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House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was price.

Topics

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned that the people receiving the national child benefit supplement would receive this rebate. As finance minister, the Prime Minister oversaw a deal in 1997 that resulted in a clawback of the national child supplement from the pockets of our neediest children.

In 1997, to assist Canadian families with children, the baby bonus was replaced with the national child benefit supplement and it was introduced as a tax credit. It included a benefit and a supplement, the national child benefit supplement, and the program was designed to reduce poverty among low income families.

Negotiations between the federal and provincial governments around the implementation of that tax benefit resulted in some of the provinces, Ontario included, deducting this tax benefit from the amounts received by the families on social assistance. That is what is consistently referred to as the NCBS clawback.

In the province of Ontario, families who are entitled to receive the national child benefit and who are receiving social benefits are subject to the clawback. What this means is social assistance recipients have the amount of the national child benefit supplement they are entitled to receive deducted from their social assistance cheques.

In the absence of any special agreement, the $250 the government is talking about, which is intended for families with children on welfare, becomes a financial windfall for the Government of Ontario. So much for the commitment to assist low income families with children.

The Prime Minister was the most senior minister in the Chrétien regime and in Quebec. No decisions involving money were made without the present Prime Minister knowing because the finance minister sees all the figures. Why is the Prime Minister allowing Ontario Liberals to pocket that tax benefit in the supposed special payment that it is going to send to them, instead of having it go to the neediest children in Ontario? Is this not just another way for Liberals to funnel money to other Liberals?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy the member asked the question. I do not think she knows what a big door she offered me to walk through. In fact, it was under a Conservative government that our government negotiated an agreement on the national child benefit.

I am sure she is aware that the Constitution tells us that social services, such as assistance to families with children, is the responsibility of the provinces. The only way the federal government can have any role in assisting families with children is through an agreement with the provincial governments.

It was a Conservative government, a Mike Harris government, and, may I say from the point of view of Ottawa West—Nepean, a Conservative government with John Baird as the minister of community and social services that would only allow us to help families with children if they were allowed to claw it back from families on public assistance.

How did things change when a Liberal government was elected in Toronto? One of the first things Premier Dalton McGuinty did was to say that Ontario could not afford to cancel the whole clawback right now but that it would not claw back the increase that the federal government was giving to those families. That certainly was a step in the right direction out of the pit that the Tories put us into when the national child benefit was brought in.

May I also say that the Conservatives, while they were stealing money out of the pockets of children and their parents, were also giving tax breaks to their rich friends.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is an interesting debate because the fact is that it is the current Prime Minister who actually holds the record for giving the most corporate tax cuts to the wealthiest in Canada. The competition between the Harris regime and the current Prime Minister to see how many of their friends they can reward is something Canadians are sick and tired of.

I have a question for the hon. member concerning a specific point she made in her debate today relating to the fact that consumers could somehow rebel and could actually force the oil and gas companies to follow certain types of procedures. That is not very realistic because people need to take their kids to school and taxi drivers and truck drivers need to work. Some people in rural pockets of the country who cannot access mass transit are susceptible to the whole industry in itself.

What is interesting to note from the testimony we heard in the industry committee is that prior to hurricanes Katrina and Rita the industry experts classified their profits from this as spectacular. The government's bill does nothing about that situation and neither does the Competition Act nor the amendments. Anti-competitive behaviour is one thing but profiteering ostensibly is another, and it is not taken care of in the act. In fact, big oil companies reaped almost $38 billion in profits in the first half of 2005 alone, before the hurricanes are calculated in.

During our discussion at the industry committee, the Minister of Industry talked about the fact that we do have some legislative changes coming on Bill C-19. When I asked him about those changes and how the industry would react to them he said, “We didn't want it to be seen by industry to be too arbitrary and punitive”. That was his response to the punish mechanism that is now being put in place.

If the Minister of Industry is creating a system that is not punitive and is not going to be seen as punitive to big oil companies, could the hon. member tell us what motivation these companies would have to actually amend their practices in this field?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I accept fully what the member just said. Many people, because of rural or occupational requirements, are dependent on a one person car to carry out their normal activities of life. However there are many more who do have options about how much, how often, how far, how well they use their automobile or their other vehicle. I want to say to those people that if they want to send a message to the gas companies, they have the power of their wallet to do it. It takes time and it takes discipline but it is worth doing.

