Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak today on a bill that is very important to Canadians, Bill C-66. We refer to it as the energy bill.
I would like to start by saying that I think that second reading debate of this bill has identified that there are some concerns about the leakage in terms of how we effectively or efficiently hit the target. I think the previous speaker raised some possibilities. I think it is important that they are raised at second reading.
It is a possibility that we could see some appropriate amendments to make sure this squarely hits the target, but we have to look at the bigger picture, because quite frankly some members have asked why we do not just give it to everybody. The difference there would be that instead of there being $564 million for the energy benefit side of it we could be talking about $2.5 billion to $3 billion. I am not sure at that point whether or not that is the best allocation of resources, but it is yet to be discussed.
Under Bill C-66, as members can appreciate, there are some consequential amendments to a number of acts, so the bill does not read very smoothly, but it does make the technical amendments that would be necessary to implement the provisions. Let me summarize, if I may, the principal provisions of Bill C-66. The bill states:
Part 1 of the enactment authorizes the making of payments to families who are eligible for the National Child Benefit Supplement, and to seniors who are eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement and Allowance under the Old Age Security Act, in order to deliver one-time relief for energy costs.
Part 2 would authorize payments of up to $500 million for the period beginning April 1, 2005 and ending March 31, 2010 to provide assistance for reducing housing energy consumption. It also authorizes additional funding of up to $338 million for the EnerGuide for Houses Retrofit Incentive Program.
Part 2 talks about a five-year period.
Lastly, the bill states in regard to the third part:
Part 3 authorizes payments of up to $400 million for each of fiscal years 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 for public transit infrastructure.
Thus, we are not talking just about who is going to get a little bit of a break on their energy costs. I believe we are talking about an important debate on a strategy for how we are to address the inevitable increases that we are going to see, not only in gasoline but in natural gas, hydro costs and all types of fuels.
The reality is that energy costs are going up. It simply will not be enough for us to rely on little band-aids to try to deal with this. We have to be energy wise. The commodity we are talking about is not just gasoline. The commodity is the cost of energy. Energy is the commodity.
I want to amplify these three points. I just did a householder for my constituents and I tried to put this down in some language that would assist them.
The plan to help Canadians is designed to achieve a number of objectives. First of all, it is designed to provide direct financial assistance. It is called the energy cost benefit. It will be going to more than three million low income seniors and low income families with children. This is the area where members may want to discuss if this is the most efficient way to target it.
Members also know that the last time there was an energy benefit provided to Canadians, the government used the GST tax credit. Those who were eligible for the GST tax credit received it, principally because it was important to do that quickly. It was a very linear and a very “as the crow flies” approach. Clearly there were some problems and obviously there were some changes in people's status, but we do know that those low income Canadians who were entitled to the benefit did in fact receive it. That was the most important objective.
We also want to help families lower future household heating costs. That is a very important part of this as well.
We want to make more and better pricing information available to consumers while taking legislative steps to deter, for instance, anti-competitive practices in our energy work in terms of setting up other mechanisms to deal with consumers' concern, at least on the gasoline basis, that there is anti-competitive behaviour. It is extremely important that there is a comfort level, that we are vigilant in ensuring that in fact there is no anti-competitive behaviour.
Finally, it is designed to fast track money to municipalities for public transit.
The House will note that a couple of points, the retrofit and the public transit issues, have to do with better and wiser use of our energy availability. This is also part and parcel of our Kyoto plan. It is interesting to note that not all parties in the House support the Kyoto accord. Not all parties in the House support lowering greenhouse gases and dealing with the consequences of energy or how every Canadian can be part of the solution and how large emitters have to change the way they do business so we can meet the targets we have to meet.
Members know full well that not only are we talking about climate change and its impact on the kinds of natural disasters that we have had with hurricanes, earthquakes and all these other things, but there also is a health linkage.
