has changed the speculation issues, the tap has been closed and prices have been able to skyrocket. If the petroleum monitoring agency had already been able to take action in such a situation for a few years, we could have taken measures to correct it. However, the government did not do so during the last crisis. Let us hope that the current agency's mandate, which is inadequate, will be expanded to an inquiry mandate.

So we can see that the government has shunted numerous groups aside. To give a few more examples, as well as the people living alone, there are the independent truckers. One in my riding told me recently that, after a long work week, he managed to bring home $800 to his family once all his expenses were paid. With the huge jumps in gasoline prices we have had already, and are still experiencing, that money has disappeared. He does not bring home enough, sometimes nothing at all. When things were at their worst, he had no money for his family; everything went into operating the truck and keeping the economy running.

These categories of people needed help when speculation hit them hard in the pocket-book. The impact did not take three weeks or a month to make itself felt. As soon as the speculative price hike took place, these people had to bear the brunt of it. We believe it is the government's responsibility to make sure that enough of the increased profits made by the oil companies get back into the pockets of these people.

As well as the truckers, there are the farmers, particularly the maple syrup producers. They use a great many oil-fired burners in their operations, so their profits are dwindling because their production costs are increasing, the result of higher oil prices. The total loss to Canadian agricultural activities is $250 million. Our farmers have had a hard time of it in recent years; they do not need anything else.

We believe that the government would have the means to compensate them so that their operations and the economy can continue to progress without their having to add to their already substantial debt load.

Those are all examples of segments of the population that deserved a hand up from the government but are not included in the bill at present.

As for the taxi drivers, there was a pre-fabricated solution available for them. For a number of years, the Government of Quebec has had a tax credit for taxi drivers. All that was needed was to extrapolate from this model and to apply it to all of Canada. This would also have decreased the effects of inflation. The rise in inflation is solely due to the rise in fuel costs. Its effects are just beginning to be felt.

People who had protected contracts will no longer have one. Taxi drivers will receive normal increases to cover their operating expenses so they can drive their cabs. But ultimately consumers will pay the price of this increase. The federal government should have ensured that they would get assistance too.

The same is true for independent foresters. These days, people no longer use small chain saws to cut down trees, but rather multi-purpose machines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars that consume lots of gas. There is no assistance for these people. Often, in rural areas, people struggle to pay their bills every month and save a few pennies. As a result, the recent increase in gas prices is preventing people from making ends meet every month. Some of them are forced to hand the bank their keys, because they can no longer operate their business.

We have seen the danger for consumers, in the past, when gas prices rise, and I hope no one forgets it. It is always the same old story. Prices shoot up, then they drop a little, and the hope is that the public will forget, after which prices shoot up again, a little later.

The price increase has nothing to do with allowing for environmental costs or ensuring energy diversification. It is so the oil and gas companies can increase their profits. This is important. We should talk about this to make sure that we are paying the actual cost, not just the production costs, but the environmental costs too. I think that everyone agrees we should pay the actual cost of gasoline.

However, we should not have to pay the prices following speculation, which could have been prevented if the right tools had been put in place. Right now, we are doing crisis management. Costs have increased significantly for some people. So, we need to consider to whom we can give this assistance. We are talking about seniors and parents, and so much the better.

However, there is no money for other people who need it just as much as those two categories, but who are not getting anything, simply because no administrative process was provided. But the Bloc Québécois had, among other things, proposed a refundable tax credit that would have been paid to all families with an income of less than $30,000. This initiative would have cost $1.5 billion, but the money would have come from the reserve provided in the budgets and from the additional levy imposed on oil companies.

So, the government must assume its role in the distribution of wealth. Wealth is something that is generated, but there are artificial factors that come up and result in oil companies making undue profits. Why not find ways to give that money to those who are feeling the effects of the current price increase?

It is clear that many people were forgotten by the government. This does not mean that we should reject this bill. We are talking about the very principle of giving back to the public a part of the greater profits made by oil companies, which are the result of this major short term price increase triggered by speculation. As regards this principle, we are pleased that the government agreed with it after our presentation.

Remember what the Minister of Transport said a few months ago: market forces rule, we cannot do anything, we cannot make a move, we must stay put. However, the Bloc Québécois reacted by proposing a plan and by asking questions. In the end, the Minister of Transport stuck to his position, but the government agreed with the principle that there should be a form of compensation.