Frankly, one of the things I would like to see in the bill is an incentive for people to buy more energy efficient vehicles. The market impact is already leading in that direction because I have been told that the sales of SUVs in this city are down by about 50% in the last few months. That is a positive thing and that is the way the consumers are getting their message across, which is that if they are going to be overcharged for a produce then they will find ways to use less of that product.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member does have it right. There is very little that we can do at the government tax level to deal with the significant increases in commodity prices of all forms of energy, but specifically with regard to gasoline. It means that we do have to be more energy efficient and energy wise, which is why, in my view, the retrofit and public transit elements of Bill C-66 are extremely important.

I am wondering if the member is aware of the NRCan energy audit rebate that is available to Canadians to get an energy audit of their home for half the price. Half is subsidized by the government. The rebate is there to help Canadians find out just exactly how they can improve the energy efficiency of their home and some other important energy conservation measures.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have provided information to my constituents on that on numerous occasions. One of the problems here in Ottawa is that the program is so popular that there is a huge waiting time for those energy audits. However, yes, the government will help people get an energy audit and it will pay half the cost so they will know precisely what improvements to their homes will result in the greatest energy savings.

However the greatest thing that we are doing in the bill is creating a program for low income households so that they can make similar improvements with assistance from the government that they probably would not be able to afford to make themselves.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Newton--North Delta to participate in the second reading debate on 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.

I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Nanaimo—Alberni.

I would like to highlight that the bill would allow the government to make a one-time energy cost benefit payment of $250 to families receiving the national child benefit supplement and $125 to recipients of the guaranteed income supplement. It also would allow the government to spend $838 million on measures to reduce housing energy consumption and it would remove the requirement that $800 million for public transit infrastructure, set out in the NDP budget bill, be contingent on the size of the surplus. The bill calls for the payments to be made in January 2006.

To assist with the background, this summer crude oil prices soared to record highs. For consumers, the effects were primarily felt at the pumps. Gasoline broke the dollar barrier earlier in the summer and kept on going up, reaching a new peak on Labour Day weekend of up to $1.40 per litre.

While both crude oil and gasoline prices have come down in recent weeks, they remain at near historic highs and this winter promises to be the most expensive ever for heating one's home.

Since June, natural gas prices across North America rose more than 30%. In British Columbia, natural gas is the dominant energy used for home heating, being used by over 800,000 households in the province. Twice in the last four months the B.C. Utilities Commission has approved a request by Terasen Gas for a natural gas commodity rate increase. In June, the commission approved a 5.6% increase. This was followed last month by a 13.3% increase.

As a result of those increases, my constituents can expect to see their annual heating bills jump by nearly $300 to over $1,500. In the last two years, the price to heat a lower mainland home with natural gas has increased by over $500 annually. If that was not bad enough, it is almost guaranteed that prices will go up again before spring.

An American government report issued earlier this month estimates that heating bills for all fuel types will cost Americans about one-third more this winter. The same is true in Canada.

The Energy Information Administration sees the cost of heat by natural gas rising 47% and heating oil 32%. The Canadian Gas Association is predicting the price of natural gas will increase from 20% to 50% this winter. This is bad news for British Columbians and for the 50% of Canadian homeowners who heat with homes with gas.

Energy prices have never been so high or increased so quickly. For some low income families, the sharp jumps could mean choosing whether to eat or keep warm.

Even more affluent Canadians will be hard hit by soaring heating costs. With today's high cost of living, particularly in urban areas like British Columbia's lower mainland, many families earning good salaries still live from paycheque to paycheque. An extra $100 a month for home heating, combined with higher gas prices and rising interest rates, could be enough to cause financial hardship or even possibly bankruptcy in some cases.

The government's rebate plan would leave thousands of low income British Columbians out in the cold. According to its own numbers, the government scheme will aid less than 10% of Canadians. Even the poor will only receive assistance if they already collect child or elderly benefits. Bill C-66 does nothing for the majority of students, many of whom live in dirty, old apartments. Students are one of the main low income groups in this country but the Liberals have forgotten about them.

As well, Canadians with disabilities who claim disability benefits will receive no help with their heating bills. Similarly, farmers and over 200,000 low income seniors who do not file for the GIS will not receive help. Bill C-66 offers no assistance to poor Canadians who are childless. Statistics Canada indicates there are nearly two million individuals under 65 who fall below the low income threshold and who have no children. These individuals will receive nothing from the government.

