Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise and speak in this debate on BillC-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. In regard to energy costs, the government has been slow to take action, even though it was important to do so. There will also be two other measures. The first is the petroleum monitoring agency, which is something that the Bloc Québécois has been requesting for ages in order to lower prices. The second is the Competition Act, a separate act, which will bring about improvements.
First of all, I would like to reiterate the Bloc's position on this bill. We are in favour of it, especially in principle. The Bloc Québécois thinks that the measures in this government plan are quite good. One can hardly be opposed to virtue itself, and this bill provides relief to people who need it in order to reduce our dependence on petroleum. Nevertheless, there are some deficiencies in the bill. As earlier speakers have indicated, the program is incomplete. Some people or groups are not only neglected but completely abandoned.
Think of the budget of a poor family with children. My colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé just spoke about seniors who receive the guaranteed income supplement. It is a good measure in itself, but $565 million is not enough. Improving the energy efficiency of housing, providing additional funding for public transit and creating a petroleum monitoring agency are all positive principles. On the other hand, the bill lacks teeth.
We have a few more suggestions or remarks. First, the Bloc Québécois wanted $1.5 billion for disadvantaged people. That is three times as much as what the government is providing. Again there are oversights. In his question, my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé mentioned single people and disadvantaged couples. Some single people in rural ridings have to drive a very long way to work. They earn between $8 and $10 an hour and have to pay their fuel costs, but there is nothing in this program for them if they do not have children.
The same is true of taxi drivers and truckers—every speaker has said the same thing but the government seems impervious to it—who represent an incredibly vibrant sector of our economy. They spend a lot on fuel but do not receive any assistance.
We must focus on two sectors in particular: farmers and independent woodlot operators. There the shortfall is particularly devastating. For example, farmers have not only seen an increase in the price of fuel: they will also be hit by increases in the price of a number of items that are essential to any farming operation, such as the fertilizer used by grain growers. These increases will not allow them to offset their losses. According to estimates, Quebec farmers will have to absorb over $40 million dollars in additional energy costs. In Canada, the total is some $250 million. We believe that a refundable tax credit could allow the government to provide help up to this amount. Two hundred and fifty thousand Canadian farms need help with energy costs. Another option would be a refundable credit equivalent to 10% of income, with a ceiling. Those are steps that can be taken in agriculture.
I will take another example, that of maple syrup producers in my riding, who face a different set of problems—there are the burners. Their production is crippled in the absence of action in this industry, just as it is in other types of farming. It is the same thing in the case of the independent forest producers. They depend on the use of fuel to harvest the wood and deliver it to the mills. Once again, nothing is being done to help them.
The Bloc Québécois has proposed that forest producers be allowed to deduct 150% of their fuel costs.
This is a reasonable provision, which would allow independent forest producers to continue to operate and to think of tomorrow. The future of these businesses is at stake. The cost of fuel would be reduced.
Obviously, the same principle would apply to other sectors. For example, I spoke earlier about the bill respecting housing, repairs and work. The Bloc Québécois deplores the fact that families must initially spend large amounts of money without any assurance that they will eventually be reimbursed. This program involves an element of risk, and there are always unpleasant surprises. Someone may think they are eligible for the program, but for a variety of reasons they are not eligible. For example, they do not meet the conditions. There are always things to do and often people have invested large amounts of money.
So in terms of housing energy infrastructure, it is absolutely essential that we have assurances that they will not wait until the work is finished to tell people that they are not eligible for a subsidy for part of the work and they have to pay for it out of their own pocket. That is the reason why what we are proposing in this area is so important.
First of all, the program’s budgets for housing energy efficiency should be doubled. It has become clear to us that there was a certain rigidity in the eligibility criteria. We should maintain and guarantee those criteria but, once again, make them more flexible. Another suggestion could make the bill even more effective. That would be to provide for a specific envelope within the program for conversion to fuel oil and electricity. The situation in these areas is hazy and vague: it is not quite clear where the bill stands in this regard.
Also, on housing, there should continue to be substantial grants to reduce the costs of conversion. This is a subject which has arisen very often in our ridings. Of course, when these programs come up—as the hon. members know—people come to see us, they make inquiries and they try to find out whether they qualify for the programs.
I also said earlier that we would like to change the operating rules, so that home owners can receive the grants at the beginning of the process. My colleague replied to me earlier that this was possible. It is one way of doing things. This is what the government should be asked to do, except that it still does not have the interest of consumers or the regions at heart.
In this bill, it is quite clear that the government is being election-minded and partisan in its advocacy of one important element. It is not necessarily giving priority to consumers or to the regions. This is nothing new to us so far as the regions are concerned. For the Liberal government long ago abandoned the regions, especially those that are very remote. We need only take a look back at the principal bills and motions that have been tabled. When we live in the regions, we are cast aside.