Every time we have greenhouse gases being created, we in fact have circumstances where particulate matter is also being created in the emissions, which is directly related to the health impacts on Canadians. I do not have to tell Canadians how many young people and young adults are on puffers for their asthmatic conditions or whatever it might be. This is an important issue.
I want to repeat again that the Liberal Party is committed to the Kyoto accord and other parties are not. I think it is very significant to note that, because it is not in the best interests of Canadians not to try to deal with how we get all Canadians to be part of the solution.
On the energy cost benefit that I talked about, the total cost of the whole program is about $2.4 billion over the five years. A total of $565 million will be paid out to about 3.1 million low income households and seniors, who will receive anywhere from $125 to $250 a household.
These payments are the first down payment on further personal tax relief being introduced over the next five years. Members should recall that this is one element. A budget is still forthcoming and there are plans to be laid out as to how we move forward in terms of tax relief for Canadians.
This is not to be taken in isolation, but this is certainly important in giving timely relief, especially to low income Canadians. The mechanism may be subject to some criticism. We certainly know that anyone who receives the national benefit or the GIS is very much in need of this support. Are there others who are left out? For instance, are low income families without children left out?
On the energy efficiency side, a total of $1.04 billion has been set aside to assist low income households as well as public institutions such as hospitals and schools with the cost of upgrading their dwellings and buildings to make them more energy efficient. This includes $500 million for some 130,000 low income households that are eligible for up to $5,000 to help with the cost of heating system upgrades, window replacement and draft-proofing.
Also, there is an additional $150 million for the government's houses retrofit incentive program, which provides money for 250,000 households.
There is $185 million for those who install best in class energy efficient oil and gas furnaces, up to $150 per unit, or for those who heat with electricity, and that benefit is $250 per household. There is an additional $210 million in retrofit incentives for public sector institutions.
Members can see that we are not just talking about a subsidy to individual consumers in terms of energy prices, like a gasoline rebate of some sort. It is important to understand that the strategy here is to start working down that road where Canadians will not be just worried about how they will pay for the increase in the cost of a commodity but will be taking concrete steps, with government assistance, to make their homes more energy efficient so that their total cost of energy will go down. That is also an equally effective way to lower the cost to Canadians over the long term. Indeed, our battle with energy pricing is a long term proposition.
The third element is with regard to public transit infrastructure. Up to $800 million over the next two fiscal years will be freed up for investment in urban transit in order to give municipalities greater certainty for their own planning purposes. Public transit is an important aspect of our overall strategy in terms of addressing our Kyoto commitments, health commitments and with regard to making us more streetwise in terms of how to utilize our valuable energy resources which are so expensive.
With regard to better transparency in the energy market, this aspect has caused some consternation to many Canadians about the optics. For instance, within moments of a gas station changing its price for gasoline, the station across the street will have changed its price as well. To ordinary Canadians this looks to be anti-competitive behaviour. We know from the work done by the industry committee that Canadians are sensitive to the price of gasoline. If one station has gasoline at 1¢ a litre cheaper than another station, it is going to get the business. Therefore, within a particular area the pricing generally stays the same.
The key is to look at the price of a barrel of oil and try to figure out what is happening in terms of the marketplace and how it corrects itself every now and then. Sometimes it happens in a very spiky fashion, particularly when there are disasters such as hurricane Katrina. Oil rigs were breaking loose and floating around in the Gulf of Mexico. We are looking at possibly six months to a year before they are put back in service which causes a significant imbalance in terms of supply and demand.
There is going to be $15 million allocated for an office of energy price information. There will be another $13 million to allow the Department of Industry to take a number of steps to deter anti-competitive practices, including giving Canada's Competition Bureau more powers in strengthening the Competition Act. This is pretty important.
This is going to help make our homes and buildings more energy efficient. It is a key way for Canadians to offset the higher prices. The incentives will help Canadians to save energy and money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. As well there are the attendant health impacts.