Now, talking about current affairs, we know that almost $45 million is missing or is unaccounted for from the sponsorship program. The people I mentioned, the seniors, farmers, people on fixed incomes or low income and students would have been better off if the government had some accountability in place. It has been confirmed that on the Liberal side there is a culture of entitlement, corruption, greed, carelessness and mismanagement. We have been saying that all along for so many years and today it has been confirmed by Justice Gomery. These are the facts. These are not only accusations.

The sponsorship program was directed politically and there have been no political consequences. Only the bureaucrats have been made the scapegoats. That program was set up by the Liberals. They ran the program. They used the program and abused the program. The kickbacks have been going to the Liberal Party for the benefit of the Liberal Party. It is important--

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, with respect, we are debating the energy bill and I believe the member should address the bill on a matter of relevance.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I was listening carefully. The hon. member for Newton—North Delta was relating different types of government spending and what should be better spent one way or another. I think we will have to just listen to the debate and see what kind of conclusion he comes to.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2005 / 3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I care about the students, the farmers, the people on low incomes and the people on a fixed income who did not get enough money to pay for the rising heating fuel and gasoline prices.

That is why I was referring to the government wasting money. Today's example, which is listed in the Gomery report, is about the sponsorship program. There have been many boondoggles, mismanagement and wrongdoing on the Liberal side and it continues again and again.

I am quite sure that those farmers, those people on a fixed income and low incomes and people without children will hold the government critically and democratically accountable when the time comes for them to vote, despite the fact that the government is thinking that some sort of smaller cheque will go to them before the election.

According to the finance department, the government is limiting the rebate program to the people I mentioned. Instead of providing assistance to Canadians who need help, that heartless government continues to mismanage this file as well. The rebate program is more about politics than about helping people who are struggling to heat their homes.

The government knows that the heating prices are skyrocketing. With an election on the horizon, it wants to give the appearance of helping people out, but Canadians cannot be fooled. Having cheques arrive in the mail just prior to an election is a side benefit the government is anticipating, but it will not come true.

Even if a person pays nothing for heat, that person still might get a cheque. That mismanaged boondoggle by the government happened during the 2003 election.

An option to the Liberal plan would be to remove the GST from home heating fuel. This is a more fair and straightforward way of dealing with the spiralling home heating costs. I made this proposal four years ago in March 2001 when I introduced Motion No. 289 which read:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should stop charging the GST on energy costs for residential properties.

This would be an effective way to provide sensible price relief to all families, not to a selected group. It would also deliver real help at the point of purchase and would do so without red tape, confusion or discrimination.

To conclude, most people in B.C. agree that something needs to be done to address the rising costs of home heating this winter. However, everyone I talk to has the same opinion of the federal plan, that it is inadequate.

The Liberal scheme leaves out many needy people who will be struggling most of the time to cope with high heating costs. The Conservative Party will still be grudgingly supporting the bill. Low income Canadians need immediate assistance and they cannot afford to wait until the government comes up with a fair solution.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that has been mentioned during debate is reducing prices at the pump by lowering the GST or having some sort of cap as a potential solution to ebb the flow of the rising costs. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism federally to monitor that and to make sure that is not clawed back by the industry.That would be one way to reduce the taxes on gasoline. The second one would be through royalties. Provinces assign royalties, which is a tax on the product itself.

We understand the member's position on the reduction of the GST, but what is the position of the Conservative Party on royalties? Should royalties be reduced? The provincial coffers would be lowered, but at the same time, under that theory prices would be lower at the pump. What mechanism would the Conservatives put in place to ensure that would be passed on to the consumer?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the GST is one of the things the government can control. As I mentioned, in March 2001 I introduced Motion No. 289 which asked the government to stop charging GST on the energy costs for residential properties so that there would be a fair system of helping those who are paying much more with the rising costs.

It is not a matter of what our party's position is on royalties, but what matters is that the government has been unfairly, and I would use the word “illegally”, charging GST on other taxes, such as the federal excise tax and other taxes. Those taxes are neither goods nor services. When the government charges GST on other taxes, it should be illegal. That should never have happened.