This type of compensation is provided for in the legislation in principle and we support it. However, it is grossly inadequate. At various stages of consideration of the bill, we absolutely must be able to amend it in order to expand on who will be entitled to this type of income. There currently are not sufficient types of assistance for everyone who needs it, who deserves it and who had to pay the price for higher fuel costs.

I will give another example of a sector where we should have taken action. There is no incentive in the bill nor in the government's current policy for consumers to buy more fuel efficient cars. We are told, “The high price of fuel will encourage us to develop other types of energy”. However, to do so, there needs to be incentives. We also need to elaborate on the polluter-pay principle, which the government did not follow through on. It has not provided any help for consumers to buy more fuel efficient cars, which would have been an excellent way to contribute to improving the environment and alleviating the pressure on the price of fuel.

We see that there are truly many sectors that have been forgotten that should not have been. There is also the entire issue of green energy. The government could have made sure that for wind power production, which costs roughly 2¢ per kilowatt hour more than conventional energy, this difference is recognized and covered by the WPPI program.

This program should be modified so that the incentive offered is 2¢ per kilowatt hour, that $2.1 billion over 10 years is available and that the ceilings per province is withdrawn from the program. There is currently a ceiling for each province. There is a penalty for provinces that take their own initiative. In Quebec, especially, there is a wave of wind power development. It would have been very beneficial to take this development even further.

This bill represents only part of the action planned by the federal government to deal with the increase in the price of gasoline. There are certain short-term measures in this bill. They are inadequate and fail to help all sorts of clienteles, all sorts of people who every day suffer the financial consequences of the hike in gas prices.

Today some people are saying that there is no reason to complain, because prices have fallen to 95¢ a litre, and that is reasonable. It should not be forgotten that in early January 2005 we were paying 78¢ a litre. That is still an increase of 20% to 25%. Few economic sectors are experiencing this price explosion and can rake in the profits that come with it. It is somewhat as if the rest of the economy had been taken hostage. With the rise of the dollar and the price of gas, the capacity of businesses to make profits has been greatly compromised.

For example, in my riding, there are people in the Rivière-du-Loup region who sell products to the state of Texas. The mere fact of the increase in transportation costs wipes out their profit margin. These people, who are doing their job as they should, making efforts to find and develop markets, have seen the sudden arrival of an additional unforeseen factor, a kind of diversion of profits toward one particular industrial sector. The petroleum sector has to be disciplined, because these convulsions in the economy are not necessarily beneficial for the economy as a whole; we have had a very clear demonstration of that with the most recent hikes.

I also hope that, in the mandate that is finally given the petroleum monitoring agency, there will be a power of recommendation to the House of Commons, as the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology had recommended almost unanimously. At that time, only the MPs in the Alliance—a party that no longer exists—withheld their consent to this position.

If the government decides to make the agency nothing more than a mirror of the activity, that will be a small improvement, but very far from what we are looking for. What we want is an instrument of action for parliamentarians. Every year, we will have a report on the evolution of the petroleum market. The agency could have made recommendations on changing the organization of that market.

We are not talking about price control, but about a system to guarantee that there will not suddenly be excessive price hikes. All kinds of actions have been undertaken elsewhere, particularly in some U.S. states, where there is a ban on vertical integration, that is from drilling right up to the gas pump. That might help us control the market better, but it would require us to get some information, find out how that works and what solution we could propose to improve the situation.

So the federal government has agreed to bow to pressure, particularly that of the Bloc Québécois, and of the economic situation itself. We had made some concrete proposals. The government's action, however, does not go far enough.

This crisis may be an opportunity to make more progress in distributing the wealth that is concentrated in the oil and gas sector. The economy would also have to be diversified in order to reduce our dependency on oil and gas and to develop other energy sources. It is also necessary to keep an eye on the signals we are giving out.

In fact, the roots of this problem go back a long way. For years, the present Prime Minister—and former finance minister—sent the message that this could not be done, that those were the rules of the marketplace, that it was up to the players to set up the rules of the game and we could not assume any responsibility.

We have felt the effects of that with the increases in fuel prices. We kept on knocking at the door, however, and have managed to get the government to open it a crack. So much the better.

Now we will have to ensure that this bill and the other government actions really achieve something. The first thing to do is to broaden the pool of those entitled to compensation for losses caused by the rise in fuel prices. That is what people expect of government. Corrective measures must be taken and the bill must undergo some major changes. This is urgent.