These measures also support project green, the Government of Canada's action plan to build a more sustainable environment. We have not talked enough about a sustainable environment. This is an important aspect. We need to keep our eyes on the important issues affecting Canadians over the long term.
To give an idea of how critical energy pricing will be over the next three to five years, the Ontario Energy Board granted natural gas distribution companies an increase, effective July 1. I believe the price went from 27¢ per cubic metre up to 31¢. It was about a 15% increase.
At the same time, a number of the independent marketers of natural gas in Ontario, and I saw three or four of them when I looked on the web to see what kind of contracts they were offering, were offering a three year contract for natural gas to people in Ontario at 40¢ to 42¢. That is one-third higher than the prevailing cost per cubic metre of natural gas.
This is how much they have put in with regard to long term contracts for natural gas delivery with the producers so they can ensure they get a reasonable return, as well as pay for the cost. We are talking about some pretty significant increases over the next three to five years, and that is only for natural gas.
What happened to the price of a barrel of oil, for instance? A couple of years ago the price of a barrel of oil was something like $10. Then it ratcheted up at the height of hurricane Katrina to about $67 a barrel. Consider the difference in a couple of years. Do we understand why we are not paying 65¢ or 75¢ for a litre of gasoline? Now it is between 95¢ and $1.
There are some real reasons why this happens. Earlier one of the members asked why it was that when hurricane Katrina happened, the price of gas instantaneously went up.
Gas is a commodity. It reflects the commodity value, the underlying value, the price of a barrel of oil. When all those drilling rigs are floating around aimlessly in the Gulf of Mexico, even with the situations in Texas and New Orleans, two-thirds of the producing capacity is being impaired or at risk, and obviously the commodity prices are going to go up. Obviously anybody who is going to sell that product based on the rules of supply and demand, is going to increase prices.
The interesting thing is that if one has inventory and the price of the commodity goes up for some other reason, do we expect the companies to continue to sell their inventory at the base price they acquired it or should they be able to sell it at the prevailing commodity price? This is one of the reasons that energy companies tend to make a lot of money when there is volatility within the marketplace. They are slow to pass on the inventory savings, or they never pass them on and that is a windfall there. When the price of a barrel of oil comes down, they are also slow to lower the price. They take advantage of it both ways. Maybe these are the kinds of things that we are going to see taken into account as we deal with situations like anti-competitive behaviour.
I wanted to give another example. There is a lot of discussion going on about income trusts. People are saying that the finance minister has brought some questions to bear with regard to the propriety of the taxation of income trusts and all of a sudden the market valuation of income trusts has gone down and is that not terrible.
If we plot income trusts from July to today, the TSE income trust index against the U.S. bond market yields or Exxon, one of the major oil corporations of the world, we would see that those graphs track very carefully. In fact, income trusts are very volatile depending upon commodity price corrections and also on rising interest rates. There are a lot more dynamics to the world as a consequence of the price of a barrel of oil and the expectations going down the line.
There has always been a lot of uncertainty in the Middle East with regard to oil. The activities in the gulf area have been severe. There have been tremendous risks taken with the supply of oil. Many countries have entered into agreements now to share some of their resources to ensure that there is some protection.
In addition to looking at the benefits that Bill C-66 will bring to Canadians in considering the retrofits, I encourage Canadians to visit the EnerCan website under Industry Canada. There is an opportunity for a subsidized audit program. It costs $150 for Canadians to get an energy audit of their homes. The firms authorized to do the audits are listed for every province.
I had an audit done this summer. It was a beautiful report. As a consequence of the audit I found several ways to make my house more energy efficient. A high energy furnace and some insulation goes a long way, and improved windows also. As a consequence of making an investment today, my energy bill in the next year will go down by about 30% based on prevailing commodity prices.
It is really important for Canadians to understand that there are many ways to deal with this. People can continue to have energy inefficient homes and continue to pay the market value prices or they can make the investment today and lower their costs and also ensure that we are being energy wise in Canada.