When calculating the price of gasoline, there is the crude oil price, then the distribution, profit margin, royalties and everything. Then add to that the excise tax, the federal and provincial taxes and then GST is charged on top of that. That is illegal and should not happen.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like some comment from the member about the lack of support in the bill for certain groups. The bill is clearly aimed at a couple of groups, primarily senior citizens who receive GIS and families who receive the national child benefit, but there are a lot of people who have been left out of the bill.

This morning I challenged the former environment minister about the fact that he seemed to think there was no necessity to extend this bill to anyone else. He said that all I was trying to do was to protect my own constituents. If someone is going to accuse me of that, I will stand here and say that I am guilty.

I am really concerned that rural Canadians are being left out of this bill, particularly those who are being hit the hardest and most directly by the higher energy costs. They would be people like truckers who are trying to make a living driving trucks. As was mentioned earlier today, they are the people who deliver our food. What will happen is they will have to pay a lot more to bring that food to market.

Another group that is affected and one that is huge in my riding is farmers. They end up getting hit absolutely head-on with the higher energy prices and higher gas prices not only for fuel for their tractors but also the natural gas prices. There is a lot of grain out there this fall that is damp and needs to be dried. People are trying to find a way to get through that and clear it up.

I would like some comments from the member on why he thinks the government has set this program up so narrowly, and why it has missed so many groups and so many individuals who need help as well.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is right on. The government has left out a lot of people who were supposed to be entitled to these cheques, but this is not the first time. I remember before the 2000 election, the government sent cheques to dead people and to people in jail, but it left out the people who really deserved to be given the money. In this situation it is again leaving out truckers, people in the transportation industry, farmers, students, people with low incomes and people without children.

The government is completely mismanaging this issue. It does not know where the consumption of gasoline or oil is and who really needs the help to pay their bills. To heat a home, $1,500 is a significant amount. Some people who are living from paycheque to paycheque are experiencing hardship. Seniors who are living on fixed incomes have to choose whether to eat, to heat their homes, or to buy medicine.

This is a very serious issue. It is a classic example of the government mismanaging the program while focusing on how to corrupt the government and how to steal money and throw it into the Liberal Party while forgetting about all those other people.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate this afternoon. It is good to see members engaging with perspectives from all sides of the House. I appreciate the comments by the member who spoke before me, the member for Newton—North Delta.

Bill C-66 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. This is the government's response to the rising costs of fuel in the country and the very difficult circumstances in which many Canadians find themselves.

By way of background, the bill is being sold as a package of short and long term measures to help Canadians. There are three main components. Families entitled to receive the national child benefit supplement in January 2006 would receive $250. Another $250 would go to senior couples with a qualifier that both spouses would be entitled to receive the guaranteed income supplement. Single seniors would receive $125 if they were entitled to receive the GIS in January 2006.

Before I go into details of the bill, I would like to draw attention to a very current report by the Fraser Institute, public policy sources released in October. The report is titled “Government Failure in Canada”. It is a review of auditors general reports from 1992 to 2005. It is relevant to the debate today. When we talk about programs like this, we want to ensure that the money we invest on behalf of Canadians, taxpayer money, will arrive where it is intended. We want to ensure that it achieves a worthwhile objective.

In the beginning of the executive summary of the Fraser report, it makes an interesting remark. It says:

The discussion of the limitations of government and subsequent government failures is wholly absent from debate in Canada where, unfortunately, we still assume that governments act benevolently and without institutional constraints.

That is an interesting remark, that we would assume governments act benevolently and without institutional constraint, especially in light of what has gone on today. The buzz around the Hill today has not been about this bill. It has been about the release of the Gomery report, which probably is relevant as well because it talks about accountability.

In Justice Gomery's remarks today, he talked about Liberal corruption and the culture of entitlement, which seems to infest the government after 12 years in power. Again, we have a level of secrecy involving kickbacks to the Liberal Party. He talks about clear evidence of political interference and the misuse of taxpayer money.

I might wonder on that file about a million dollars for a war room to counsel witnesses prior to testifying. Imagine, one of the people in that war room was the former director for CSIS. What is this all about, coaching people before they testify before an inquiry? Was it about telling them about how to hide from Canadians or from the justice about what was going on?

In terms of accountability, it is quite interesting that the government would try to say that the current ministers and the Prime Minister really did not know, that it was another regime and that something else was responsible.