I was speaking earlier of my region, a farming region where one can find the maple syrup and dairy industries. There are currently surpluses—nearly 55 million pounds of maple syrup. Yesterday, with regard to the Pacific gateway, the government was talking to us about consulting the municipalities, the government and the arbitration tribunals. Meanwhile, there are no emergency measures and, in the countryside and the regions, we are faced with certain problems. The same thing is happening with this bill. Farmers and loggers, who are part of the remote, even the very remote regions, are developing the regional economy, and employment as well. Even if we asked the government for something, we would not get it, because that aspect still remains, that central electoral focus in this document.
That is serious in itself, but there is worse still. I refer to the funding of this program. It is paid for by taxpayers only, not by those who have caused and profited from the crisis, the oil companies.
Before the session began, as a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology, I had the opportunity to hear witnesses from the oil industry for a whole day. They were boasting about the fact that the oil companies had made money and huge profits.
Last week Exxon announced $10 billion in profits. Petro-Canada's profits had increased by 38%. The witnesses from these oil companies came to tell us that the companies were making money and that they would continue to do so. The government lacks courage. It is unable to intervene or assume its responsibilities.
It is unacceptable for this program to be funded solely by the taxpayer. That is the major flaw in this program. Furthermore, oil prices will continue to increase.
At some point, obviously, oil prices stopped increasing, but that was just strategy. When these big companies saw that people were talking about this a great deal, that a committee was sitting and that the government was prepared to take action, they eased off on the price of oil. Nonetheless, this will begin anew because the government is in cahoots with the oil industry.
They have some advantages over the mining industries, like the ones in my region, for instance. The mining industry does not receive the same tax benefits as the oil industry. We can see that several members of the government, including the Prime Minister, have interests in oil. It is therefore very risky for them to be assertive.
The Bloc thinks quite clearly that we must call on the oil industry to contribute at least $500 million of their record profits to meet all the needs. As I was saying earlier, the lack of courage is the major flaw in the plan. That is certain.
It was also mentioned earlier that a great deal of people, groups and sectors are not covered, including seniors, disabled people and singles. We could probably cover more sectors with this $500 million. What is more, we could take care of people and regions the best way possible.
The same thing goes for the office of petroleum price information. We can see that in creating this office, the government is still lacking in courage—which is logical and in keeping with their bill. This is of course something that the Bloc Québécois has demanded, not merely suggested, for a long time. We have long called for an independent and transparent body to monitor petroleum prices or at least provide us with explanations. This office ought to be able to carry out investigations, but of course will not be able to. In fact, if certain things were to come out, that might be very embarrassing to the government. It will not have the power to make recommendations to the House of Commons.
The Liberal government—that is, the government of the sponsorship program—is saving face with the creation of this office, but not giving it any real powers. It does not want to give it any. So it has no interest in asking the oil companies to at least cut the losses a bit for consumers.
Clearly, this bill needs improving, if only in the two areas I have mentioned, that is creating a price control office and putting more teeth into the Competition Act. The latter must be done immediately. In Canada, in Quebec in particular, and we have seen this often in Montreal, telemarketing is the hub of all manner of fraud. The sanctions are not stiff enough. I repeat, the Bloc is in favour of beefing up the Competition Act. If there were major penalties, this might bring the oil companies in line as far as prices are concerned. The increasing prices must absolutely be controlled, and both laxness and repeat offences must be stopped. The Competition Act must be made more effective.
In addition, as recommended by the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology , there must be a reverse burden of proof. That is important to the process of determining whether there has been a conspiracy. There may have been damages and the oil companies must be made aware that they will have payments to make.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill, but it needs considerable amendment in order to provide general assistance to all economic sectors, especially those that have been the hardest hit.
I want to talk about truckers again. This is extremely important to them, and to forestry workers, low-income families, seniors and the disabled.
As I mentioned earlier in a question, consumers have concerns about this bill. Quite often, people are convinced that they are eligible for a program. However, as things progress, there are some nasty surprises: they learn that they do not meet the criteria. I gave the example of renovations: an individual may invest $3,000, $5,000 or $10,000 and, ultimately, some bureaucrat may decide that the project is not energy efficient, that the individual is ineligible and that the money must be repaid. These programs are full of surprises. To be honest, there is a huge difference between the program or legislation in theory and in practice. At times, we may be in for a very nasty surprise.
In short, the government's plan is very misleading. It must be improved in a number of areas, including those I mentioned earlier. I want to mention them again. It is unacceptable for taxpayers to fund this program. This makes no sense. We must look to the oil companies to do their part, so that the program has the necessary resources to meet the needs of society, for all organizations and individuals.
In this regard, we have a number of recommendations, as usual. Whenever the government manages to improve its bills, most of the time it is thanks to recommendations and suggestions made by the Bloc Québécois. However, the government goes out of its way to avoid recognizing the Bloc Québécois as the author of such improvements, by saying that it had talked about them two, three or four years ago. However, it is well known that the Bloc Québécois, thanks to its rigour and its suggestions, makes these bills better.
Now, once again, we are asking the government to improve this bill so as to benefit all sectors and all regions.