I cannot help but wonder how Canadians receive that. For example, we have the Catholic church selling property to try to pay for something that happened decades ago, for many people. As unfortunate and tragic as it is, the church is being held accountable for something that happened years ago.

Imagine the big auto manufacturers, Ford or GM., if there were a failure in their cars, saying that this was five years ago, that they had changed the CEOs since then, therefore they were not responsible for the failure in the machinery they had produced. It could be the drug manufacturers saying that they had changed CEOs, therefore they were not responsible for a failure in drugs.

There are the manufacturers of silicone breast implants that caused grief for women, with failed health and immunological problems, because of the failure of the implants. Imagine them saying that they had changed CEOs, therefore they were not responsible for the failure of their product and the results thereof.

Accountability is very important to Canadians today and it is certainly important when we talk about the effectiveness of government programs.

The report by the Fraser Institute, “Government Failure in Canada”, lists a whole range of failed programs that have occurred over a number of years. Credit cards are one example. Balances on public servant credit cards issued to reduce reimbursement costs were not paid on time, resulting in $80,000 of unnecessary interest costs over four months.

Are government programs meeting what they were intended to meet. There were 3.8 million more social insurance numbers for Canadians 20 years and older than people in that age group. By 2000 that number had risen to five million. That is interesting. How can there be so many more social insurance numbers than there are Canadians?

The report also talks about the firearms registry and how can we spend so much money on registering firearms.

Here is another interesting one. The Department of National Defence took eight years to develop a $174 million satellite communication system. That is quite a bit of money. When the system was completed, DND determined that the commercial system it had been using met its existing needs, required fewer staff to operate and therefore the new system remained in storage.

Here is one program the report talked about which I think is particularly relevant to this issue. The last time the government had a good idea to send money back to Canadians, the Auditor General reported on the misdirection of the funds.

At that time the government used the GST credit system to return money. Less than one-quarter of the $1.5 billion in payments went to low income families and roughly 90,000 Canadians in need of immediate assistance did not receive it because their prior year income exceeded the GST credit cut off. At least 4,000 expatriate Canadian taxpayers received money back from the government, but that was not the target group. Imagine, 7,500 deceased people received money back the last time the government tried to help Canadians. I wonder who cashed those cheques. Up to 1,600 prisoners received relief.

When we talk about giving money back to Canadians, we on this side of the House think a better idea would be to let all Canadians benefit, not just some Canadians, especially in a pre-election period when this is a pitch to provide money to some low income Canadians. Some no doubt may receive benefits. I note that the moneys will not be disbursed until after the bill is passed. There is actually no guarantee that anybody will receive any of this money before another election. It is quite possible nobody will receive any money, but it is a good public relations exercise.

I am concerned for the Canadians who are suffering right now because of the high cost of heating fuel and fuel to drive their automobiles. On Vancouver Island, where I live, many seniors are on fixed incomes. We have a mild climate there, but that is not true for all Canadians.

Parksville is a town of 11,000 people. Qualicum is a town of approximately 8,000 people. The average age of people in that town is 57. That is the oldest community per capita in the country. For seniors to get around and to access services such as doctors, they may have to travel many miles. They may have to travel to Nanaimo to see specialists, or to Courtenay and Comox in my colleague's riding of Vancouver Island North. That is an hour plus drive to the north. These trips can be expensive for them with the high cost of fuel for their automobiles.

I am concerned about taxi drivers and truckers. I am concerned about people in my area who have to transport goods. These people are really suffering because of the high cost of fuel.

I am concerned about seniors who have to heat their homes. A lot of them are not going to benefit from this legislation.

I have a lot of people in my riding who are involved in the marine sector, a lot of ecotourism. The cost of marine fuel this year is very considerable. By the time the ecotourism people charge their advertising rates for the tours they offer and deliver to their customers, they have been working on next to none profit margins because of the high cost of fuel.

Why does the government simply not lower taxes, as the Conservatives would do, so all Canadians would benefit? It could cut the GST on fuel costs so all Canadians could benefit. It could ensure that all Canadians using fuel could benefit from a program designed to help them with the high cost of energy.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member gave us a very insightful and compelling list of information and it leads right into the question I want to ask.

The bill does have some merits. We want to see people who are in need get what they need to help with the rising fuel costs. However, we have also established this afternoon that there are many people who are left out.

The next thing that comes to mind is whether this is all smoke and mirrors. We talk about the credibility of the government. The kinds of things the member has listed is factual information.

We get the hopes of the population up. It is like the new deal for cities. Winnipeg has been looking forward to that new deal being signed for an awful long time and it is something to which we are looking forward, even though some of the rules have been changed. Could the member comment on the credibility factor?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the member is very concerned about these issues, certainly about government waste and government programs that actually miss the mark. They make good public relations exercises but do not deliver what they purport to deliver.

I share her concern for the many people who will not benefit, such as students. They have to pay the cost of fuel. If they go to Malaspina University-College in my riding, from Parksville or Qualicum or parts of Nanaimo, they have to drive. It costs them money.

We have some very serious concerns about who is not benefiting. The member for Cypress Hills--Grasslands recently talked about farmers who would not benefit from this program. Many low income seniors who do not file for GIS, the guaranteed income supplement, will not benefit. We estimate there are tens of thousands of seniors who qualify but do not realize it. They are living in substandard conditions, eking along, but they do not realize they are eligible. The childless poor will not benefit.

People with disabilities who receive disability benefits have to pay. I met today with a constituent who is here on business to meet with government on an important file for my riding. He is disabled from a logging injury. He drives a vehicle with hand controls. He has to put fuel in his car. There is no benefit under this plan for people who receive disability benefits and who try to get around.

Looking at the Auditor General's list of failures in the government's programming, another one that caught my eye is pilot training. The government put $2.8 billion into a pilot training program, but it somehow forgot to calculate the demand for this program. In the first two years of a 20 year program, $65 million was spent on training that was never used. Only 41% was used.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite rightly pointed out that the bill provides relief to those with fixed incomes, namely our seniors and low income families. Sometimes when there are unforeseen changes in economic circumstances, such as a sudden increase in the cost of oil and gas, people on fixed incomes are hit the worst.

Will the member support the bill? By not supporting this bill, members opposite are playing politics with a bill that will provide relief, with winter coming, to those on fixed incomes who cannot adjust to this changed set of economic circumstances.

There was mention of other groups, the transportation sector and the manufacturing sector, which is my former background. We analyze a change of circumstances and adjust our pricing and our costing to reflect that, but people on fixed incomes will not have a chance to adjust.

Will the member support this bill to provide relief to those who need it most, or play partisan politics with it?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, the question actually illustrates the problem in my mind. Of course we will support Canadians getting help, frankly. We will support this, but my concern is that the program is so misguided that very few, if any, are actually going to receive the benefit the government is offering.

I am concerned that again what we have is a posturing situation just on the eve of an election, a pitch to Canadians that is very likely going to be misdirected because the delivery mechanism is not likely to be highly successful and misses a whole range of people who actually need help. Yet it is a difficult political messaging for the opposition to explain why we are opposed to such a complicated delivery mechanism that is actually unlikely to succeed.

I hope I have some time left, Mr. Speaker, because I have a really important point to--

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Perhaps the member will have time during further questions and comments.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

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.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, what the member has just said about income trusts flies in the face of what leading economists have told us, but that is not the reason for my rising at this point. I want to point out to the member that Bill C-66 could be much better.

The flavour of the day today, the talk among a lot of people, has been the Gomery commission and the recommendations that Gomery has made. One of the key things that he pointed out and the problem he detected is that programs were designed with political motives, and here we have an example of just that.

The people who need the help the most, those who are experiencing high energy costs, are not going to see a benefit from this bill. Why can we not reduce taxes for everyone affected? That would ensure that we do not have another fiasco waiting to unfold, a huge bureaucratic mess here.

Liberals seem to always devise programs that cost a lot to administer, that are complex rather than simple. I see this very clearly in the agriculture programs that I have to deal with on a daily basis in my riding office.

I want to point out one fact. The government has profited more than the oil companies from the recent spike in fuel prices on a per litre basis. Sometimes it wants to hide this fact. Bill C-66 comes just before an election and it really flies in the face of what Gomery said should happen. The programs are politically motivated.

I want to make one other comment. Today we have stumbled over a very obvious thing in the sponsorship scandal, and that is that the present Prime Minister was the finance minister. He says that there is still $49 million missing. If he was the finance minister, it was his responsibility to know about that and to find that money. He should be working on that, not passing that responsibility off. I cannot understand how a government in charge of the public purse does not know where the money went. Those in charge of the public purse have a responsibility to administer it appropriately.

Here we have a program being put in place that attempts to redistribute income to a small portion of Canadians rather than help all those who really need it in creating jobs. The government has reaped huge benefits from the increase in fuel prices. Why not give that money back in the way of tax cuts?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand what the member is saying. I would say to him that this is not the budget of the government covering our plans for the next couple of years. This is a $2.4 billion bill which is going to deal with three areas. It provides some initial relief to about 300,000 low income Canadians. It also provides assistance for energy retrofits so that there can be real savings in the cost of energy for homes and not for public institutions. Finally, it deals with some public transit assistance, which is part of our overall commitment to energy efficiency.

The member wants tax cuts for everyone. Let us take for example the energy rebate that is being offered here to the prescribed recipients. It is about $564 million. If it were to be given, as he suggests, to all Canadians, it ratchets it up to $2.5 billion or something like that. Is it really that simple, to just say give it to everybody and it is fair?

We do have a progressive income tax system. If it is income tax relief he is talking about, let us have the debate on income tax relief. It will be, I am sure, in the next budget, following up and building on the $100 billion tax cuts that we have had, and the further $13 billion that has occurred since that time and occurs regularly simply because of the indexation of the tax system. There are tax cuts going on each and every year.

The member also has to understand that it is imprudent for any government, as Mike Harris proved, to simply slash taxes, like the Laffer system, and expect that somehow the benefits will automatically flow. I know that when a budget is done for tax cuts, the revenue has to be left out, but the benefits can be anticipated. That is the difference between the Conservatives and the prudent Liberals.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is pretty clear that we need a long term plan to deal with the energy crisis, but also the need to reposition Canada. Given our natural wealth here and the fact that we are in a northern climate, we are very far behind and not going in any kind of reasonable direction. We need a long term systemic plan to achieve this.

Unfortunately, there are a number of elements missing from this bill. One of the key elements is the fact that we do need to provide accountability to our consumers, to our people back home. They need the assurance that they are paying a fair price at the pumps. From listening to the member, it seemed to me by listening between the lines that I was hearing the blandest whitewash and some of the most outrageous profiteering that I have heard in a decade.

Is it reasonable to expect that Canadians would be paying 40¢ extra on a litre of gasoline the day after hurricane Katrina? Then when there is an outrage of response, the price is slightly lowered. Is it fair to assume that every weekend people in my riding in Englehart, Kirkland Lake and Cochrane will have to pay an extra 5¢ or 10¢ because it is Friday night and then come Monday the prices will drop again?

Our people know they are being ripped off. They are undergoing constant profiteering. The government continually tries to bland over and make the issue go away. The fact is people are being ripped off. We need to put some teeth into serious legislation to ensure that if we are paying the price that we are paying that it is fair and accountable, and people are not being ripped off.

I would like to ask the member a question. When is the government going to take that issue seriously?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not disagree. If the member were to reflect on a couple of the comments I made in my speech, he would see that there has been investment made in a special office to review anti-competitive behaviour and also to strengthen the Competition Act to achieve similar results.

Hurricane Katrina was not just a one day affair. Hurricane Katrina left some devastation behind it where we had oil rigs floating around in the Gulf of Mexico. The supply situation was in jeopardy with other hurricanes coming along.

His colleague mentioned that we should just get rid of the GST on fuel. Let us do a little calculation here. A one penny reduction in the taxes of gasoline costs $400 million. The GST would be about six cents, so we are talking six times $400 million, which is $2.4 billion to get the price of gasoline today down to about 90¢. It is still not enough.

At what point do we say the government cannot cut the taxes enough to get gasoline prices to the level that they should be at? What is the reality of the price of a barrel of oil? Two years ago the price of a barrel of oil was around $10. Today it has been hovering around $67. It is correcting itself a little bit, but we have to understand that in the reality of the commodity of energy, particularly of oil, we are not price makers in Canada. We are price takers.

The world price of oil is what it is. We are going to have to deal with it. That is why Bill C-66 does not only deal with a small fix for low income Canadians. We also have to continue taking steps to be energy efficient through the retrofit portion and make further investments to public transit. This is a complex problem and not the simple problem that the member seems to think.